Undergraduates and the War

[THE flood of responses to Professor Arnold Whitridge’s article, ‘Where Do You Stand?’ — An Open Letter to American Undergraduates — which appeared in the August Atlantic, and those occasioned by the reply, ‘We Stand Here,’ in the September issue, seemed to the editors to establish a cross section of American undergraduate opinion on questions arising from the war. We submitted these letters to Mr. Cram as case-history material. In the first section of this article he analyzes their content. In the second, he discusses the attitude of American educators toward their students. In his third section he weighs certain modern trends in American education which he believes to be largely responsible for a situation and point of view that many thoughtful men and women find profoundly disturbing. — THE EDITOKS]


THE replies to Professor Whitridge’s article, ‘Where Do You Stand?’ (predominantly from undergraduates and recent graduates) are so numerous as to preclude any but summary treatment in the space available. It has been necessary to present samplings of opinions which are typical either by reason of their tone or in their content, and to illustrate them by condensed quotations. Wherever possible the name of the college and the home state of the writer are indicated.

The first, and by far the largest category, is that of isolationist and semi-isolationist sentiment. This is so frequent as to deserve the designation general. No letter writer favors an overseas expeditionary force. On the other hand, few think complete isolation possible. Virtually every one accepts the need of adequate military defense. Many accept the policy of full material aid for Britain, but on realistic rather than idealistic grounds.

Real and thoroughgoing divergence from Professor Whitridge arises over the extent of the menace to us and the nature of our defense. Usually it is taken for granted that the Atlantic Ocean will not only hold off Hitler’s legions but apparently keep out Dr. Goebbels’s propagandists as well. Few think the menace of armed invasion serious, at least for a long time. Seemingly the idea that time is on our side is as common as it was in France and Britain a year ago. Significantly, the softening of our will to resist through German propaganda or the penetration of Latin America by totalitarian ideas, as the Continent has been penetrated, is not seriously discussed. This is remarkable in view of the almost universal fear of domestic propaganda treated below.

Battle is really joined over the question of our duty in the present crisis. Here the divergence between the two generations is plain: our young men do not see any moral issue. They resent the implication that they are dodging a moral issue; they insist that their own position is as idealistic as their fathers’; they deny vehemently that they are cowards, and they accuse their elders of having let them down and of having undergone a sudden, quixotic change of view. The form of our minds has been moulded by your generation. We were taught that war was wrong, avoidable, inhuman, Europe no concern of ours, full of intriguing diplomats, secret treaties, unpaid war debts, and propaganda; that the British burned Washington in 1814, and that German-Americans were our most thrifty and industrious citizens. Most of all we were warned that, being young, we were impetuous, adventurous, and idealistic. Our entrance into the last war was a masterpiece of folly which enriched the munitions makers. Pictures of mangled bodies and headless children were brought out again. We were particularly instructed never to be swept off our feet by false patriotism like our fathers’. Well, we haven’t been. Most of us ‘look under the bed for propaganda.’ We have become so wise that many of us saw through the President’s recent request for money as a bid for reelection. (Harvard; home state, Iowa)

Closely akin to this is the disillusioned query, ‘Where is the democracy you fought for, the humanity your classmates died for? What you are attempting is to associate your notions of idealism with us, unwilling as you are to disassociate your ideal and your method. We have lifted your ideal from beneath your feet. We will not wave flags, beat drums, shout meaningless phrases, but the warmth of our hearts will keep this ideal alive. You have killed to live and have died.’ (Arizona Teachers’ College, ‘40)

Equally striking is the demand for certainty, apparently the certainty that if they must die in the defense of democracy, even in the limited sphere of the western continents, the objectives of action will be limited, the gains permanent and tangible. No one seems aware that only a Hitler, a demagogue, or a fool could make such guarantees under modern conditions. No one says he will do his duty loyally and cheerfully, cost what it may; very few say they feel a debt to the older generation or to the democracy in which they dwell. Some imply that if conscripted they will go in bitterness and undying resentment at the horror brought upon them by their elders.

‘What guarantee has youth today,’ asks a graduate of the University of Arizona, ‘37 (now teaching at Brown University), ‘that the same farcical proceedings will not follow our “noble” death as followed the death of youth in 1919? If one Congress repudiates internationalism, will another embrace it? Wilson is a much admired man today, but I have heard more enthusiasm for Calvin Coolidge.’

