m_topn picture
Atlantic Monthly Sidebar

May 1940

For A Classless Society:
The Jeffersonian Tradition

by James Bryant Conant

Charter Day Address delivered at the University of California on March 28, 1940.

THE United States was once proclaimed as the land of the free. Now we are more often reminded that it has been the profitable home of an acquisitive society. Greed and 'lust for money,' we are told, determined the course of development of even the first years of the republic.

Yet, as early as 1800 a potent but silent ferment was at work which had nothing to do with the almighty dollar. In describing conditions at the beginning of Jefferson's administration, Henry Adams writes as follows: 'European travelers who passed through America noticed that everywhere, in the White house at Washington and in log cabins beyond the Alleghenies, except for a few Federalists every American, from Jefferson and Gallatin down to the poorest squatter seemed to nourish an idea that he was doing what he could to overthrow the tyranny which the past had fastened on the human mind.' This idea so widely disseminated among the citizens of the raw republic of sixteen states seems to me one of the most essential and continuing elements in the development of American education. I have ventured to associate with this passion for freedom of the mind two other closely allied elements--namely, a belief in careers open to all through higher education, and a faith in universal schooling. I have labeled the whole with Jefferson's name. I trust that neither his shade nor American historians will be unduly offended by my terminology.

In his brief autobiographical sketch Jefferson wrote that he deemed it essential to a well-ordered republic to annul hereditary privilege. He proposed 'instead of an aristocracy of wealth, of more harm and danger, than benefit, to society, to make an opening for the aristocracy of virtue and talent, which nature has wisely provided for the direction of the interests of society, and scattered with equal hand through all its conditions....' Elsewhere, in describing his new educational scheme for Virginia, he speaks of that part of his plan which called for 'the selection of the youths of genius from among the classes of the poor.' He declared, 'We hope to avail the State of those talents which nature has sown as liberally among the poor as the rich, but which perish without use, if not sought for and cultivated.' These quotations sum up for me the second component in the Jeffersonian tradition in education--a sincere belief in the paramount importance of careers freely open to all the talented.

Most important for its effect on the development of American educational practice was the third element of the tradition--Jefferson's devotion to the principle of universal schooling. This doctrine naturally has had more general popular appeal throughout the years than either concern for freedom of the mind or desire for opportunity through higher education. For here was a proposition which directly affected every family in the land. To quote from the proposal for Virginia, 'The ultimate result of the whole scheme of education would be the teaching of all the children of the State reading, writing and common arithmetic...' These words of Jefferson may now seem to us to describe a degree of general education so small as to be negligible. But when they were written they expressed a revolutionary doctrine--a belief that every potential citizen in a democratic republic should receive at least a minimum of formal instruction. The campaign against illiteracy had begun in earnest.

As a recent biographer has said, Jefferson believed that any boy or girl was capable of benefiting from the rudiments of education and would be made a better citizen by acquiring them. He believed in keeping open the door of further opportunity to the extent that a poor boy of ability should not be debarred from continuing his education. 'To have gone farther and made a higher education compulsory on all,' suggests this biographer, 'would have seemed as absurd to him as to have decreed that every crop on his farm, whether tobacco, potatoes, rye, corn, or what not, must be treated and cultivated in precisely the same way as every other....In terms of the citizen, he believed in the maximum of equality of opportunity. In terms of the state, he believed in the minimum of compulsion and interference compatible with the training of all its citizens as citizens to the maximum of the capacity of each.'

To understand the bearing of Jefferson's ideas on the development of American schools and colleges we must realize, of course, that they represented only one aspect of a wider social philosophy. As this philosophy was understood by large numbers of the citizens of the young republic, it included the following points: a belligerent belief in individual freedom; complete confidence in the powers of man's intelligence to overcome all obstacles; the assumption of a society without hereditary classes, without an aristocracy; a differentiation of labors with a corresponding differentiation in the types of education (but no ruling caste, no hereditary educational privileges, everyone to be 'as good as everyone else'); widespread education for all citizens so that political decisions might be 'rational.' Dominating all was the doctrine of the maximum independence of the individual, the minimum of social control by organized society.


Some such set of ideas as I have grouped together under Jefferson's name would have been widely recognized, I believe, as 'American ideals,' in every period of our national history. To understand their significance for the future let us examine one by one the three components of the Jeffersonian tradition in American education.

