Tuesday, July 26, 2016

General Education Is One Of Democracy's Best Defenses

Here's the conclusion of Harvard's report General Education in a Free Society, which was published in 1945 -- right after the end of World War II. In light of recent events, many of these points seem to be relevant.

"General education is the sole means by which communities can protect themselves from the ill effects of overrapid change. For its concern is with what is the same throughout all changes and with the very process of change itself and the techniques of taking account of it. Political trends and upheavals naturally engage our attention to the neglect perhaps of wider and deeper changes. The coming of steam was a larger event in human history than all but the greatest changes in government, larger not as a material event only but in the spiritual transformations it is still inducing. With it man began to inhabit his planet as a planet. Increased physical mobility has naturally increased the scale of wars, which is a reminder that danger is inseparable from power. The press, radio, photography, television our progressive disembodiment - and indeed all increased means of mass communication have their dangers too. Propaganda, which is their political aspect, has attracted perhaps more than its share of critical attention. Advertisement has received some share, but chiefly in its quality of a potential threat to the consumer's judgment. More dangerous, because more general and because it threatens the spirit rather than the pocket, is the degradation which language undergoes when the greatest words are most often met in servitude to mean or trivial purposes. 'In a world of strife, there is peace in beer.' That slogan was no invention of a satirist. It adorned many a newspaper in the days before Pearl Harbor and is but one example, less harmful through its very fatuousness, of the modes of attack to which mass communications expose standards in all fields. Against them we can only oppose general education at all levels. With such possibilities in mind we do well to remember Hector's words in Troilus and Cresslda:

"The wound of peace is surety,
Surety secure.

"Or, as Poor Richard had it, 'He that is secure is not safe.'

"Such dangers, however, are a spur to a widened and livelier sense of responsibility, individual and collective. Enlargement of the common concern is indeed the distinctive character of our age. Not very long ago the mass of mankind could and did leave peacemaking, for example, to statesmen. Today most people feel some of its weight on their shoulders. Even one generation back, how other people lived was not their business; but all men are neighbors now. Among and beyond all the local and personal motives which drive men to pursue education, this budding collective responsibility year by year grows in power. And as it grows it profoundly influences some immediate motives. The desire to get on in the world or to advance the status of the workers, the two chief drives which have animated out-of-school education hitherto, are being transformed by it into wider interests far more favorable both to growth in democracy and to the final causes for which society itself is only a means. 'War is the great educator,' as enemy propagandists have said, though hardly with this in mind. It has shown us that in technical instruction we have been sadly unambitious and unenterprising. It has shown us equally that in general education the strongest incentive comes from the whole man's awareness of his share in the common fate, of his part in the joint undertaking,"