The defeatist tone of many of the letters is striking. ‘Suppose we go to war, fighting with England, and even suppose we win. We come back with two or three years of college, an honorary diploma, no business experience. The depression hits. What chance have we to secure jobs and a decent livelihood to compete with others who have had five or ten years of experience in the business world or have been to a graduate school? There is a fifty-fifty chance that we may lose a limb so that employers will not want us.’ (Amherst, ‘41; West Virginia)

Consciousness of the economic insecurity produced by war is frequent, though, curiously enough, relatively few seem to realize that the Second World War has already made it inevitable for all of us in one way or another. Some account is taken of the certainty that the defeat of Britain or the German penetration of Latin America will accentuate it still further. These are the children of depression talking, and the demand for economic security above everything else — above democratic traditions, academic freedom, and the like — is both poignant and significant.

We have a mission to perform — we of the Western Hemisphere are in the process of creating a new world civilization. All our native genius and capacities are required for the task, and we shall be doing scant service if we dissipate our energies in other fields. It is absurd to suppose that we must forever seek our leadership in Europe or that our fate is inexorably linked to hers. The perfection of democracy and liberty on this continent is a far surer defense than military ventures abroad. We are also preparing to fight, but not in the sterile manner, not for the phantom goal which you urge. Youth proposes to exercise its prerogative to judge for itself and to find its own ideals. (Yale, '40; Maryland)

More precise definition of this program is not offered, though a goodly number of other letters draw vague blueprints for youth’s utopia, every one of them centring on material security and prosperity. No one discusses the political, æsthetic, or spiritual details of utopia.

Perhaps the most startling symptom of malaise revealed in the letters is an exaggerated fear of propaganda and emotional words. Since none of the writers has defined propaganda in his own mind or decided what he means by an emotional word, they cannot recognize a moral issue when they see one or differentiate moral indignation from hysteria. The result is an indiscriminate assumption that their elders are sentimentalists or propagandists.

‘We were told in 1917 that the Huns would come after us next, but we believe now that it was part of the disease called propaganda which killed our youth.’ (A Baltimore interne) It is not necessary to enlarge on this frequent formula or the denunciations of the older generation for its naivete in dealing with propaganda. ‘Professor Whitridge’s proselytizing filled me with the most disquiet.’ (A young graduate, Colorado) ‘We realize that the “Fifth Column” ballyhoo is 99.44 per cent propaganda and bunk, which your generation apparently does not.’ (Amherst, ‘41, quoted above)

‘A style replete with inflaming phrases [Professor Whitridge’s], lacking denotative precision, which oversimplifies the whole problem of war, a surrender to obscurantism.’ (Stanford)

Perhaps I seem confused. I am. I am also forced to confess that the system which I so dislike is not entirely wrong in what it is doing. There are some things to be said for the German point of view. I refuse to join you on your side of the fence and join the chorus which screams endlessly that Nazi Germany is evil and always has been. (University of Washington)

I won’t go into the state of my morals, but in connection with this war it seems to me that morals are out of the question. In college I studied some psychology, and the first lesson I learned was that there is no right or wrong to human behavior. Do you think that the Germans don’t believe they are in the right? The question is not of good and evil but of life and happiness. If Hitler wins there will be less of both, therefore I am for the Allies. I am pained at the bombing of a village somewhere in England, but I am also pained when I read about the British bombing a German village. (Smith; New Mexico)

A Dartmouth graduate of the class of 1939 sums up his position: ‘We cannot get too excited about the “rape” of Belgium and Holland because we remember England in Africa and India and we remember France under Napoleon.’ Not one letter compares the relative merits and defects of Britain and Germany over a period of time, or does more than mention the horrors of the Nazi régime. None assesses war guilt.

Despite Professor Whitridge’s restrained tone, the replies contain a surprising amount of innuendo as to his motives, reckless implications of bad faith, hysteria, and callousness on his part, and boasts of the objectivity and superior wisdom of the writers and their generation. This may seem more startling and alarming than the circumstances warrant. Such a tone has been prevalent in college journalism for some time, and need only be mentioned here to warn the unwary against the assumption that it necessarily indicates an unfathomable gulf between two generations.

