MEMORIES OF ENGLAND I
Although I have lived as an American citizen now for 40 some years, I spent the first 18 years of my life in England. Perhaps more accurately, I should say that I spent those years in Yorkshire, by far the largest of England's counties and a place that has often been set apart from the rest of the country by its dialect and customs. Like West Virginia, Yorkshire is a place where man-made ugliness of a kind to make you catch your breath is juxtaposed to ruggedly handsome scenery.
The village of my childhood had none of Yorkshire's beauty, only the ugliness that men had made. Its name, Allerton Bywater, might have come from a romantic poem. But the name belies the character of the place, for my village was defined by the squalor that goes with coal mining. The lives of its twelve hundred inhabitants were nearly completely shaped by the mine. Coal was always with us.
They say that in Paris people never get lost, for wherever they are, they can always see the Eiffel Tower. In my village we could always see the pit head gear, a huge scaffold which supported two great wheels, over which ran the cables that lowered boys and men into the depths of the earth and brought them and the coal out. Boys as well as men, for the mine claimed most of the boys of the village at 14, the age which marked the end of school days for the vast majority in those days. My father went down that mine when he was 13, my grandfather when he was 11.
My mother, determined to have me escape the hardships and narrowness of that life, pushed me early to become a good student. A scholarship to a prep school was the only way out. So long as my mother was alive, I went back to that village, its people and its ways seeming stubbornly unchanged. When my mother died eight years ago, Allerton Bywater virtually ceased to exist for me, for I have no relatives or friends remaining there. I have not often thought about it.
But just a couple of weeks ago an unexpected piece of news from a very unlikely source brought it all back to me.
A former colleague of mine from my early years in teaching, a biologist in Minnesota I have seen only four or five times in the last 30 years, had somehow remembered the name of my native village. He came across it in an article in The Economist, a magazine published in England, which I do not often see. He promptly xeroxed the article and sent it to me. I read it with mounting astonishment.
The article told of a movie that is being made in Allerton Bywater, dealing with the drastic changes that are coming about because.--I can still hardly believe it.--of the shutting down of the mine. It is no longer economically feasible to mine coal there. Hundreds have been put out of work. The village is now without an economic base; indeed it can hardly have a reason for existence. The glue that held the place together is suddenly gone.
But the article concluded with a speculation. Perhaps now Allerton Bywater, after a major, government-funded cleanup, can become a fashionable bedroom community for members of the middle class who work in Leeds. Only nine miles away, Leeds is the fourth largest city in England, with a diversified and thriving economy and a steadily growing population.
I have found it as impossible to think of my village as a place with fashionable homes as I have to imagine it without the coal mine. Can somebody who lives in Chicago imagine that city without Lake Michigan? Can one think of the Loop as a place of gardens and quiet domesticity?
But as I have thought of Allerton Bywater over the last several days, I have recognized that it is having to go through what so much of our world is experiencing these days, as the twentieth century finally reshapes what had been formed first in the nineteenth century. We in the United States have had our share of adjustments to make, particularly as the rate of change has accelerated in the last couple of decades. Our major institutions--our churches, colleges, schools--are very different from what they were. Small towns and villages are becoming ghost towns, while our major cities grow ever larger. Seemingly permanent industrial plants stand rusting, while displaced workers attempt to rebuild their lives.
These great times of change cycle through history. The poets of many generations have lamented the change and decay they have seen about them. The lesson of history is that we must adapt. Perhaps Allerton Bywater will adapt. The world changes and we must change with it. But let's not pretend that it is easy.
THE ENGLISH CLASS SYSTEM
The person seen most often on British television is not a professional actor or an English Dan Rather. It is the Queen. By long-established policy, the British Broadcasting Corporation (the government owned system), features Her Majesty and other members of the royal family with unfailing regularity, whether at sporting events or more formal occasions.
