George Sylvester Counts

George Sylvester Counts was born on December 9, 1889 in Baldwin City, Kansas. He received his A.B. degree in 1911 and his Ph.D. degree from the University of Chicago in 1916. He began his professional career in 1916 at the University of Delaware as Head of the Department of Education and Director of summer school. Between 1918 and 1926, he also taught at Harris College in Missouri, the University of Washington, Yale University and the University of Chicago. He spent the major portion of his professional career at Teachers College, Columbia University, from 1927 to 1956. After retirement from Teachers College, he served as a visiting professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Michigan State University and Southern Illinois University.

Counts was active in politics and in liberal movements. He served as New York State chairman of the American Labor party(1942 – 44). He established the Liberal party in New York, ran as its candidate for the United State Senate in 1952, and was its chairman from 1954 to 1959. He was a member of the National Committee of the American Civil Liberties Union (1940 – 73). He was President of the American Federation of Teachers from 1939 to 1942. Counts published twenty nine books and hundreds of articles. Some of his popular books published were, “The Place of the School in the Social Order,” “Dare the School build a New Social Order,” “Education and American Civilization.”

Counts said that schools are driven by the forces that transform the rest of the social order rather than the school directing the change. Education needs to be scrutinized by teachers. Schools can not be reformed without effort, struggle and sacrifice. He felt that Progressive Movement in education fell short of direction. We can not move in circles and content ourselves with action. We must have purpose and be willing to sacrifice. Progressives are romantic sentimentalists who should not be trusted to write our educational theories or programs because they do not move outside of their comfort.

Counts believed that education should strive to promote the fullest and most thorough understanding of the world. He also believed that facts should not be suppressed or distorted. One of his quotes said, “All education contains a large element of imposition, a case which is inevitable and in the existence and evolution of society, educators have a major professional obligation.”

Counts philosophy involved ten fallacies. First, man is born free. No man is helpless and he achieves freedom through culture. Culture creates tradition. Yet imposing culture of a group involves a secure restriction upon their freedom. Counts’ thesis is that such imposition, provided the tradition is vital and suited to the times, releases the energies of the young, sets up standards of excellence, and makes possible really great achievements. The lack of this promotes the freedom of mediocrity, incompetence and aimlessness. Next, a child is good by nature. When born a child is a bundle of potentialities which may be developed in various directions. Guidance is found in the culture of the group and the purpose of living. The character of a good society must be fashioned by the hand and brain of man. This is an educational process where educators bring materials and guiding principles from outside to mold the child. Next, the child lives in a separate world of his
own. Children should not be isolated from the serious activities of adults. We should not allow our children to be victimized by the most terrible from of human madness – the struggle for private gain. Until school society are bound together by common purposes the program of education will lack meaning and vitality. Next, education is some pure and mystical essence that remains unchanged from everlasting to everlasting. Education must relate to society not something that becomes a method existing independently of the cultural surroundings and equally beneficent at all times and in all places. Next, school should be impartial in its emphases, that no bias should be given instruction. Counts’ theory is that complete impartiality is utterly impossible. Schools must shape attitudes, develop tastes and yes, impose ideas. Next, the object of education is to produce the “college professor” who holds his judgements in a state of indefinite suspension. Counts’ belief is to “Just Do It!” We must meet educational/societal issues by making decisions and working out adjustments. It involves the selection and rejection of values. We need educators who will gather, digest facts and who can think in terms of life, make decisions and act. This is where our real social leaders will come. Next, education is primarily
intellectualistic in its processes and goals. This involves the element of faith or purpose which lifts man out of himself and above the level of his more narrow personal interests. We must be moved by great passions. We must go beyond what directly affects us as individuals and bring our children to a vision in which we call forward their active loyalties and challenge them to creative and arduous labors. Next, school is an all-powerful education agency. School is but one formative agency among many and it is not the strongest. Schools should use whatever power it may possess in opposing and checking the forces of social conservatism and reaction. Our educational programs must be supported by other agencies. Next, ignorance rather than knowledge is the way of wisdom. Schools should make an effort to influence deliberately the growth of the child in a particular direction. We should cause children to form one habit over the other, to develop one taste over the other and to be sensitive to a given ideal rather than its rival. If this is not done schools nave no reason for existence. Finally, in a dynamic society like ours the major responsibility of education is to prepare the individual to adjust himself to social change. Teachers should become a social force of some magnitude if they could increase sufficiently their stock of courage, intelligence and vision. Teachers must assume some responsibility for the more fundamental forms of impostion which can not be avoided. Preferably, our goal for children should be to develop a firm, steadfast mentality.

Counts writings impacted education greatly because of his belief that in a world of technology, science and the processing of the most extraordinary power, schools should become centers for building our civilization not merely contemplating it. He believed that children should be given a vision of the possibilities which lie ahead and enlist their loyalties and enthusiasms in the realization of the vision. Teachers should deliberately reach for power and then make the most of their conquest is Counts’ firm conviction. The most effective leaders in history are the men and women who have not hesitated to use the power that has come to them. Teachers should you their power to represent the common, abiding interest of the all people. Furthermore, counts beliefs are reflected in today’s educational system in the move to empower teachers. To make teachers part of the decision making process, however, is not enough. They must work towards a win for their ideas and the support of the masses of people.


Counts, G. , S. ((1932). Dare the school build a new social order. Illinois:  Southern Illinois University Press. (2000) Counts, George Sylvester

http://www.msn.res/edu/ (2000)  Counts, George Sylvester

Report Prepared by:
Cyril E. Crutchfield