Inevitably the proponents of a new view think of themselves as crusaders, and rush ‘to defend the right.’ For this reason it is not necessary to assume that the enormous preponderance of letters from the isolationist group presents a true picture of the relative strength of the two camps. The supporters of Professor Whitridge did not feel on the defensive, and for that reason sound more restrained and give a general appearance of balance. Here, for instance, is a letter written by a twenty-four-year-old alumnus of a small but famous Massachusetts college to his grandfather: —

Today’s news is the blackest yet, but somehow I feel very secure, particularly because our nation is now on the alert and all set to make the gigantic effort which will, I am confident, turn the tide both for the Allies (England now) and for our democratic system of government. I have heard so much pessimistic talk from the older generation that I think you might be interested to know what my friends and I feel about the whole dirty business.

First of all, we have unlimited faith in the United States: our man power is tremendous and fresh, our industrial machine is overwhelmingly superior, we have worlds of fight which needs only to be properly equipped and led to become the most formidable fighting force the world has yet seen. I have still to find the fellow my own age who is unwilling to offer his services — and his life, if need be — to maintain the United States in its present strong position. If compulsory military service for all men of fighting age is the best thing for the safety of our country, all of us are ready today to give up our jobs and learn to be soldiers. Most of us are agreed that we cannot remain an isolationist nation any longer unless we want to be a third-rate power. Those ideas are as defenseless and naive as the Maginot Line. . . .

There never has been a generation in America that had a one hundred per cent easy time of it. Perhaps it will be the job of my generation to fight a long, bitter war against the dictator powers, or at least to go through the sacrifices of financing that war for the British Empire. So what? Every generation has had plenty of troubles and plenty of pleasures, and we are confident that we shall nave our share of both. What we hope and need is that the older men of this country don’t feel sorry for us, but that they will make use of their wealth of experience and wisdom to show us how to fight. These older men must, however, be sound in their thinking, far-visioned in their planning, and bold in their policies. At least nine democracies have succumbed within the past eighteen months to timidity, vacillation, soft thinking, and unwillingness to face hardships. The older men of our country must not expect the younger generation to follow that kind of leadership — we want clean-cut, decisive action, and we’ll know it when we see it. We’ll never let them down.

No letter pro or contra is quite comparable to this letter in its entirety, and it needs no amplification or comment to express the consensus of the group opposed to narrow isolation. One other letter is appealing in its humility: —

Hailing from a small college perhaps does not grant me the voice to cope with the mighty tongues of the undergraduates of the more illustrious universities. Nevertheless I am granted a heart. I hope there is still a place for hearts.

We have become cowards, we Americans; we have become cowards because of our selfish and unscrupulous views, because of our lack of foresight, because America to-day sets aside values along with the anthropomorphic gods that science and life justly refute. This cowardly withdrawal has arisen partly because the idealistic young Americans who cried ‘make the world safe for democracy’ were disillusioned and embittered by the results that followed 1918. They thrust aside the tattered ideals of the past and with it all the valuable ideals that tend to create the understanding, unselfishness, fortitude, and foresight that are strength to the nation that nurtures them. Our god became, as you yourself mentioned, the god success. At last we began to accept evil as a force not capable of being combated with courage or the strength of sincere convictions.

Because we stood naked of our values, we failed to realize that the acceptance of evil was a disgrace that fell upon the shoulders of him who accepted. Our moral death may destroy us in the long run. Today we need men who do not overlook the past, who grasp the present, who not only hold to the ideal of a better future, but work for it. (Ursinus, ‘40; New York)

No letter out of these hundred-odd unsolicited expressions of opinion from American university-trained young men approaches the philosophy of the young aviator of the Royal Air Force, lately dead, whose letter to his mother was quoted in the Christian Science Monitor:

Those who serve England must expect nothing from her; we debase ourselves if we regard our country as merely a place in which to eat and sleep. . . . We are faced with the greatest organized challenge to Christianity and civilization that the world has ever seen, and I count myself lucky and honored to be the right age and fully trained to throw my full weight into the scale. For this I have to thank you. . . . I have no fear of death, only a queer elation. . . .


Toward the end of their first year as sleeping partners in the Second World War, Americans suddenly began to realize that democracy, after a century of relative security, is everywhere at war. An undeclared war, universal, remorseless, unending, aims at the extinction of democracy. The new strategy of this new kind of war, the ‘strategy of terror,’ seeks to destroy the will to resist, to anaesthetize the soul, and to splinter the unity of democracy. It has been everywhere successful on the Continent. In a single month it has destroyed the proudest military tradition since the days of Rome, breaking the army of France. It may destroy forever the most gracious civilization the western world has known, if it can shatter the soul of France.

