Education for a Lasting World Peace
ESTABLISHMENT OF AN INTERNATIONAL AGENCY OF EDUCATION
By EVERETT CASE, President of Colgate University
Delivered before The Academy of Political Science, New York City, April 5, 1945
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 596-599.
WE are allowed twenty minutes this morning in which to establish a lasting world peace—by the slow and painful process of education. We have, it appears, no time to waste.
One fact is immediately clear: there is no substitute for this process of education. Popes, emperors and kings, and numerous high contracting parties, have sought from time to time to impose and even to maintain peace by force, by fiat or by treaty. In the end the dynamic and disruptive forces of a world in ferment proved too powerful. In the end neither the Pax Romana nor the Pax Britannica was proof against the fatal combination of internal negligence and external pressure.
The failure in each instance was two-fold. Constituted authority failed to teach the barbarians, on the one hand, the desirability of peace; or the civilized peoples, on the other, the endless difficulty of securing it. It was a failure not merely to organize but also to educate.
Thomas à Kempis posed the problem some five centuries ago, in searching and still highly current terms. "All men," he wrote, "desire peace, but very few desire the conditions requisite for peace." (It is worth remarking that his verb is not understand but desire.) Will the bombing of German and Japanese cities convince those peoples at long last of the ultimate horror and futility of war as an instrument of policy; or will it inspire the stricken survivors with a frenzy for revenge? Will the victors this time understand, in their major implications, the conditions requisite for peace; and understanding, deeply desire them, even when more immediate devices and desires clamor for priority?
Such questions, like past failures, suggest clearly enough the imposing dimensions of our educational assignment. It is a task one can hope this morning only to sketch in crude outline, but it is a task we dare not shirk. As a young alumnus turned soldier writes me from the Pacific, we must remember Pearl Harbor as a lesson not merely in Japanese duplicity, but also in the catastrophic costs of American folly. By the same token, we must see this war as a consequence not only of dictatorial arrogance, but also of democratic bungling. Thus if we must seek means of correcting the vicious educational systems which fed the Nipponese and Nazi fury, we would better not ignore the anomalies and absurdities of our own.
Shall we be equal to this dual assignment? Can we define the ends and discover and apply the means? Let me remind you that these questions are neither rhetorical nor academic. They pose no easy options. They pose a categorical imperative, which in turn is dictated by the terror of our situation.
How else describe the circumstance that for the first time in history, man possesses the means of wholesale self-destruction? Certainly our progress in this direction, dimly foreshadowed in Act I of the present tragic drama, has been nothing short of prodigious. Act II, for all its long-drawn agony, will be as nothing to the wilderness of terror which Act III would certainly disclose. Only as each act approaches its climax can the discerning eye perceive the incredible shape—and appalling pace—of things to come.
Rome was not built in a day, but in little more than a day Rome or any other city can now be utterly destroyed. It could be defended for a time, no doubt, and slowly rebuilt; but the forces of destruction move with a speed that constructive forces have never learned to emulate. A beginning has already been made toward releasing the energy of the atom. To what purposes will this boundless source of power be ultimately directed? Shall we be content merely to wait and see? Shall we be content to leave it to fortune—or to certain high contracting parties—to see that the curtail never rises on Act III?
This is the point at which the speaker usually pauses to explain that he has no wish to be an alarmist. I shall not follow that custom this morning. I tell you it is high time we became alarmed—if not for ourselves, then for our children and for our children's children. It is time, in the words of one poet angered by man's inhumanity to beasts, that "parson lost his senses and people came to theirs." And our concern, our desperate concern, is man's inhumanity to man.
How are we to secure and harness for humanity the vast powers which science discovers and releases but cannot and does not pretend to control? That is our problem. It is nothing if not dynamic. It underlies Yalta and Bretton Woods, Dumbarton Oaks and San Francisco. It challenges our governments and our churches. It clamors for the attention of our industrial and labor leaders. It has become the central problem of education.