In this constant, systematic celebration of the monarchy, there is an implicit message for every British child, what really matters in Britain is who your parents are. The Queen was not elected to her high office. She did not get there by dint of hard work. She became Queen because she was the first child of the man who was King. Her first child will be King after her.
Though Britain has a democratic form of government these days, it remains an aristocratic society. It is a society in which one's life is largely define by the class into which one is born, with a hereditary ruling class at the top. The medieval world of order and degree survives to a remarkable extent in modern Britain. But what very few outsiders understand is that the British class system is only partly shaped by wealth. Money is not the glue that holds the system together.
There are some very wealthy people in Britain who will forever remain members of the working class, for there is where they are assigned by virtue of their birth, their limited education, and not least by their language habits. G.B. Shaw, author of the play on which "My Fair Lady" was based, portrayed an England in which vowel sounds and vocabulary were immediate clues to social status and where a local dialect could be a prison. There is no happy ending to Shaw's play. He knew the realities of the class system.
Similarly, there are impoverished aristocrats, members of the upper class who for one reason or another have lost ancestral lands or an inheritance that would have made them persons of wealth. Yet they have lost none of their status and they enjoy the advantages of belonging to the upper class.
As I grew into consciousness of the world about me, I began to understand how my life, in a working class family, was contained within the circle of class. We could never hope to do this; we could never aspire to that. I learned that nearly all the farm land in our part of Yorkshire was owned by the Duke of Devonshire, whose distant ancestor had received it from the King for services to the monarch. The aristocracy were not only the major landowners. They were the generals of armies, admirals of the fleet, the heads of banks and publishers of newspapers. From their ranks too came the heads of universities and high officers in the established church. They often seemed to our little world like the gods of the ancient Greeks; of human shape and form, they nonetheless moved in their own realm, far above our experience.
What "working class" meant to me as a child was the rough life of a coal mining village during the Great Depression. It was a world of physical hardship, narrowly limited experience, and resigned acceptance. As I began, even when very young, to understand the injustice of it all and protested against our lot, I heard over and over the phrase that echoed through my childhood: "We have to know our place." Our place was nearly the bottom rung on the ladder.
But in that world there was family and there was love. Some parents were resolved that their children should escape the imprisonment of working class life. They knew there was but one narrow avenue, through education. For most working class children, schooling ended at fourteen and consigned the boys to work in the mine, the girls to work in a clothing factory in the neighboring city. But for the very few there was the prospect of a scholarship to the kind of school that fitted people for the professions and opened the door to the middle class. Some of us became good students because our parents constantly exhorted us to want something other than life in the village. They sacrificed so that we could have a chance to be different.
But some parents, loving their children no less, were afraid of education. They feared that they might lose their children to emigration or to eventual alienation. There were grounds for their anxieties. In a remarkable book called The Uses of Literacy a Yorkshire contemporary of mine, who became a professor at Oxford University, has a poignant chapter on "The Scholarship Boy." He writes there of those of us who came inevitably to the painful recognition that, in becoming "different," we might lose all that was dear to us in our childhood. We should have to acquire mannerisms and habits of mind which would separate us from the friends and places of our youth. We should become strangers in our native villages.
That is one of the great evils of the class system.
THE GOOD GERMAN
They called themselves the Edelweiss Pirates and they had a list of people they intended to kill. My name, I was told, was on that list.
The work I was doing in Germany at the end of World War II brought letters to my office from time to time, through which Germans sought to settle scores with Nazis they had known and sometimes suffered under. Thus I would get letters denouncing minor officials of the Nazi party who, allowed to go free by our military government, were still spouting the slogans of their discredited past. Or I might get an anonymous tip on an SS man who had popped up in his native village and was trying to keep his identity a secret from the occupying powers. Some of these I investigated promptly, some I could only set aside for another time.