Hatred of tyranny in general and a desire to overthrow the tyranny which the past had fastened on the human mind went hand in hand in the early years of the nineteenth century, for the intellectual leaders of the Jeffersonian tradition were steeped in eighteenth-century rationalism. The liberal faith of the Age of Reason was a product of a cultural evolution intimately associated with economic and political change, on the one hand, and the great triumphs of late seventeenth-century science on the other. Newton was one of its heroes, and John Locke a major prophet. The bill of rights and the laws of celestial mechanics are lasting monuments to its glory. All who live in a land of free institutions and enjoy the benefits of applied science have reason to be grateful to the liberal leaders of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Our gratitude cannot blind us to the fact, however, that these rationalists greatly overestimated the role of reason in human affairs. They were much too optimistic in their expectation of the practical consequences which would follow the liberation of the human mind from the tyrannies they so despised. Can anyone doubt that if Jefferson and Franklin should return today they would be amazed and disappointed? Science, to be sure, has developed far beyond their expectations; the material conquest of an untamed continent has exceeded their wildest dreams. But the tyrannies which control our minds remain defiant and largely unsubdued. We can imagine how shocked these eighteenth-century statesmen would be to find after one hundred and fifty years the survival of emotional reactions which they fondly supposed were founded only on ignorance or superstition. Inanimate nature has proved more yielding than they imagined, human nature more stubborn and barbarous than they supposed.

Today we live in a period of reaction. The optimistic tide has ebbed. To many the failure of the 'war to end war' and the terrifying international scene may be sufficient reason for discouragement. But I believe the cause lies deeper. Are we not to a large measure suffering from the consequences which must result whenever human beings base their hopes on fallacious premises? Our intellectual ancestors were wrong on many fundamental points. The complexities of both the inanimate and the animate world were greater than they dreamed. Their errors, however, in physics, chemistry, and biology do not trouble us. The impossibility of perpetual motion, of navigation to the moon, of the manufacture of an elixir of life, we accept as a matter of course. But the contrast between their hopes concerning the behavior of human beings and the realities of the present has shattered many a modern soul.

The contemporaries of Jefferson idolized freedom of the mind. They placed one ideal upon a pedestal and depicted a new era when humanity would bow down before this shrine. In so doing they passed on to their descendants a bondage to the hopes their prophecies engendered--utopian hopes of reforming man as a social animal. In reality, a belief in a new form of magic came upon the scene. The goddess Reason was to wave a wand and all mankind would be prosperous and at peace. In the twentieth century we find the spell has failed. Or so I read the past. And if I am right, then widespread enthusiasm for intellectual freedom can be rekindled only when a sufficient number of men and women readjust their expectations. Only then will the whole country strain to unleash once more the potentialities of the human mind. When that time comes a new sense of humility will reflect an altered mood. No easy faith in the inevitability of progress will cheer us on. Instead, courage will flow from a determination to face the problem of evil, not from a skill in hiding it.

Scientists appear to agree that we must now modify even those modes of thought which concern inanimate nature. The scientific point of view of the late nineteenth century is already out of date. This is but another step in the progress of a healthy skepticism. It is a recognition that we cannot settle many questions we once thought solvable. It is a recognition that our scientific theories are only models--models that help us formulate those empirical observations which we generalize into scientific laws. It may be necessary, as in the case of light, to employ two theories which once appeared to be mutually contradictory. The physicist has learned to like this situation, perhaps even to love the apparent contradiction involved in employing a wave theory for explaining one set of optical phenomena, a corpuscular theory for another. Parenthetically one may remark that those who teach the elements of the subject have not had their task made easier!

The impact of these new modes of thinking about the sciences will eventually have repercussions on all our ways of thought. In the annual report of the Rockefeller Foundation for 1938 the President writes as follows: 'The physical sciences have centuries of experimentation behind them; the social sciences are just emerging from a priori and deductive methods. Even today a good deal that masquerades under the name of social science is metaphysics, as obsolete in its approach as was Francesco Sizzi's logic against Galileo's discovery of the satellites of Jupiter. "The satellites are invisible to the naked eye," he said, "and therefore can have no influence on the earth, and therefore would be useless, and therefore do not exist." This same logical method, long outmoded in the physical sciences, is traceable in some weighty books on economics and political science written as late as 1938.'