If we are to attack it successfully, we must begin, I submit, by taking fresh observations of our world and its inhabitants. Unfortunately, one can do no more this morning than take off and report briefly on two or three of the major landmarks.
Challenging immediate attention, for example, is the essential unity underlying the chaos of our one, and now distracted, world. How slow we have been to grasp this fact, much less its implications! Long before a Columbus, a Copernicus and in our day a Wendell Willkie had taken such pains to confirm it, this truth had been intuitively perceived and proclaimed by philosophers and prophets, and given special poignancy by the life and teachings of the Jewish founder of Christianity. We ourselves, it appears, have been far more stubborn skeptics than Thomas the disciple ever was. Even today there are those who deny war's compelling demonstra-
tion that we are all in the same boat, and that there isn't any other.
For Americans, especially, this is a hard but important truth. Floating upon two oceans, we have seemed to occupy a vast and sufficient ark of our own. To drop the figure, our country was settled by men and women who, dissatisfied with their environment, moved west in search of greener fields; and their descendants have never wholly lost the habit. Instead of facing and solving the problems of our home communities, for example, we have a national disposition to move on.
But in a global sense, man has achieved no such freedom. Science has yet to provide us with the means of escaping from our small and dizzy planet; we are still earthbound for our mortal lives at; least. It follows, then, that if education for citizenship begins, like charity, at home, it would better not stop there. It follows that we must devote all our talents and ingenuity toward making our one world what it has yet to become, "the best of all possible worlds."
The second emergent fact is the drastic shift, since we last attempted to make peace, in the balance of power—political, economic and social. On the domestic front, there is the rise in the power and influence of organized labor, with all its undisclosed potentialities. On the international front there is the rise in the power and influence of Soviet Russia to which only a dozen years ago we still refused diplomatic recognition. Let us beware in foreign and domestic policy alike, of behaving as though such changes have not occurred.
Today, for example, the United States and Russia possess powers and responsibilities which not even Britain, much less France and the older European States, can pretend to share on the basis of equality. I do not mean that the British Empire or a resurgent France or a unified China may not be factors of major importance in the total equation. I do not mean to minimize the rights, obligations and influence of the smaller States. I believe on the contrary that we should guard them most insistantly. I merely point to the obvious fact that in the international scene, the resources and influence of the U.S.A. and of the U.S.S.R. are paramount and therefore, primary factors.
This proposition has two significant corollaries. Thanks to the resources and continental expanse of the American and Russian states, neither the one nor the other of these powers is inherently imperialist in its outlook. On the other hand, neither is experienced in the complex and sensitive task of world leadership. Therein, of course, lies one of the major tasks and opportunities for education.
Third and most fundamental of the facts which challenge fresh study and attention is the impact on man himself of the revolution in science and technology. I use the word revolution advisedly, for it is not only in obvious and spectacular ways that science is constantly changing the conditions of human living. In hundreds of little ways, as Wallace Denham has pointedly observed, it uproots us and set us down lonely and distracted in a new and unfamiliar world.
It challenges traditional customs and beliefs as well as hard won skills. It upsets our social and moral as well as our economic equilibrium. It brings about new and disturbing concentrations of power in the domestic as well as in the international scene. It taxes and often overtaxes man's capacity for adjustment, and thus is responsible in no small measure for the frantic plunge of our times into political and moral revolution and war. Perhaps one may pause here to remark that insofar as problems of this sort have been responsible for war, victory itself is no automatic solvent. It will give us only another and dearly bought opportunity to effect solutions which our minds and hearts and consciences can support. Except as we embrace this opportunity, and embrace it in that spirit, we shall hardly discover, much less desire, the conditions requisite for peace.
Let us see then how these observations apply to our domestic situation and affect America's responsibilities. Much has been said—though not necessarily all the right things—about the "lag" of the social sciences and the humanities. Such a lag is rightly disturbing, but from one point of view, it is hardly surprising. Certainly science and technology have been lavishly subsidized by the forces of benevolence, on the one hand, and of malevolence on the other. (War's impact is uneven, but on the whole, war acts as an accelerator.) They have been lavishly subsidized, too, by industry intent on meeting and even anticipating human needs and wants. Indirectly, then, we have all had a part in the process.