Thus it was that I consigned to my "wait" pile a letter which came in from one of my villages, denouncing a young man who, the writer asserted, had been an utterly convinced Nazi. It spoke of his passionate convictions and his personal allegiance to Adolf Hitler. It underscored particularly the fact that he had volunteered, in the closing days of the war, to be a Werewolf. (Werewolf was the Nazi name for a suicide volunteer, a youth who would wait with a bazooka and one shell, until he could be certain of destroying an American tank. There was no point in having a second shell, for to miss with the first meant certain death a second later.)
The letter was unsigned and, believing that the young Werewolf posed no threat to our forces, particularly in that remote village, I set it aside.
A couple of weeks later I received a letter nearly identical to the first. Like that one, it had been mailed from a little village in my territory and addressed to the American Secret Service in Bremerhaven. This time, though, the letter was written in the first person and signed, supposedly, with the name of the young Werewolf.
I wondered why somebody was trying so hard to get this young man to our attention and so I had the German police call him in. I told him at once that somebody in his village seemed urgently concerned to have him punished. He immediately identified himself as the author of the letters.
Eventually he told me that, while all that he had said about himself in the letters was true, the scales had fallen from his eyes when he read the reports on the Nuremberg war crimes trials. Suddenly, Nazi beliefs were revealed to him for what they really were. He was ashamed that he had given his heart to Hitler and that he had once been ready to die for the Nazi cause. Yes, he had gone out with his bazooka and his one shell, to wait in a ditch by a road along which the British tanks were expected to come. He waited and waited, eating the rations he had been given, sleeping in the ditch, peering down the road and listening for the rumble of approaching tanks. But none came and instead some German civilians came along and told him that the war was over.
He was an engaging lad, frank and openhearted. He wanted me to arrest him and put him in jail, so that he could atone for what he thought of now as sins. Or failing that, perhaps he could do something for us that would help us in our efforts to stamp out all vestiges of the Nazis. He was altogether sincere.
I recognized in him an upbringing much like my own and I found myself thinking, as I had often thought when I was in the company of Germans of my own age, "There but for the grace of God, go I." I told him that we were not interested in having him arrested, but that I would bear in mind his wishing to help us. We parted as friends and I tuned my mind to other things.
Some months later one of my American colleagues made a startling announcement at our weekly staff meeting. He told us of his discovery of the existence of a Nazi underground group, which was organized to attack American installations, to punish Germans who were working with us, and to seek to disrupt the efforts we were making to bring a democratic form of government into being in Germany. Alarmingly, he told us that these young men had a cache of weapons hidden out in the country, which included heavy machine guns and explosives. He told us that they were keeping our offices under observation. Sure enough, as we peeked from behind the curtains of our second story windows, we could see a young man in a long raincoat, standing across the street by a lamppost, gazing fixedly at the doorway of the German police building where we had our offices. As we watched, he took out a pad from time to time and scribbled something down on it. That was enough to give all of us nervous stomachs.
My colleague went on to say that he proposed to try to infiltrate the organization, which was calling itself the Edelweiss Pirates. The little white flower was their emblem and the members wore a metal edelweiss on the underside of their lapel. He asked whether any of us knew a reliable young German who might be infiltrated to serve as our informant. I thought at once of my Werewolf and heard again his earnest plea that we allow him to redeem himself.
So, very carefully, we arranged a meeting and my colleague told my German friend the name of the tavern where the Edelweiss gathered of an evening. We cautioned him that they were highly dangerous and that he would be taking his life in his hands in trying to work his way into their confidence.
But that he did and he did it with such skill that in a little while he was able to tell us that all of our names were on their hit list. They had done the obvious. One of them had walked through our building and simply taken note of the names on our office doors. When the time came for them to strike, they proposed to begin by eliminating every one of us. But our informant had also learned where they had their cache of weapons and he confirmed that it was a large one. We came to the quick conclusion that we should act against them without delay. With the help of the American military police, as well as the German criminal police, we rounded every one of them up and confiscated their huge supply of weaponry. Our German friend pointed out to us, with an ironic smile, that they had bazookas too.