This statement of Dr. Raymond B. Fosdick is indicative of a new critical approach to vital problems. A reassessment of the realities of individual behavior and the nature of society is in progress along several lines. Some look to a fruitful combination of the work of the social anthropologist and psychologist. Some believe that the new line of march should parallel that followed so successfully in the development of modern experimental medicine by clinicians. From many quarters come reports that a new strategy is now developing. Once this is formulated and accepted there will be a rush of able pioneers to exploit the field. Confidence in our intellectual leaders will again surge upward. The Jeffersonian tradition will move forward; American thought will change its orientation and American education will feel a quickening of the pace.


I venture, then, to look forward to a renaissance of the vitality of the first element in the Jeffersonian tradition in education--freedom of the mind. I am equally optimistic about the second--equality of opportunity. I plead guilty at once to wishful thinking. Furthermore, I admit cheerfully that I propose to indulge in dangerous prophecy. But can anyone discuss the future with a neutral mind?

Until fairly recently it was taken for granted that the American republic could be described as classless. For a century and a half Americans have been saying with pride, 'This is a free country. There are no classes in the United States.' Note these words carefully, for the denial of classes in America is the denial of hereditary classes, not the denial of temporary groupings based on economic differences. 'Caste' and 'class' are equated by the average American, and I shall follow this usage. 'This is a free country. There are no classes in the United States.' The number of times these two sentences have been sincerely spoken could be recorded only by a figure of astronomical magnitude. Were they ever an approximately accurate description of typical American society? My answer would be yes. Have they today sufficient vitality and validity to be the basis for a continuation of Jefferson's educational program? A crystal gazer alone could tell. But I think the chance is good enough to demand our careful consideration of the possibility. For my own part, I risk with enthusiasm an affirmative answer and stand on the hope of our reconstituting a free and classless nation.

Phrases descriptive of a free, casteless, or classless society have not only represented an American belief of great potency in the past, but have described actual conditions in many sections of this republic. As compared with the situation in even such free countries as England and France, this country was unique in being without hereditary classes. The importance of this fact, I believe, has not been fully emphasized. But, I hasten to add, the social changes which have altered the situation during the last fifty years have all too often been ignored.

American society in some localities has always been organized on definite class lines; money and power have been passed on from father to son. The different strata have been relatively rigid and impenetrable But until recently such situations were the exception rather than the rule. Now we see in progress the rapid extension of such stratification over the whole land. We see throughout the country the development of a hereditary aristocracy of wealth. The coming of modern industrialism and the passing of the frontier with cheap lands mark the change. Ruthless and greedy exploitation of both natural and human resources by a small privileged class founded on recently acquired ownership of property has hardened the social strata and threatens to provide explosive material beneath.

Let us not shut our eyes to the realities. The vanishing of free lands, the spread of large-scale manufacturing units, the growth of cities and their slums, the multiplication of tenant farmers and despairing migratory laborers, are signs of the passage from one type of social order to another. The existence of vast unemployment only emphasizes the evil significance of an unwelcome change. Have we reached a point where the ideal of a peculiar American society, classless and free, must be regarded as of only historical significance?

Our friends on the Left will, I imagine, say yes. A class struggle is inevitable, they declare. Forget the dreams of a pioneer civilization, the early American town or farm, and face the modern capitalistic world, they urge. From their viewpoint no discussion of present problems which refuses to fit every fact into the framework of a class struggle can be realistic. The extremists will add, at least to themselves, that the outcome of the struggle is also inevitable--a classless society, not of the early American type, but on the Russian model.

On the extreme Right we may find an equally clear renunciation of the ideal--equally clear, but not, as a rule, equally outspoken, for the underlying assumptions here are often entirely unconscious. Throughout the history of this republic there has been among a small group undue admiration for the educational system of England, a system built largely on class lines. Among such people Jefferson's idea of careers open to all the talented has evoked little enthusiasm. There has been little concern with recruiting the professions from every economic level. The ideal has been education of a ruling caste rather than a selective system of training leaders.

Yet the unique character of the American way of life has been repeatedly emphasized since Jefferson's time. Lincoln in his first message to Congress declared that 'the leading object of the Government for those whose existence we contend' is 'to elevate the condition of men; to lift artificial weights from all shoulders; to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all; to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.' The historian, F. J. Turner, writing at the beginning of the present century, summed up the case as follows: 'Western democracy through the whole of its earlier period tended to the production of a society of which the most distinctive fact was freedom of the individual to rise under conditions of social mobility....'

