Education and the Modern World

by Bertrand Russell [W. W. Norton, $2.50]
IN his Education and the Good Life, Bertrand Russell not only explained the principles and aims which he believed ought to govern education, but applied himself in detail to the discussion of various kinds of schools, the conflicting educational methods and purposes appropriate to children of different ages. The present book is sketchy by comparison. It is directed more exclusively to principles and general forces in education, it is less extended and thorough in treatment. Yet the problem to which he now addresses himself is of the greatest importance, and his treatment of it is of a kind to invigorate the imagination.
The problem is whether two great and necessary aims of education can be reconciled. One is the aim of promoting the fullest and richest individual life: that is, the education of the individual. The other is the aim of promoting social cohesion: that is, the education of the citizen. Mr. Russell considers that, in itself, the education which promotes the richest and fullest individual life is most to be desired. But he believes that as social cohesion is indispensable, some admixture of the education of the citizen is necessary, and he is even prepared to admit, after tracing and deprecating the effects on education of various kinds of propaganda, that ‘a certain amount of uncompensated propaganda is necessary for the minimum of social cohesion.’
The importance of this central problem for the present world and the world of the immediate future needs no expatiation. Mr. Russell treats it, and the related topics over which he ranges, as might be expected: with the witty lucidity of a great dialectician, the brilliant penetration of a gifted and sensitive man, the powerful and sometimes laughably evident prejudices of a very emotional man (as when he says that ‘pupils should, of course, write as well as read, but what they write should not be criticized, nor should they be shown how, in the teacher’s opinion, they might have written it better’), and, finally, with that invigorating moral ardor and strain of ethical nobility which cannot be denied to his best passages except by prejudices even more powerful than his own. He is capable of saying at one point that lessons ought, to the utmost of possibility, to be purely voluntary; and then of saying that children ‘should be compelled to listen’ to debates over the radio between the Soviet Ambassador and Mr. Winston Churchill on Communism, and between Stalin and the Archbishop of Canterbury on Christianity. He is capable of saying that ‘none of the higher mental processes are required for conservatism.’ Yet his educational dicta at their best are governed by admirable good sense and tact, and some of his criticisms of the theory of complete freedom in education strike severely and very close to the roots. The world could ill do without Bertrand Russell as a fertilizer of intelligence, and as one profoundly devoted to the good and happiness of mankind.