Dimly sensing the implications of all this, Americans began to turn uneasy eyes toward the youth of America, noting the sharp, even bitter gulf opening between two war generations, between the fathers, veterans of the First World War, and the sons, destined defenders of democracy, if it is to be defended, in the Second World War.

Such was the background of the symposium on ‘America and War’ in the Boston Sunday Herald (June 30, 1940). This symposium, to be sure, did not cover schools and colleges outside New England, but since New England draws students from all over the nation, and the educators quoted were analyzing the views of their students as well as expressing personal convictions, the narrowness of range is more apparent than real. The collective diagnosis by this representative and influential group of New England educators, and their comments on the present attitude of our undergraduates, taken in conjunction with the mosaic of national student opinion provided by the replies to Professor Whit ridge, present an illuminating and disturbing aspect of our national crisis.

Our young school and college men, say the educators, are serious, well-equipped idealists, and courageous. Confused children of a cynical generation, born amid an orgy of prosperity, and reared in depression, they were told by their elders that war was a futile, sordid business. The historical half-truths of their fathers (and especially, it must be added, of their mothers) demonstrated that the First World War and the peace were a betrayal. Economic determinism and prosperity were played up. Their parents, as President Hopkins points out, tried to save them from all the hardness of life, seeking for their sons, as for themselves, the easier way. Psychologically unprepared for the present cataclysm, our young men are eager to get on with their careers. Dubious about the merits of each side in the great battle for western civilization, they are indifferent, but when the crisis comes they will be worthy of our best traditions. If one may judge by the letters to Professor Whitridge, student opinion heartily endorses this defense by one of its teachers.

A rapid, if delayed, shift of student opinion followed the invasion of Holland and Belgium. Some of our youth, it is pointed out, eventually became aware of the moral issue, even saw, at long last, that our way of life is directly menaced. General inertia has been succeeded by a general willingness to fight in defense of this continent, even, in the case of some, for this hemisphere, always provided guarantees are given that the peace will meet their wishes. This interpretation is hardly strengthened by the letters, for there is slight evidence of patriotic ardor, small feeling of responsibility to society. Such responsibility as there is seems rather a sense of obligation to youth.

Dr. Fuess of Andover, and others, exculpate the young men now on the threshold of college and in college on the ground that ‘the indifference of our students to the moral issues in the present war’ represents ‘the reactions of a nation which still hardly knows its own mind,’ and is sadly in need of leadership. This exculpation releases a large black cat from the academic bag.

For years American secondary school boys and college men have been the recipients of an unprecedented bounty, an increasingly heavy charge upon the nation, justified by the universal assumption that higher education is a sound investment in potential leadership. Now Dr. Fuess implies that these same young men must be excused for their indifference to the greatest crisis of civilization since the Christian era, because they are no better and ‘no worse than the nation of which they are a phase and an essential part.’ The Headmaster of Tabor Academy turns the knife in the wound by saying that our boys will begin to realize their full responsibilities after a month in their homes and local communities.

Reduced to its simplest terms, this means that the recipients of a unique educational bounty have done no better in a pinch than their less favored fellows. In a society already close to the limits of its permissible errors, such a diagnosis, if correct, is tantamount to an admission of a dangerous defect in the education of an especially favored group. This view is reënforced by the letters.

Dr. Perry of Exeter maintains the thesis that young men are realistic. He quotes the commencement oration of one of his seniors to the effect that youth greeted Hitler’s advance with wonder rather than indignation, felt little indignation at the invasion of Poland, and considerably less than their elders at the catastrophe of Norway, Belgium, and Holland, but would not make the mistake of idealizing Hitler. The young orator might have added, as a further demonstration of realism, that the heroic deeds of the British Army at Dunkirk and the simple bravery of French youth produced not a ripple of admiration among his contemporaries. That admiration, if one may judge from their letters, is reserved for the Hitler they do not idealize, but seem to admire because he ‘delivers the goods.’ Certainly the few specific repudiations of Hitler are in the most restrained manner.

The constant assertion that youth is sound and can be depended on in a real crisis looks comforting in the symposium. It ignores the fact that the crisis is upon us and that the symposium was designed to explain why the young men have failed us. In any case this cheerful conviction has an uncomfortable suggestion of the fatal and futile complacency of Britain and France a year ago.

It is now beside the point for French educators to say (if any do) that, given time, their pupils would have thought wisely, would have died nobly. Their first duty to French democracy was to prepare their youth for the terrible hour of decision. France was not ready for the supreme test, and there is an awful lesson in that fact for every teacher in every democracy in the world.