By 1947 we were no longer concerned that the Nazis would make a comeback. Our concern had switched to what the Russians and the German Communist party might do to take over all of Germany. That they would wish to do so seemed obvious. So we thought it imperative that we have an agent within the Communist party in our territory. Once again we turned to my Werewolf. The last I heard of him, he was working down on the docks in Bremerhaven, as a card-carrying member of the Communist party of northwest Germany. By the time I left, he had worked his way up to be an official and was able to provide us with inside information about the party's activities.
He knew, as well as we did, that any suspicion would mean somebody putting a longshoreman's hook in his stomach and pitching him into the North Sea. He was a good German, a repentant German, and a very brave man. There were many like him and they brought their country out of the darkness of the Nazi years.
MEMORIES OF ENGLAND II
It was eight years after I emigrated before I returned to England for a visit of several weeks. In between were my student days in Canada and the United States, as well as my first couple of years of teaching. Going back to the little village where I had grown up, I experienced cultural shock in the extreme.
After a few days of getting adjusted, I took the bus into the neighboring town where I had gone to prep school, retracing a route I had followed on so many mornings for seven years. I was on my way, in fact, to visit my old school and to see some of my former teachers.
Sunk in memories of my school days and with people chattering all about me in the language of my childhood, I scarcely noticed who got on and off at the regular stops, as the bus worked its way through our village. But when it stopped at the gate to the mine, the bus was invaded by a large group of miners, for it was a time of shift change. They advanced down the aisle, black of face and with begrimed clothes, the whites of their eyes like lights beneath their characteristic flat caps. For this was 1956 and in those days there were still no baths for the miners at their place of work. They went home in their work clothes, carrying coal dust on every square inch of their bodies. Passengers in decent clothes inevitably shrank from them.
One of them plopped down on the seat beside me and, turning to look at me, he asked, "You're Bruce Haywood, aren't you?" He went on in standard English, not in the local dialect, to say, "You won't recognize me, but I'm Tom Stead. I was at school with you." Sure enough. Through the black coal dust that caked his skin, I was astonished to see the features of one who, though not from my village, had sat in classrooms with me for seven years.
"You live in America, don't you?" he went on. Emigration had given me a certain reputation in the area and he was impressed by that. But, as the bus bounced its way through the couple of miles of bleak countryside between my village and the town, he seemed to feel compelled to explain to me why he had thrown away the precious opportunities our school had afforded us. He knew that I must wonder why he had wound up swinging a pick in the dark depths of the earth. Barely able to conceal my amazement, I listened as he, clearly uncomfortable speaking standard English, told me of four years in the army that paralleled my own, after which he had enrolled to study to become an accountant. But he had continued to live at home, in a family where only the dialect was spoken and where the other males were all coal miners. After a year or so as a commuting student, he married a local girl and the tensions between the two worlds were intensified the more. A couple of years of living in two very different worlds, and being at home in neither, brought him to a point where he could stand it no longer. There was more pain in difference than he was able to endure.
What Tom Stead wanted me to understand was the choice he had made. It wasn't a choice of a job. It was a choice of a place in society, a choice of a way of life and all that went with it, including being accepted unconditionally.
Later that afternoon I mentioned Tom Stead to one of my teachers and got from him at once a sad shake of the head and a frown which said, "Such a thing is simply not understandable." He preferred to talk of some other working class boys of my time, whose careers he knew about. They had all followed the far more characteristic path of putting as much distance as they could between themselves and their origins. One of them was from my own village, the first person from that village, in fact, to go on to a university. He had never set foot in the village again and lived 200 miles away (in little England, the other end of the earth), completely estranged from his family and his roots. Several years later, back on another visit, I chatted with that classmate's mother at the bus stop and, when I asked her about her son, she burst into tears. As she boarded the bus, she told me in our dialect, still weeping, that I was a good lad, because I came home to see my folks.
