Confronting George Counts

We must abandon completely the naive faith that education automatically liberates the mind and serves the cause of human progress; in fact we know it may serve any cause. It may serve tyranny as well as freedom, ignorance as well as enlightenment, falsehood as well as truth. It may lead men and women to think they are free even as it rivets them in chains of bondage… In the course of history, education has served every purpose and doctrine contrived by man; if it is to serve the cause of human freedom, it must be explicitly designed for that purpose.” – G. Counts in Education and the Foundations of Human Freedom. (1963) 

George Counts was a man ahead of our times. A professor at Columbia University for more than 30 years, he wrote deftly about how schools manipulated student thinking and formed the basis of political and social norms throughout our society. He studied Soviet education systems for decades, disavowing their system of brainwashing and anti-freedom teaching; however, he wasn’t a booster of the American system either, often lambasting American teachers for ignoring or denying their social and political possibilities, which, according to Counts’ analysis, resulted in blinded consumerism and crass consumption.

I maintain that we have to continue building on Counts’ analysis today, as the essential underpinnings of his arguments continue to hold true throughout our educational attempts with young people. By examining the possibilities of what youth workers and teachers are currently doing and could potentially do we could move educational systems towards a more productive and meaningful space for all members of society, even if that involves “building a new social order” – which is what the call for “re-examining the roles of youth in society” is all about.

Thanks to Counts and several others we have a theoretical base to found this work in. Now, where does the rubber meet the road? Or wait – is that what this is all about?

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Published by Adam

For almost two decades, Adam F. C. Fletcher has led international outreach focused on engaging people successfully. Working with thousands of youth-serving nonprofits, K-12 schools, government agencies, international NGOs and other organizations around the world, his work spans the fields of education, public health, economic development and social services, and includes professional development, public speaking, publishing, social media and more. He founded the Freechild Institute for Youth Engagement, SoundOut and CommonAction, as well as writing more than 50 publications and 500 articles. He has also established 150-plus community empowerment projects.

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