Let me pause a moment to examine the phrase 'social mobility,' for this is the heart of my argument. A high degree of social mobility is the essence of the American ideal of a classless society. If large numbers of young people can develop their own capacities irrespective of the economic status of their parents, then social mobility is high. If, on the other hand, the future of a young man or woman is determined almost entirely by inherited privilege or the lack of it, social mobility is nonexistent. You are all familiar with the old American adage, 'Three generations from shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves.' This implies a high degree of social mobility, both up and down. It implies that sons and daughters must and can seek their own level, obtain their own economic rewards, engage in any occupation irrespective of what their parents might have done.

Contrast this adage with a statement of the aristocratic tradition--namely, that it takes three generations to educate a gentleman. Fifty years ago the contrast between these two statements would have been proclaimed by many intelligent Americans as the epitome of the difference between the New World and the Old. The possibility that each generation may start life afresh and that hard work and ability would find their just rewards was once an exciting new doctrine. Is it outworn? In short, has the second component of the Jeffersonian tradition in education still vitality? Can a relatively high degree of social mobility be realized in this modern world?

The distinction between a stratified class system and one with a high degree of social mobility is apparent only when at least two generations are passed in review. A class, as I am using the word, is perpetuated by virtue of inherited position. For one generation, at least and perhaps two, considerable differences in economic status as well as extreme differentiation of employment may exist without the formation of classes. Uniform distribution of the world's goods is not necessary for a classless society. If anyone doubts this statement, let him examine the social situation of many small communities in different parts of this country during the early stages of their development. Continuous perpetuation from generation to generation of even small differences, however, soon produces class consciousness. Extremes of wealth or poverty accelerate the process.

It is not within my province to consider what political measures should be taken if we reject the idea of an inevitable stratification of society. It is not for me to say what legislation is in order if we desire to implement the ideal of a free classless society. My unwillingness to discuss this important aspect of the problem is not to be taken as a measure of my dissatisfaction with the rapidly growing social and economic differentiation of the United States. On the contrary, if the American ideal is not to be an illusion, the citizens of this republic must not shrink from drastic action. The requirement, however, is not a radical equalization of wealth at any given moment; it is rather a continuous process by which power and privilege may be automatically redistributed at the end of each generation. The aim is a more equitable distribution of opportunity for all the children of the land. The reality of our national life must be made a sufficiently close approximation to our ideal to vitalize a belief in the possibility of the envisaged goal.

I am wary of definitions--even in expounding the exact sciences to an elementary class. It is often more profitable to explain the nature of a concept by illustration than to attempt a definition. Both the words 'free' and 'classless,' as I am employing them, have a relative, not an absolute, meaning. They are useful, I believe, even in a rough quantitative sense, in contrasting different types of social organizations which have existed in the last few centuries in the Western World. It is easy to imagine a small segment of any country where one would be hard put to it to say whether the society in question was free and classless, or the contrary. To pass a judgment on larger social units is even more difficult, but I should not hesitate to say that Russia today is classless, but not free; England, free, but not classless; Germany neither free nor classless.

To contrast the social history of the United States and that of even so closely related a country as Great Britain is illuminating. If we examine, for example, the recent history by G. D. H. Cole entitled The British Common People, 1746-1938, we shall see portrayed the evolution of one type of political democracy within a highly stratified caste system. Compare this picture with the history of the growth of this republic by expansion through the frontier in the last one hundred years--a history in which social castes can be ignored; a history where, by and large, opportunity awaited the able and daring youths of each new generation.

This fundamental difference between the United States and England has been blurred by similarities in our political and legal systems and by our common literary culture. Failure to give due weight to the differences between a casteless society and a stratified society has had unfortunate consequences for our thinking. I have already suggested that many of our friends on the Right have had their educational views distorted by too ardent contemplation of the English public schools (so-called) and English universities. Similarly, I believe that in the last few decades our friends on the left, who look towards a collectivist society, have suffered from overexposure to British views--views emanating in this case not from the ruling class but from the left-wing intellectuals of the Labor party. It seems to me that in this century, as in a much earlier period of our history, an imported social philosophy has strongly influenced radical thought. I am not referring to orthodox Marxism, but rather to the general slant of mind inevitable among English and Continental reformers whose basis of reference is a society organized on hard-and-fast class lines. The original American radical tradition has been given a twist by the impact of these alien ideas. As far as the role of government is concerned, the political reformer has swung completely round the circle. On this issue, Jefferson with his almost anarchistic views would find difficulty, indeed, in comprehending his modern political heirs.

