Every human infant comes into the world devoid of the faculties characteristic of fully-developed human beings. This does not mean simply the ability to see clearly, to move around, to feed oneself, etc.; above all, it means he is devoid of reasoning power-the power that distinguishes man from animals. But the crucial distinction between the baby and other animals is that these powers, in particular the ability to reason, are potentially within him. The process of growing up is the process of the development of the child’s faculties. From a state of helplessness and incompetence such as few newly-born animals are burdened with, the infant grows up to the glory of the full stature of an adult.
Because they are immediately apparent to the senses, it is easy to overestimate the purely physical nature of these changes; the baby’s growth in height and weight, learning how to walk and talk, etc., may be viewed in terms of the isolated physical or muscular activities involved. The overwhelmingly important feature of the growing-up process is mental, the development of mental powers, or perception and reason. The child using the new mental powers learns and acquires knowledge-knowledge not only about the world around him, but also about himself. Thus, his learning to walk and talk and his direction of these powers depends upon his mental capacity to acquire this knowledge, and to use it. As the child exercises his new reasoning, as well as muscular powers, these powers grow and develop, which in turn furnishes an impetus for the child’s further exercise of these faculties. Specifically, the child learns about the world around him, other children and adults, and his own mental and physical powers.
Every child coming into the world comes into a certain environment. This environment consists of physical things, natural and man-made, and other human beings with whom he comes in contact in various ways. It is this environment upon which he exercises his developing powers. His reason forms judgments about other people, about his relationships with them and with the world in general; his reason reveals to him his own desires and his physical powers. In this way the growing child, working with his environment, develops ends and discovers means to achieve them. His ends are based on his own personality, the moral principles he has concluded are best, and his aesthetic tastes; his knowledge of means is based on what he has learned is most appropriate. This body of “theory” in which he believes, he has acquired with his reasoning powers, either from the direct experience of himself or others, or from logical deduction by himself or by others. When he finally reaches adulthood, he has developed his faculties to whatever extent he can, and has acquired a set of values, principles, and scientific knowledge.
This entire process of growing up, of developing all the facets of a man’s personality, is his education. It is obvious that a person acquires his education in all activities of his childhood; all his waking hours are spent in learning in one form or another. 1 It is clearly absurd to limit the term “education” to a person’s formal schooling. He is learning all the time. He learns and forms ideas about other people, their desires, and actions to achieve them, the world and the natural laws that govern it; and his own ends, and how to achieve them. He formulates ideas on the nature of man, and what his own and others’ ends should be in light of this nature. This is a continual process, and it is obvious that formal schooling constitutes only an item in this process.
In a fundamental sense, as a matter of fact, everyone is “self-educated.” A person’s environment, physical or social, does not “determine” the ideas and knowledge with which he will emerge as an adult. It is a fundamental fact of human nature that a person’s ideas are formed for himself; others may influence them, but none can determine absolutely the ideas and values which the individual will adopt or maintain through life.