Since the dawn of the Sputnik age, we Americans have been flailing around in a tizzy about the status of education in this country, revealing to the world that we are sure that something is wrong, but revealing equally as clearly we are not sure what. Like we do so often in a crisis, scapegoats are sought and panaceas are proposed. From one salient view, the spectacle is ridiculous; from another, it is tragic.
In St. Louis some time ago, a superintendent of schools in Iowa charged the public with being to blame for the mess education is in. The public, equally generous with blame, is saying it is the fault of the schools. Politicians, with their usual balanced view, are trying to place the blame, either on whichever side will lose them the fewest votes, or taking a neutralist stand and talking about setting up a National Academy of Science. An ex-governor of this state made a speech the other day in East Tennessee during which he proposed setting up a State Science Academy, to be supported by state funds, to be located at Oak Ridge, and to be supervised by the state university. Local school systems are scrambling around, trying to do something (just what is not evident from available reports) but perhaps they are mistaking action with progress. One near here a few weeks ago announced a drastic overhaul of its systemic procedure, then announced the next day that it was nothing new; that it was simply an expansion of plans long in the making. But this announcement convinced few people. Most of us probably recognized that system was suffering from an acute cause of Sputnikitis.
Several basic facts must be considered, along with some theory. A great American once defined education as the debt the existing generation owes to the next one. Most of us can accept this as axiomatic. If we do, then the next assumption is that our children deserve the best from this generation that we can possibly give them in the way of an education that will better enable them to live effectively in the topsy-turvy world we shall bequeath them. Virtually all are agreed upon this. The only question is “What is the best education?”
In the first place, there is no royal shortcut to learning. Learning is a laborious, never-ending task, and while there is no virtue in doing things the hard way for the sake of doing something in a difficult manner, the sugar-coated, everything-should-always-be-interesting-to-every-student, notion is not only silly; it results in much purposeless activity that is about as realistic in today’s world as the proverbial Alice in Wonderland. Yet, that is what the educationists have been spouting so long that this reporter, who taught during the worst delirium tremens of the progressive education age, has long since become disgusted with such nonsense and tried to avoid coming in contact with it. Any education that is worth anything involves disciplining both mind and muscle, and whether we like it or not, a generation of American young people have been nurtured within the schoolroom, when they should have been matured in that room. It is not their fault; it is the fault of those who mistook fancy for fact; who confused interest with intrinsic merit; who insisted that it did not really matter what scripture a teacher taught as long as he had been baptized in the right religion – which meant the type miscalled “progressive.”
In the second place, while money will not work educational miracles in and by itself, it can cure the teacher shortage, about which there is so much wringing of hands, but far too little plunking down dollars. Young people in college today look at the world pretty realistically. They see a world in which their social order is a closely-geared economic one, in which money is the entree to those material things which they have learned – rightly or wrongly – are necessary for satisfactory living. When they see that teaching, as an occupation (It has not yet, maybe never will, reach the dignity of a profession), fades into the financial background when compared with other occupations, they are attracted toward the shining light of adequate remuneration for their lifetime services (Ofttimes when they would prefer teaching, if they could afford to do so).
Then, aside from the financial returns in teaching as compared with other fields, when they consider the restrictions placed upon teachers, because they are teachers, they are further discouraged. No teacher should be made to occupy a second-class citizenship status because he teaches. Certainly he should be a good citizen, which means he should have all the rights of free speech, freedom of association, freedom to think his own thoughts, and behave himself just as any other citizen, which means within the limit of the law. It is a rather curious observation, from a teacher’s viewpoint, why it is that society entrusts us teachers with the ability to develop good citizenship traits in their children, but does not permit teachers to demonstrate those same traits in their own personal behavior.
The powers that be must consider another facet of the problem of securing efficient career people in their schools, a facet that looms large in the thinking of many school teachers. That is the fact that they are subjected so long and so often to preaching and scolding: preaching about how great a service they are rendering, scolding about what they should have done that they did not, or should not have done which they did. Most of us have heard the word “dedicated” thrown at us so long that when we hear it from someone, that person’s stock takes a bigger dip with us than the stock market did in 1929. One cannot pay his grocer, butcher, and candlestick maker with dedication. All workers in every field should have a certain amount of loyalty and devotion to and interest in their work. School boards, supervisors, and administrators would do well to leave it at that if they want to get teachers and keep them.