Native American radicalism has all but disappeared. Our young people now seem forced to choose between potential Bourbons and latent Bolsheviks. But without a restoration of the earlier type of radical the Jeffersonian tradition in education will soon die. Obviously it cannot long survive a victory of the socialistic Left--there is no place for such ideas in a classless society on the Russian model. And it will likewise disappear automatically unless a high degree of social mobility is once again restored. To keep society fluid, the honest and sincere radical is an all-important element. Those in positions of power and privilege (including college presidents) need to be under constant vigilant scrutiny and from time to time must be the objects of attack. Tyrannies of ownership and management spring up all too readily. In order to ensure that the malignant growths of the body politic will be destroyed by radiations from the Left, much abuse of healthy and sound tissue must be endured. Reformers and even fanatical radicals we must have. But if the unique type of American society is to continue, those who would better conditions must look in the direction of the progressive or liberal movements of an earlier period. The Left must consider returning to the aim of checking tyranny and restoring social mobility. Reformers must examine every action lest they end by placing in power the greatest tyrant of all--organized society.


There are probably some who feel that I am indulging in nostalgic fancy when I hope for the evolution of a less stratified and more fluid society. You may say that the modern world of large cities, vast industries, and scientific methods of communication has made the America of a hundred years ago as irrelevant as the Middle Ages. You may argue that a way of life which was possible in the 1840s is impossible in the 1940s; that in the near future we shall all of us have to move in a quite contrary direction. You may contend that soon we shall have to take sides in a bitter class struggle and choose between an American brand of Fascism and an American brand of Socialism.

I know that many believe this to be inevitable. I venture to disagree. And here is the reason for my rash dissent. In my opinion, our newly erected system of public education has potentialities of which we little dream. In this century we have erected a new type of social instrument. Our secondary-school system is a vast engine which we are only beginning to understand. We are learning only slowly how to operate it for the public good. But I have hope that it will aid us in recapturing social flexibility, in regaining that great gift to each succeeding generation--opportunity, a gift that once was the promise of the frontier.

Let me explain. Today some six million boys and girls attend our secondary schools, ten times the number enrolled a half century ago. Today nearly three quarters of those of high-school age are enrolled as pupils; fifty years ago schooling at this level was a privilege of less than ten per cent of those who might attend. Opportunity can be evaluated only in terms of personal capacity. What is opportunity for one young man is a blind alley for another. In rapidly expanding pioneer communities, openings for capabilities of all sorts automatically appeared. Only doctors, lawyers, and ministers needed an extensive education. Opportunities were ready at hand for all other types of talent. In our highly industrialized, relatively static society, the situation is otherwise. The personal problem of each boy or girl is much more difficult. Abilities must be assessed, talents must be developed, ambitions guided. This is the task for our public schools. All the future citizens pass through these institutions. They must be educated as members of a political democracy, but, more important still, they must be equipped to step on to the first rung of whatever ladder of opportunity seems most appropriate. And an appropriate ladder must be found for each one of a diverse groups of students. This may seem an overwhelming burden to put upon our educational system. But is it not possible that our public schools, particularly our high schools, can be reconstructed for this specific purpose?

Jefferson thought of universal schooling of younger children chiefly in terms of educating potential voters. His selective process for higher studies was conceived in terms of intellectual pursuits--of preparation for the learned professions such as law and medicine. To continue the tradition he started, we must expand both of his ideas today. The roads which lead to those careers which depend on aptitude for 'book learning' still run through the universities. We must fight to keep them open. State-supported universities have blazed the way. But the task is far from done. In many localities the opportunities for the children of the really poor are lamentable indeed. Outside of metropolitan areas and college towns, the privileges of a professional training are hard to win. An expanded scholarship policy in our privately endowed universities is imperative. Wisely administered student aid will go far to right the balance. Perhaps this device merits more attention even by institutions supported by the state.

The changes required to provide adequately for the intellectually gifted are relatively slight. The real problems of reconstruction of our schools and colleges do not lie in this area. The real difficulties are with the careers of a different sort. Our schools must be concerned not only with the able scholar, but with the artist and the craftsman. They must nourish those whose eye or ear or manual dexterity is their greatest asset. They must educate others whose gifts lie in an ability to understand and lead their fellow men. The school curricula must include programs for developing the capacities of many who possess intuitive judgment on practical affairs but have little or no aptitude for learning through the printed page.