Obviously, to defend our boys on the ground that they are good, but slow, is no longer an answer. Educators must stop such wishful thinking and find a way, not merely to make democratic idealism vital and efficient, but to make it more vital and more efficient than its ruthless and terrible rival. The search for an historical alibi must be transformed into a hard, honest analysis of their own defects. Let us continue our examination of the symposium on this basis.

Dr. Wriston, President of Brown University, supplements the usual diagnosis of the current ‘young-man problem’ with a veiled allegation that President Roosevelt’s criticisms of American democracy for failing to do its duty by youth and old age are in some degree responsible for the lack of tone of our young people. Historically the deterioration of our youth may equally well be dated from the deterioration revealed by their elders in the League of Nations election, the Harding scandals, Coolidge prosperity, and Hoover complacency. To attribute this development even partially to one administration is to distort historical perspective and attribute an unbelievable influence to a single personality.

Contrasting the totalitarian lands with the United States, Dr. Wriston feels that they have known how to ‘arouse youth by calling for a spirit of self-sacrifice in defense of their ideals.’ Our own CCC and NYA are dismissed as a ‘lifeline of palliatives.’ Surely the President of Brown does not think that dubious mottoes over the door of German youth camps make them any less a palliative than our own. Does Dr. Wriston really think that Nazi youth, whether playing the traitor to their erstwhile Norwegian hosts or turning machine guns on helpless refugees in Belgium and France, were demonstrating such virtue that one prefers their ‘spirit of self-sacrifice’ to the ideals inculcated by our ‘lifeline of palliatives’? If the head of a university feels such tolerance, is it remarkable that students fail to sense a moral issue here?

Dr. Marsh, President of Boston University, in his diagnosis implies bad faith on the part of the President of the United States, saying of present-day youth that ‘ it will take a great deal more than war psychosis created by a President’s ambitions for a third term to convince them of any real danger from this source [Hitler’s plans].’ The unpleasant impression of such words from an educator and a clergyman is not removed by the mincing opening of the next paragraph, ‘In the above I have not necessarily [italics mine] been expressing my own opinion.’ Either Dr. Marsh is accusing the President of the United States of something akin to treason or he is not. Which is it? Does anyone wonder that students lack epistolary dignity, or feel surprise at their partisanship and their propaganda psychosis, when educators indulge in such public innuendo?

Another clergyman, Dr. Moody of Middlebury, combines idealism of tone and realism of diagnosis in a devastating analysis, which touches the nub of the matter, when he says that the attitude of the college man is ‘an encouragement if not an asset to the foes of the American way of life.’ Had the President of Middlebury written with the answers to Professor Whitridge before him, he could not have made a better summary of them. ‘The student body is almost fanatically insistent on what they consider their rights,’ he says, adding that it is hard to reconcile this attitude w ith their apparent indifference to those of others. He wishes that ‘we heard more about duties and less about rights.’ Youth, he continues, ‘refuses to accept clear evidence, calling it propaganda, and swallows bait, hook, and sinker all they are told about the depravity of politicians, and, while they cry out against slogans, utter them constantly.’

Dr. Moody’s conclusion reaches a plane above the general level of the symposium: ‘Force is foolish, but alas, sometimes our only resort. Mankind has been guilty of greed, but is also capable of heroism. War has turned some men into beasts. But it has made martyrs of others and refined the dross away.’

To adjust the perspective, let us turn from the professional educators to two professional writers, one a ‘repentent liberal,’ the other a realistic newspaper man and radio commentator of international reputation for honesty and penetration. In fairness to the educators it must be remembered that the symposium was a relatively hurried, ad hoc job, not to be judged by quite the same standards as Mr. MacLeish’s gracious mea culpa or Mr. Swing’s Olivet Baccalaureate.

Mr. MacLeish’s conclusions are ominous, and it is symptomatic that among the educators Dr. Moody alone approached him in penetration and perspective. ‘If the younger generation in America is distrustful of all words, distrustful of all moral judgments of better and worse, then it is incapable of using the only weapon with which fascism can be fought, and the moral and spiritual unpreparedness of the country is worse than its unpreparedness in arms.’ Written as this was before the collapse of France, it takes on a terrifying mantic quality in the light of details leaking out from the ruins of French democracy.

