This section is from the book "Principles Of Sociology With Educational Applications", by Frederick R. Clow. Also available from Amazon: Principles of sociology with educational applications.
So far in this chapter the institution has been represented as the great constructive, conserving aspect of society. But it also presents another and very different aspect. Every good characteristic so far discussed is liable to perversion: in excess it becomes weakness instead of strength, and we may be certain to find it in excess at some time or other in every institution. Institutions are undermined and overthrown by the very forces that built them, or by counteracting forces which these call into operation. Is an institution a standardized form originated to meet a need? The members will at some time be found to worship the form and forget the need. Does the institution select its new members carefully? The persons who are excluded develop a social consciousness of their own and organize in opposition. Does the institution stand for a certain quality? Competitors and opponents learn how to meet this quality and take advantage of it. Does the institution make over its members into conformity with its type? This process stunts their growth and loses the originality they would have contributed. Does one institution bring together persons from various classes or groups? Since each member withholds the larger part of himself for other forms of activity, the larger part may at any time draw away the smaller part with it. Is permanence a characteristic? The constituent persons who succeed one another like the drops of water in a waterfall are not alike either in original endowment or acquired qualities: unless they can change the institution to meet their need, they will either forsake it or disrupt it.
These various excesses in institutional organization are so interconnected that they are likely to exist together: they are all merely phases of the one fundamental weakness of formalism. "Institutional fatigue," one educator calls it. The characteristic quality of the primary group is that it is so small that there is no room for formalism to exist. The larger the institution, the stronger is the tendency toward formalism. Accordingly, we must expect to find it in the state, established churches, armies, railroad companies, city and national systems of education.
Formalism is likely to prevail in all the institutions of a country at a given time. There are fashions in organization as in everything else. For a time, public opinion will favor strong organization such as tends to run into formalism; then, for a time, the emphasis will be on freedom which tends toward anarchy. In the next chapter these two opposing tendencies will be more fully considered, and the alternation from one tendency to the other is an example of the rhythm in social development which is the subject of Chapter XV (Cycles Of Change).
There is, finally, the relative inflexibility of all machinery composed of numerous correlated parts. No complex organization is prompt to adapt itself to rapidly changing conditions. Individuals who by themselves might quickly change their activities or their methods find themselves locked, as it were, in an iron system. . . .
Men in different departments of a large organization may become too specialized to take one another's viewpoint or to work smoothly together.
The organization becomes an end in itself rather than a means. . . . The educational system cannot be induced to consider the child and ask itself what real good it is doing him. Pious clergymen will labor to advance the ends of their church after it has become a soulless ecclesiastical machine, the foe of true spirituality. ... In general, it is outside, not inside, forces which keep an organization in proper relation to its work and to other interests of society. - American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 22, pp. 10-12, Ross, "The Organization of Effort."
In human life every institution in its very nature is addicted to these four sins: dogmatism, opportunism, materialism, and schism. A damning list certainly. . . . - American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 13, p. 425, A. H. Lloyd.
It is also true that although institutions stand, in a general way, for the more mechanical phase of life, they yet require, within themselves, an element of personal freedom. Individuality, provided it be in harness, is the life of institutions, all vigor and adaptability depending upon it.
An army is the type of a mechanical institution; and yet, even in an army, individual choice, confined of course within special channels, is vital to the machine. ... - Cooley, Social Organization, p. 324.
"... What you organize you kill. Organized morals or organized religion or organized thought are dead morals and dead religion and dead thought. Yet some organization you must have. . . . The reality of life is adventure, not performance. What isn't adventure isn't life. What can be ruled about can be machined. But priests and schoolmasters and bureaucrats get hold of life and try to make it all rules, all etiquette and regulations and correctitude. . . ." - Wells, Mr. Britling Sees It Through, p. 68.
... If a school is small enough to allow personal relations to prevail, it seems reasonable to strive toward recognition of the individuality of both teachers and pupils. But let the number of pupils rise into thousands, and it begins to seem hopeless to try to make provision for the individual qualities of anybody. The larger the school, the more nearly the factory spirit is approached. The absolute necessity of mass action in all external matters is self-evident, and that spirit is carried over directly into the instruction itself. . . .
... In a certain third grade the regular teacher was holding a recitation in music, in which the entire time was occupied with drill upon certain notes. When asked why she so emphasized the technique, she replied that she did not believe in it, but that there were twenty cards with notes that the pupils were expected to master in her grade, and that this work consumed all the time. Later, the principal in talking over the music, likewise opposed the plan, but stated that he was powerless to modify it. . . . - McMurry, Elementary School Standards, pp. 187, 188, 193.
I made an alphabetical study of the standings of high school students in about a dozen high schools. Those whose names began with the earlier letters of the alphabet had higher standings than those whose names began with letters near the end.
"This institute almost wholly for the entertainment of teachers."
"This man purely an entertainer.,,
"Subject-matter of lecture good but not adapted to needs of primary or high-school teachers. Six teachers reading newspapers and catalogues. Majority of audience talking more or less, some reading all the time. At least six teachers were chewing gum. Hum of conversation all over the room. . . . One young lady [?] shooting flies. Another holding her hands over another's eyes. Young men and women signaling to one another across the hall. . . . One man lying down on three seats placed together. Several young men throwing wads of paper at other members of the institute. . . ."
The conditions pictured in these "snap-shots" are probably extreme cases, but they apply in a fairly general way to the compulsory institutes throughout the country. . . . - School and Home Education, Vol. 33, p. 350, Editorial regarding the Ohio Survey.
The problem in any institution is, of course, to harmonize these two opposing tendencies. In the phrase which Daniel Webster often used we must have "liberty and union." In our revolutions and rebellions we need to remember that institutions, with all their red tape and formalism, nevertheless have "a wisdom beyond the grasp of any one man."
Where there is no law there is no freedom. - Locke.
[Extension of public power] must be made in right directions, so as to stimulate and increase independence and the spirit of self-help, instead of lessening them. . . . Nothing could be more erroneous than to identify the let-alone policy with a real liberty policy. - Yale Review, old series, Vol. 2, p. 13, E. Benj. Andrews.
Revolutions are ambiguous things. Their success is generally proportionate to their power of adaptation and to the reabsorption within them of what they rebelled against. ... - Santayana, Life of Reason, Vol. 3, Reason in Religion, p. 83.
. . . Americans are not abstract, uncompromising thinkers. They are not like the men of the French Revolution, who would have dared to abolish the universe and recreate it on the morrow. . . . Because of our traditions, we are likely to make changes by indirection and to preserve the form while altering the substance. - Weyl, The New Democracy, P. 255.