One looks in vain for anything like equivalent support for research, experiment and study in the area of human adjustment to constant and accelerated change. Specific projects, in the humanities and in the so-called social sciences, typically confined to a narrow segment of a single discipline, have been supported by grants in aid from various quarters. Total contributions, however, have hardly been a trickle compared with the vast stream of funds released for research in the natural and medical sciences. Moreover, the pattern of attack on narrow and carefully delimited segments, which has yielded rich harvests in the natural sciences, is not necessarily adequate for the humanities or even for the social sciences.
The times, I submit, demand a change. Bold measures should be taken and taken promptly, to redress the balance. The war, with its shattering of inertia and routine, has stirred in the colleges and universities a healthy mood of self-criticism and a disposition to reexamine educational ends and means. It has also disturbed academic vested interests sufficiently to afford a matchless opportunity for an advance in general education.
Feeling as we do that victory will confront education with the most challenging assignment in its history, with more depending on the outcome than one cares lightly to admit, American educators are in no mood for reckless change. Certainly we do not pretend for a moment to know all the answers. Some of us, however, see an imperative need for considered, and it may be daring, study and experiment in general education at the college level.
The importance to our society of trained scientists and technicians is obvious. The importance to our society of liberally educated men, responsibly aware of human history, human problems and human potentialities, must be equally obvious. Whether one looks at industry or government or the organization of the peace, the critical problem* are not technical but human and social. Their solution depends upon character, responsible intelligence, and a capacity to see in clear perspective the complex relationships, and the social and moral values, of an imposing array of factors. Thus effective general education becomes not less important but more, and the role of the liberal college is not peripheral but central.
We are increasingly aware of obstacles to the effective performance of that role. They are not easily removed. I am convinced, however, that there is promise in exposing our students, or a selected group of students, to a curriculum which is frankly and deliberately built around a core of prescribed and intimately related courses, to be organized and administered under university rather than departmental auspices. Such programs, incidentally, will require the use of living
and dynamic materials for teaching, and may well afford the opportunity for fresh experiment in student motivation. In the hands of the skilled teacher, for example, concrete problems requiring of the student responsible decisions in terms of action, may offer both a challenge to intelligent reading and study, and a genuine inducement to learning. And the effect upon the teacher may be equally salutary.
Obviously the schools have problems antecedent, though not unrelated, to the problems of the colleges. They are challenged, no doubt rightly, to expand their educational services, even while consolidating the extraordinarily rapid expansion of the past four decades. In the schools, as in the colleges, new subjects and new problems continue to press their claims just as we are wondering whether the proliferation of new courses is not crowding certain fundamentals to the wall.
It is possible this morning only to bow, in passing, to these and other important problems. I have long suspected, for example, that formal education bears approximately the same relation to total education as the visible part of an iceberg bears to the largely submerged whole. The importance of the early influences exerted by home and church and community has often been remarked; but our actions too often belie it. It seems to me, moreover, only less important for our times that education continue in something more than haphazard sense throughout our adult life.
Man can add to his intellectual and spiritual stature by taking thought. Despite superficial evidence to the contrary, he is not yet dominated by the machine. In fact, with its new shoes of swiftness and its other magical powers, the idea has become more potent than ever before. For our times, this thought is at once sobering and reassuring. It is sobering because in the hands of a Hitler who uses every device, new and old, for playing upon the credulity of a disgruntled people and the incredulity of others, the idea can be unimaginably destructive. It is reassuring because even the most perverted idea can be combatted, and one day put to rout, by the laggard but inevitable truth. Certainly the history of this war shows that ideas are not necessarily subject to any Gresham's law. It suggests, on the contrary, that the first task of education is to recognize the determining importance of the human mind and heart; and so point out the compelling importance of developing, on the widest possible front, attitudes and motives, ambitions and skills, which really do justice to man's deepest and truest insights.
