War and the Schools


By JOHN W. STUDEBAKER, U. S. Commissioner of Education

Delivered over WMAL on the Washington Star Forum Program, September 2, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 45-47.

DAILY the realization grows that we are in for a long hard struggle; and that education must be adjusted to the pressing business of total war. That some schools should have moved rather slowly in making the great conversion from the business of peace to that of war is perhaps inevitable. We are not a militaristic Nation. Almost never before in our history have the schools had need to turn their full attention to the science of war. Yet as the crisis deepens, as we more and more gear ourselves for all-out total war, the schools, too, must readjust their organizations and redirect their efforts toward one great endó the certain and speedy winning of this war. What, then, are some of the things the schools and colleges can do to help win this war?

My first suggestion concerns the elementary schools. The fundamentals of childhood education, with their emphasis upon mental security, physical health and growth, and command of the tools of learning, are not altered for the emergency. Millions of present elementary school children will still be in school when victory is won. They must grow up to help in the long slow task of rebuilding the post-war world, of healing its rancors, of binding up its wounds, of creating that spirit of brotherhood which alone enables men to live at peace with their fellows. The special contributions which elementary schools can make to winning this war are therefore expansions of the kinds of tasks which they are already accomplishing: the care and protection of young children in nursery schools and kindergartens; the provision of before and after school programs of recreation for children of working mothers in congested war-service areas; the expansion of school facilities and services to include nutritious school lunches; closer cooperation with parents in safeguarding children's health and morale.

So helping to win this war demands little basic change in the organization and program of elementary education. Can the same thing be said for secondary education? Can the high schools go on doing business as usual, with only minor modifications in curriculum and organization? The answer which has just come out of a four-day Institute on Education and the War sponsored by the Office of Education Wartime Commission is emphatically "No." We are faced with certain brutal facts. Fact number one is that wars are won by fighting men using weapons produced by working men and women. The manpower requirements for winning a long war are simply enormous. That means that in so far as possible boys of 16 and 17 years of age now in our 28,000 high schools must begin to prepare for military occupations. To meet the growing and critical requirements of the armed forces for specialists, the facilities of all high schools must be put to maximum use.

Again, just as the manpower needs of the armed forces are pyramiding, so are the manpower needs of war production, in factories and on farms. Here, in addition to training men not suited for military service, we face a task of replacement training; training of girls and women to replace men gone from farms and factories; training girls and women to replace men gone from stores and offices and from essential community service occupations.

In making the curricular adjustments required of secondary schools these needs are pressing:

First, there must be greatly improved services for occupational information and guidance into critical services and occupations. School counselors must have authentic information not alone as to the capabilities of particular youth; they must also have information concerning the critical needs of the Nation for manpower with certain types of preliminary preparation.

Second, there must be a new emphasis upon programs of physical fitness. Strength, stamina, endurance and functional vigor are demanded above all else in wartime. Every high school boy and girl must be given the opportunity to participate in a program of physical activities appropriate to his or her interests and abilities, and geared to national needs.

Third, since modern war is a battle of technicians and specialists, both in the combat forces and in the army of workers in industry; and since technology is based upon science and mathematics, our high schools must see to it this year that larger numbers of pupils gain a more thorough mastery of those subjects.

Fourth, pre-flight courses in aeronautics should be offered in thousands of the Nation's high schools. Control of the air in modern warfare is an essential prerequisite for successful land or sea operations. We are in the process of developing the greatest air force in the world. To meet the anticipated needs of the armed services for flight-crew officers alone, there is every indication that we must interest all qualified boys in the junior and senior classes of our high schools in becoming candidates for aviation training on a pre-flight basis.

Fifth, the high schools must not neglect their major and continuing responsibilities, that is, training of youth for citizenship in a democracy. In English classes, special emphasis must be placed upon the development of fundamental reading skills; upon clear concise oral and written expression; upon the literature of patriotism and American idealism; of current events and war problems. In social studies classes, there should be more positive teaching of the meaning of democracy; of our history, heroes and traditions. There should be instruction concerning matters of wartime economics. There should be a new emphasis upon the development of geographical concepts; upon an understanding of the working of government in wartime.

The sixth element in the high school program of curricular conversion involves the greatest wrench to existing practices; yet it is exceedingly important. This element is the provision of pre-induction training for the armed forces and preparatory training for civilian occupations and services. At the present time our expanding Army and Navy are in critical need of many more specialists than are being recruited by the draft lottery or by voluntary enlistment. The facilities in our trade and vocational schools, and in our general high schools must be used to the maximum extent in the preliminary preparation of auto mechanics, radio operators and repairmen, machinists, typists, cooks, and a host of other specialists.

A seventh important aspect of the school's responsibility for wartime citizenship training is the development of an understanding and appreciation of our allies in the United Nations. Without in any way diverting us from the all-important business of winning the war, we can lay that foundation in public opinion which will make possible the winning of the peace as well. In this winning of the peace, the United Nations must stand and work together as in the war itself.

I realize that there are serious obstacles to be overcome in converting the high school curriculum to make it more fully serve the war effort. But these obstacles must be overcome.

Especially must the enthusiasm and will-to-serve of youth themselves be organized and channelled in a nation-wide program of participation in present war-service activities and in preparatory training for future war occupations.

When we ask what the colleges and universities can do this year to help win this war, we enter an area in which there are many perplexing problems. Of some generalizations however, we can speak with assurance. First, the colleges and universities can adjust their entrance requirements so as to serve every qualified student who needs the services of the college to prepare him for war work.

Second, colleges and universities can cooperate with the Army, the Navy and with industry in admitting to special short courses students who need training the college can give. At the present time, a number of colleges and universities are providing courses of instruction for Signal Corps technicians, for Army stores managers, for tank repairmen, and other civilian or enlisted personnel of the War and Navy Departments.

Third, the colleges and universities can make available facilities for housing, feeding, and providing health care for Army and Navy contingents sent to them, regardless of whether or not the instruction is to be given by the institution or by the Army and Navy.

Fourth, it will be generally agreed, I believe, that colleges and universities can revitalize their student personnel procedures. College students today face unusually difficult choices. Should they enlist? They have been advised to continue their education until called by their government for service. Should they seek Selective Service deferment in order to complete courses of training for professional and technical occupations in which critical shortages exist? Upon these matters students are in great need of sympathetic counsel based upon authentic information of the manpower needs of the Nation. Plans are under way to supply such information.

Fifth, colleges and universities can adjust their regular courses and curricula more completely to wartime needs. For example, short curricula should be introduced in many fields, such as sub-professional engineering specialities and chemical and bacteriological specialities, for which preparation can be secured in one or two years.

Liberal arts courses should be tuned to current war problems. History courses should contribute directly to understanding the backgrounds of the present war; geography should throw light upon the economic factors in this globalconflict; and so on through the whole gamut of liberal arts departments.

How can this War for Survival be surely won? Only as there comes to each and every one of us a more realistic sense of the terrible urgency of a genuinely all-out war effort. I am confident that, with the backing of patriotic Americans in thousands of communities, the schools and colleges of the Nation will pull their full share of the load up the steep incline to victory.