Mr. Swing, speaking in a tone suited to the occasion of his address, says in part, ‘If they [the young] must question all outer semblances, have they learned to trust the processes of establishing truth, which can be demonstrated in the research laboratory and in the recesses of their own souls? If a man does not believe in the godhood that is in him, he is going to believe there is godhood in the dictator. Not having cared for responsibility, which is the other meaning of freedom, he will have thrown all responsibility on the leader. Man was not always free to say, think, read, what he pleased. Men died for these things. The men who founded this Republic prized these things more than life itself. We are their heirs.’

Can we escape the conclusion that one possible explanation for the great gulf opening between the generations today lies in the fact that it was neither an educator nor a clergyman, but a newspaper man, who best diagnosed the mortal sickness of democracy and best defined the task of education in a democracy? Is there no connection between the keen sense of frustration common among young teachers and lackadaisical cant among the undergraduates? This raises a fundamental problem of our educational policy.


Since the First World War, the general tendency toward expansion of educational endowment has been phenomenal. Before 1929, money poured out in floods, and only recently has there been a really serious slackening of the tide. Confusing expansion of plant and an almost fanatical ardor in creating an educational bureaucracy — a process which may justly be called ‘educational inflation’ — with improved educational production, we have gone ahead for two decades until a situation has arisen in the academic world exactly parallel with that in business and government. An aloof, Byzantine administration of executives, experts, statisticians, and other academic camp followers, dominates the educational scene, and dwarfs the ultimate personality, in this case the teacher, overwhelming him in machinery.

Leadership in American education during the last twenty years has passed into the hands of administrators rather than teachers. Few indeed are the teachers who, upon being elevated to places of great power, continue to exercise the teaching function. Soon the teacher is lost in the administrator. Constant necessity to reconcile himself with parents, alumni, students, the press, the public, donors, and now more and more with professional educationists, blurs his perspective. Before he knows it, he has submerged the supreme task of the teacher in a democracy, which is to form character and to create personality, beneath the collection of statistics and the construction of graphs.

Under the circumstances, it is hardly astonishing that the nation and its educators (I will not say teachers, for they anticipated it) are suddenly faced with the terrifying fact that Whitehead was right when he said, ‘Man cannot live by bread alone, still less can he live on disinfectants.’ Inevitably they ask themselves anxiously what will be the future of democratic society, which, no more than man, can live on disinfectants.

We shall make a great error if we assume that the unhappy state of our young men is solely the result of a spiritual Blitzkrieg, and we shall be less than just if we assume that the entire responsibility rests on the generation of educators who are represented in the Herald symposium. At the worst their remarks are symptoms, not causes, and the American parent must assume his share of blame.

To understand the process by which the spiritual and ethical content has been exhausted from American education, it is necessary to recall a little history. The colonizers of this country and the founders of the Republic were, broadly speaking, the spiritual and intellectual heirs of two great disciplines, the one best represented by the Bible, especially the King James version, and the other by the Classics. Our young nation established no state church, set up no ruling aristocracy, before it embarked on a career of continental expansion, creating an American civilization of movement and frontier psychology rather than a contemplative, static society.

Close upon the heels of this development came the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, from which there stemmed in the course of the nineteenth century the tradition of our national figure par excellence, the business man.

Essentially pragmatic and without perspective, though often endowed with daring and imagination, the business man concentrated on the present and the future. As there was neither a state clergy nor an aristocracy, the defense of the ancient disciplines of the past as a guide to life rested almost wholly with the older, endowed institutions of learning, and the battle against the new materialism and ephemeral perspective was a losing one practically from the first.

The old educational tradition was still further shaken by the tremendous impact of the new science and technology, of Marxism, and of Freudian psychology. The Bible and the Classics ceased to dominate the curriculum, and then ceased even to play a vital role in it. Finally, no integrated, general, spiritual or ethical discipline filled the vacuum.

No other system of society depends to such a degree on a common ethical and spiritual purpose as does democracy. For this reason, the dichotomy between two generations in our gravest crisis is as threatening to the unity of our nation as the catalytic effect of Christianity was to the unity of Rome, and for exactly similar reasons. On this account, if for no other, the task of our teachers at the present moment is one of the most terrible responsibilities in modern times.

With the disappearance of the King James Bible as a vital element in our thinking and our reading, there disappeared from our national thought the centuries-old source of the democratic ideals and practical ethics of the common man of the English-speaking world. At the same time there disappeared one of the greatest classics of our vernacular literature, perhaps the happiest fusion of lofty sentiment and noble language since the days of Plato and Thucydides. At one and the same time, the Bible provided a common emotional and spiritual vocabulary for the nation, a great model of lofty expression, and a stern code for all sections of society. Outside the English-speaking world, probably no comparable literary source of unity is to be found. Today we can begin to see dimly what its loss has meant.