It has been a natural consequence of our history that many false values now permeate the entire educational system. 'Book learning' is placed too high in the scale of social ratings by some; too low by others who profess to scoff at 'brains.' That type of ability which can handle easily the old-fashioned subjects of the curriculum is often glorified by being equated with intelligence' by educational snobs. On the other hand, the same ability often suffers from lack of stimulation when there is failure to maintain high standards. As a result, we have a great deal of make-believe in our schools and colleges--too many feeble attempts at tasks which are proper only for a restricted type of individual; too many failures to explore talents which fall outside orthodox academic bounds. Jefferson in the simpler society of his day naturally thought of only a few avenues of opportunity open through education. Today we must recognize the existence of many and strive for the social equality of all.

Parents who expect miracles worked upon their children must be reminded of the limitations imposed by nature. In athletics, at least, the coaches are expected to develop only promising material. No one complains if his undersized son with awkward legs does not become a football hero. Some fathers, however, seem to demand the intellectual equivalent of such a miracle. We expect our college health departments to direct each student into that form of sport which is suited to his physique and power. We need a parallel form of educational guidance in both schools and colleges to assist the development of the skills of brain and hands.

But again I venture to be optimistic. I see signs everywhere of enormous strides forward in such matters. Our educational pattern is becoming daily more diversified; a recognition of the need for a radically different type of education is growing. We look forward to the opening of many channels which lead to a variety of attractive goals; we can envisage the building up of more than one 'elite.'

Of course, in any realistic discussion of these problems we cannot neglect the social and economic factors. As long as the shadow of unemployment is upon the land, some method of providing food and clothing for the children of many families must be found. For even free schools offer little real opportunity to famished youngsters; public education is only theoretically available to those in rags. Providing food and clothing for those to whom assistance is essential is clearly necessary for a satisfactory functioning of the entire educational system. Many a talented youth is lost by dropping out of the competition, for financial reasons, during the high-school years. In short we must explore every method of developing the individual capacity of each future citizen for useful labor based on individual initiative.

Political and economic changes must go hand in hand with educational innovations--the revision of methods of perpetuating control of many large industries, the overthrow of nepotism and patronage wherever possible, the stimulation of small enterprises, the spreading of private ownership. All this and more is needed if a free classless society is to become once again an ideal which affects our lives.


Freedom of the mind, social mobility through education, universal schooling--these, let me repeat, are the three fundamentals of the Jeffersonian tradition. They have represented the aspirations and desires of a free people embarked on a new experiment, the perpetuation of a casteless nation. Popular enthusiasm for enlightenment, for overturning dogmas, for intellectual exploration, has temporarily waned. I have given my reasons for hoping that the black reaction of these years is only a passing phase. The ideal of a free republic without classes has likewise suffered an eclipse. To many of the present college generation the phrase 'equality of opportunity' seems a mockery, a trite collection of idle words. In this I see the major challenge to our educational system, a challenge which can be met only by a radical reconstruction. If the nation wants to bend its efforts to have as free and classless a society as possible, then for those of us concerned with schools and colleges our course is clearly plotted.

So it seems to me. If we as educators accept the American ideal, then this acceptance must be the major premise for all our thinking. Without neglecting the older roads designed for those of academic brilliance, we must construct many new approaches to adult life, and we must do so very soon. Extreme differentiation of school programs seems essential--differentiation of instruction, but not necessarily a division into separate schools. From this it follows that rapid improvement in our testing methods must be forthcoming; a much more conscientious and discriminating form of educational guidance must be developed soon if we are not to fail. In short, a horde of heterogenous students has descended on our secondary schools; on our ability to handle all types intelligently depends in large measure the future of this country.

Is it too late--too late for our schools to revitalize the idea of a classless nation? Can we complete the necessary major readjustments in our educational system in time to prevent the extinction of the Jeffersonian tradition? I believe we can, if we make haste. I predict at least another century of vigor for the American ideal. I envisage a further trial on this continent for many generations of our unique type of social order. I look forward to a future American society in which social mobility is sufficient to keep the nation in essence casteless--a society in which the ideals of both personal liberty and social justice can be maintained--a society which through a system of public education resists the distorting pressures of urbanized, industrialized life. I have faith in the continuation of a republic composed of citizens each prepared to shoulder the responsibility for his own destiny. And if at each step in the educational journey opportunity truly beckons, will not each student rejoice in the struggle to develop his own capacities? Will he not be proud of the continuing American tradition and find in contemplation of our national history ample courage to face those risks and hazards that come to all who would be free?

Copyright © 1940 by James Bryant Conant. All rights reserved.
m_nv_cv picture m_nv_un picture m_nv_am picture m_nv_pr picture m_nv_as picture m_nv_se picture