A third, and perhaps more important consideration about our current educational tizzy is that we should not jump to the conclusion that the part is greater than the whole. So much has been written about our need to speed up science and mathematics that one would think, if he did not keep a sense of balance, that all we needed to reach an educational Eden would be to recruit (through bribery, force, or otherwise) all bright young people and put them through a rigorous course of training in the natural sciences and math. Then all would be well with our world. The stark fact is that if that were done, we would then stand less chance of maintaining any world for long at all than we do now. Surely we need good scientists, the best we can find and train; the same is true of mathematicians. But our progress in the field of invention in science, invention of material things has so outstripped our development in human relations that this is a problem with us and the rest of the world now, more so than Sputniks or missiles. We have done a good (or bad, however you look at it) job of training scientists who can invent death-dealing devices; we have made little headway toward developing a generation that can find, or has found, better ways to reduce prejudice, hatred, religious discrimination, racial friction. One can only speculate what would be accomplished within a generation if as much emphasis and prestige were put upon the development of peaceful adjustment as is now put upon launching an explorer into space. Whatever educational changes are made, they should certainly seek to improve both quantity and quality of education, in all fields of learning, from kindergarten through the university. Perhaps if equal emphasis had been placed on the humanities and the social sciences a generation or two ago that was placed on poison gas, germ warfare, fighter planes, etc., we would not be in the straits we are today.
There is a moral responsibility resting upon each and every one of us, a responsibility to provide the best this nation can afford in the way of a thorough and realistic education for young people. This will not be done unless we proceed on the basic acceptance of the fact that learning requires work on the part of both teacher and student. Neither can do the other’s work for him. It also requires the best teachers that can be provided, for what goes on in the schoolroom determines the quality, or lack of it, of our educational system. To get and hold such teachers requires not only expenditure of money, it requires respecting the right of those teachers to be human beings, not members of a third sex. And, finally, it requires balanced emphasis in all the fields of learning, not in just one or two.
Over 100 years ago, Edward [Deering] Mansfield, a careful student of education, America and elsewhere, summarized:
“If America has presented anything new to the world, it is a new form of society; if she has any thing worthy to preserve, it is the principles upon which that society is instituted: Hence, it is not a Grecian or a Roman education we need; it is not one conceived in China, Persia, or France. On the contrary, it must have all the characteristics of the American mind, fresh, original, vigorous, enterprising; embarrassed by no artificial barriers, and looking to a final conquest over the last obstacles to the process of human improvement.”
If he were writing that paragraph, in the context of today’s world, it is likely he would make few changes. Whether, in our preoccupation with the very real dangers that exist today, we will provide such a desirable kind of education, only time, and what you and I do, will tell. But American cannot afford the luxury of failure. It is too late for that.
I read editorials and receive material through the mail reminding me that competition is the American way; that it will bring abundance. Maybe so, but the writers of this stuff appear to me to be completely insincere. They avoid competition like the plague. They want tariffs to reduce competition; price-fixing (so-called) and mis-called “fair trade” legislation; chain stores; bank consolidations; corporation mergers; uniform insurance policies; big capital-owning manufacturing subsidiaries; fewer steel, aluminum, and car companies. They even want church union. There is such a thing as being honest with yourself, as well as with the public. What they really want is competition in fields other than their own, i.e., it is good medicine for the other fellow.
A pertinent note in connection with our preoccupation with development of scientists to the exclusion of other important fields, comes from a statement of Congressman Frank Thompson, Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, who said recently, “We have seen today a message go to Congress on education: 100 percent for science, mathematics, but nothing for the humanities. We could achieve technological superiority which is greater than anyone imagined, and still, if we do not have people educated to understand human beings, it would be an empty victory. Suppose for instance, some Soviet biologist comes forward next month with a discovery in biology as startling as was the Sputnik breakthrough. Would we then have a message asking us to educate 40,000 biologists in the next few years?”
Our secretary of statements reiterated this week that we must negotiate, if we do at all, from a position of strength. Well, it would make a great more sense to try to negotiate from wisdom than from a strength that we do not have. It looks as though we must choose between co-existence or co-extinction, as invidious as may be the alternatives. We have good reason to doubt Russia’s sincerity, but no agreement is going to be reached by anyone anytime unless it is based on a realistic acceptance of facts.
And while on the subject of Russia, it seems pertinent to report that the presidents of two major Baptists conventions will visit Moscow next month. They are Dr. Clarence W. Cranford, president of the American Baptist Convention and Rep. Brooks Hays of Arkansas, president of the Southern Baptist Convention. They plan to leave for the Russian capital April 15, and will spend five days as guests of Russian Baptists. Both leaders are expected to speak in Moscow’s first Baptist church.