With the Classics went the oldest educational tradition of western man, a potent bond between American culture and European thought, just as the Bible was a precious link between the two Anglo-Saxon democracies. Is it, then, extraordinary that we have to lament that our sons are cold to the agonies of the great tradition to which our culture belongs, indifferent to the fate of British democracy, though our national fate is inseparable from it, and are ready to call a policy which will leave our democracy to face totalitarian ruthlessness alone and isolated, a policy of ‘realism’?

From the code of the ancient world, and its revival in the humanistic tradition of the Renaissance, came the English code of the gentleman, the embodiment of the ideals of heroic individuality and personal leadership without which no democracy has long been able to survive. Significantly enough this code is now subject to constant jeers from Berlin.

Through long apprenticeship in the Classics, men acquired habits of close analysis of thought and expression, habits of exact definition of idea and word, a sense of propriety in thought and act, a feeling for loftiness of conduct and speech — an intuitive technique in dealing with human and political ideas that prepared them for personal self-discipline, for self-government, and for leadership in society. The necessity of understanding a distant and widely different civilization was an important training in perspective, and, most precious of all, a unique school for the imagination. Certainly two more perfectly complementary disciplines than the Bible and the Classics have never been offered in Anglo-Saxon educational history, nor two more essential to the preservation of a democracy.

Before it was possible to give modern languages, literatures, and histories a fair trial as a replacement for the humanistic discipline, two new elements appeared to complicate the problem — the fashion for science, and the vogue for ‘modern education.’

No man in his senses will question the greatness or brilliance of the giants of science. Still less will he deny that some of the great scientists have been great sages, for many examples come readily to mind. This is not the same thing as saying that science as taught to-day in the United States deserves the emphasis that is being placed on it. The explanation of this distinction is simple.

One of the greatest merits of science is that it is an exacting master, and another is that it demands an intuitive technique all its own. But the other side of the shield is that science, partly by virtue of these two great merits, is highly departmentalized. Even if a boy pursues science through four years of secondary school under good instruction, he will have mastered, not science as an approach to ideas and to society, but science as an approach to more advanced science. As often as not, science will become for him an insulation from society. He will scarcely have begun to think of science as a key to civilization and human relations.

There is no reason to assume that this will remain a permanent defect of a discipline which is at once one of the newer and one of the most dynamic branches of human knowledge. Nevertheless, so long as this difficulty persists, it must remain a serious objection to the establishment of science as a foundation for education in a democracy.

Despite the risk of appearing, to my scientific friends, outrageously partisan, it seems impossible to leave hard questions unasked at this point: (1) Can we rule out all connection between the materialistic indifference of our youth and the current emphasis on the ruthless formulæ of science? (2) May it not be that scientific determinism has helped to undermine the roots of democracy exactly as Marxian economic and historical determinism has done? (3) Can all possibility of a connection between the prestige of German science and the ruthlessness of Nazidom be excluded?

Finally, coming with great diffidence to a subject I fear I do not understand, ‘modern education,’ I must speak very humbly. As I conceive the new gospel, it rests upon the modern developments of psychology, and assumes that the individual personality and its fullest development are the concern and point of departure of education. Certainly no honest devotee of the humane tradition can quarrel with that. Still less can he question, in the abstract at least, the corollary that the individual is to be allowed the fullest practicable latitude in the choice of his curriculum, with a view to expanding and enriching his personality to the maximum as a preparation for life.

A second fundamental assumption seems to be that there is little distinction to be made between subjects on the basis of educational or disciplinary value. To this point of view many people apparently are inclined to enter a caveat, and even some advanced educational opinion appears prepared to question it.

Beyond this point the woods begin to darken. For example, a tendency emerges in the ‘new education’ to treat the individual as though he would exist in a social, political, and economic vacuum forever. Undoubtedly this does liberate his personality for the moment, but does it not also prepare a cold gray dawn when the individual enters the cruel world?

Socrates, first and greatest of teachers, saw that the deposit of early education remains fixed, and when he was on trial for his life observed that it was easy to cure people of errors acquired in later life, but difficult to eradicate notions picked up in youth. In this case, the immediate question is whether or not there may be a connection between habits of unlimited self-expression fixed in formative years, and the present want of a concept of duties to balance rights, noted by Dr. Moody and many teachers, and painfully evident in the letters to Professor Whit ridge.