Already the air is vexed—as I hope it will be cleared—by arguments over the scope of American responsibility. At one end of the spectrum a frantic minority urges that we take over and administer the German and Japanese schools and universities, even after the occupation, and proceed systematically to convert their youth to democracy by forced indoctrination. Of such persons one is tempted to say that they know little of history, less of democracy, and nothing at all of education or of human nature. At the other extreme are the educational isolationists—reformers as well as reactionaries—who insist that we wash our hands of Europe and Asia on the ground that our own educational problems are sufficient to keep us busy. Of those who advance this too familiar argument, one is tempted to say that they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.
Shall we falter before this old and decrepit dilemma? Must we again impale ourselves upon one of its rusty horns?
Nonsense. Only the fool builds his brave new home with devoted care in an area notoriously subject to fire or storm or pestilence, in blithe disregard of the dangers of his environment. The wise man, discovering that he has no option about the site—or that he already enjoys the best available-will be the first to press forward with his neighbors for collective measures of prevention and correction. Does this mean that he is interfering in matters that do not concern him? Does it mean that he is neglecting his own concerns? Or does it mean that he truly perceives the scope of his own needs and acts accordingly? Is the fool or the wise man really minding his business?
By the same token, only the fool supposes that we can, or should do in Germany and Japan, in democracy's name, what they attempted in the areas they conquered. I am not now speaking of military government, but of education, and in severely practical terms. I tell you that nothing is more certain to excite patriot resistance and ultimately discredit the cause we seek to promote than forcible attempts to impose an alien culture.
How then shall we resolve the issue? One immediate step is clear. We should urge with all the force at our command that at the first practicable moment an international agency of education be established, in which the United Nations and ultimately all peoples are represented. And we should demand full American participation.
The first duty of this agency should be to define and publicize such principles and objectives as concern education and are found to be held in common. It should do all in its power to keep the channels of education free. It should have broad powers of scrutiny, discussion and publicity. It should also have power to recommend action with respect to all departures from its working code, wherever they may occur. Once stated—and others have already stated it with far more eloquence than I possess—the imperative need for such an agency as a part of the organization for collective security appears self-evident.
But because the need may appear self-evident as we focus our attention on the problem, let us not suppose that it is self-evident in fact. (Was it Ambrose Bierce who defined self-evident as evident to oneself?) The establishment of such an agency as a forum for full and free discussion of educational ends and means would of itself be a potent educational force, especially if freedom of the press and of the radio is widely secured. But unless we use these and other means to broadcast now and later the importance, to our hopes of peace and hence to all peoples of such a world agency of education, it will not be established; or being established it will not succeed.
In our world, and in the world of the future, time presses. As Germany and Japan have demonstrated, the seeds of war are planted in the educational system. If in all our talk of peace we mean business, we dare not wait until these seeds have yielded their poisonous harvest. To do so is to place an unfair burden upon the machinery of political conciliation. It is to multiply many times the task of our agencies for enforcing the peace. If we want a harvest of peace, let us put an end to this everlasting sowing of dragon's teeth. But let us as practical men go about it by lawful process and through common agencies, democratically controlled.
Do we fear the issue? Are we apprehensive of the ultimate fate of the Christian and democratic gospel—the gospel of human freedom—which we profess? Do we fear, in short, that if education were universally free, the tares would choke the wheat?
In the Foreword to the Regents Inquiry, published in 1938, Aere occurs a striking statement, the implications of which should at once sober and hearten us as we begin at last to establish the dearly-won bridgehead which is victory, and look ahead to the endless and all-important struggle to consolidate and extend it. As it concludes the Foreword to the Inquiry, so it concludes my part in these proceedings.
"It may well be doubted," so runs the passage, "if there can be democracy without free education, or anything else but democracy where education is free."