Similarly, certain difficulties seem to flow from the enrichment and diversification of the curriculum implied by this theory. I am by no means sure that it is well for a lad to know four fields of history superficially rather than two carefully selected and complementary histories with thoroughness. I am positive that boys who have covered the history of western man from the primordial slime to the French Revolution in one year will have very little conception of the tremendous importance of the French Revolution or its relation to our own democracy.

Likewise I must question if a college freshman who in school has substituted a brief, premature, and inevitably superficial study, let us say of economics, plus a course in contemporary civilization, for a solid, if less fascinating, course in European history from 1500 to the present, will be qualified to think very straight on current problems of immediate and vital importance to all Americans. Certainly slovenly historical education of our youth and slovenly training in the basic disciplines of thought have contributed enormously to their pathetic enslavement to propaganda, and to the low estate of American democracy.

In this connection it also seems important to ask if ‘modern education’ does not share in the common task of education, the duty to prepare the new, integrated personality to carry on the democratic process, and to protect democracy from ideological as well as military assault. Dr. Moody’s contribution, and the observations of a good many veteran teachers, indicate that this goal has not always been achieved.

Such is the specific problem facing our teachers. It has been admirably put into full perspective in Alfred Cobban’s Dictatorship, Its History and Theory. Cobban points out that the decay of western religion alone is insufficient to account for a change of such magnitude as the one now sweeping the world; that this shift violates the long trend of modern history, and that in the last fifty years great strides in education have not been accompanied by parallel progress in liberty, but an increase in nationalism, dictatorship, and totalitarian tendencies.

Responsibility for this phenomenon, in Cobban’s view, rests, to no small degree, on the change in educational ideals. At the end of the Middle Ages, control of the state passed to men educated in the humanism of the Ancient World, just then revived in the Renaissance. To the humanist, education was a preparation for the responsibilities of government, the art of government a profession like any other. In England this tradition was dominant from More to Gladstone, and is still vital. A similar trend existed throughout Europe. Such a training in the Classics produced a ruling aristocracy resting on education as well as blood and birth.

Modern education, Cobban continues, has ceased to fulfill this mission; for whether in the humanities, science, or history, the desiccating rule of the specialist has robbed learning of its ancient philosophical and speculative content, cut. it off from the life of the community, and replaced the rule of philosophical governors with the rule of experts who substitute meticulous, scientific exactitude in the mastery of detail for a grasp of the broader, humane values.

Few sounder observations could be made than Cobban’s statement that the art of government is not merely a technique but a psychological attitude, better absorbed from tradition than transmitted by instruction. Today the older forms of government are on trial wherever western civilization exists, because the remarkable technical progress of civilization has broken down the prestige of ancient ways and old traditions. This produces a sense of domestic insecurity, and leads the intelligentsia, now without an important direct share in government, to welcome the rule of the new, supreme expert, the totalitarian dictator. Cobban’s final query at this point raises the problem facing teachers in the terrible year 1940: ‘The Ages of Faith may be returning, but will it be a faith built up on the inherited culture of a great civilization, or will it be the fetichism of a new Dark Age? Whatever it is, it will be imposed by force, for the expert has armed authority with almost irresistible power for the destruction of freedom of thought and for the slow but irresistible barbarization of the western world.’

It is already too late to repair our errors in dealing with the post-war generations. In that sense, they may be said to be lost generations, and we must accept the results of our handiwork. At the moment we have one task, the obliteration of Hitlerism on land and on sea — and from our spirit. Until that task is done, thoroughgoing reform of democratic education must wait.

Meantime we must recall the words of the young man to his grandfather, quoted above, and remember that some of our youth want an end of ‘timidity, vacillation, soft thinking, and unwillingness to face hardships.’ That must be the cornerstone of our ultimate educational reform, as it must be the foundation of victory.

Once victory has been won, we must turn a pitiless eye on our educational short cuts, the sentimental softness of our pedagogy, our willful blindness to the bitter lessons of the past, and must root out the projections of a sordid epoch from educational thought and practice.

As we embark on our task of reform we shall do well to remember that the man who wrote, ‘Those who serve England must expect nothing from her; we debase ourselves if we regard our country as merely a place in which to eat and sleep,’ spoke for a nation whose educational tradition reaches back through Arnold of Rugby, More, and Colet, to Socrates.