My old teacher, commenting that afternoon on the absurdities of a system that forced such choices upon the children of the working class, concluded by saying, "But you don't have to worry about that, being an American. How true. My American citizenship created for me a happy middle ground that was denied those who remained. I escaped from the system by putting myself completely outside it. Going back as an American, with an American wife and American daughters, I didn't have to be fitted into a particular niche. There was no risk for me in being seen back in my native village, no consequence for me in lapsing back into the dialect, no problem for me in having working class parents. Who I was, where I was, what I was no longer mattered. My cousins, naturalized Australians and New Zealanders, found the same thing when they went back to see their parents. We could love our origins and be at peace with them. We were no longer their captive.
WHAT IS THE MAGIC OF THE MOUNTAIN?
The Baccalaureate Address
May 25, 1980
In one of its February issues this year the Collegian carried a letter I found especially provocative, a letter from an angry student. I can't remember now why the writer was so annoyed and I'm not sure I knew then. Perhaps it was just being in Gambier in our cruelest month that drove him to tear his hair in public. Whatever the reason, he was led to charge that it was the College's public relations office which first called Kenyon "the magic mountain," in a characteristic effort to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. I bristled at that and I think I must have begun then and there to compose some sort of response to that unhappy allegation. For when, a few weeks later, I was invited to address the graduating class today, I knew immediately what my topic would be.
I can at once assure you that it was not the public relations office which first claimed the name of Thomas Mann's celebrated novel for Kenyon. Nor was I the one. The student who did is today a clinical psychologist in Minneapolis, but then he was a German major and one of a handful of students with whom I first worked my way through the complexities of that great work. We were not very far into its seven hundred pages when that perspicacious student began urging the rest of us to see that the village where Thomas Mann's hero discovers the essential truths of his humanity could be Gambier. (I'm rather confident that what set him off on his hunt for analogies was a sentence that tells the hero that the sanitarium he has come to is no ordinary institution. "Your ideas really get changed here!" he is warned, in a forecast of the magical effect he will soon experience.) By now many of us have learned to look at Kenyon through Thomas Mann's eyes, none more lovingly than the student who produced an unforgettable yearbook, the Reveille of 1967, by juxtaposing photographs of Gambier and passages from Mann's text.
Anybody who reads The Magic Mountain while sitting on this hill will surely smile at instances of the amusingly familiar. For example, Thomas Mann tells us that the patients give up reading the newspaper and fail to write letters home, because they lose themselves in the gossip of the dining hall, in love affairs, or in the entertainments the management thoughtfully provides. Davos, the sanitarium, is a place where people argue passionately about world events while remaining at a safe distance from them. In Davos people consume great quantities of food, even while they complain about the eternal sameness of it. The weather on the mountain, always unpredictable, seems to have a strange authority over the institution's life. Those in charge try to conceal the fact that the doctors don't really cure anybody, though they go on charging very high fees and insisting that the patients, just by being in residence for a few years, will go home some day thinking themselves much better than they were when they arrived.
But happy little jokes about surface similarities will not explain the strength of conviction in those who have insisted that Gambier could be the locale for Mann's narrative. They have seen more than superficial resemblances. Pushing beyond the novel's first level of meaning, they have come to understand that Mann was writing, not about the processes of disease, but about the processes of education--liberal education--and that the physical condition of those in the sanitarium has far less to do with the novel's theme than their spiritual sicknesses--self indulgence, apathy, and chauvinism.
Is there not, though, even if we grant that the deeper parallels are convincing, a considerable arrogance to our claiming for this little college the name of the novel often described as the most profound literary work of the twentieth century? I must admit that a few years ago I was very annoyed, outraged indeed, when I heard that out in California some fellow had created an amusement park, a thing of roller coasters and slot machines, and called that "The Magic Mountain." (What would we have thought of him, if he had called it "Harvard University"? Or "Kenyon College"?) But is our arrogance any less than his? Can't we be accused of a sleazy public relations trick, if, calling Kenyon the magic mountain, we have anything less in mind than the belief that here in Gambier there is a vision to match Thomas Mann's?
We can be absolved of the charge of arrogance, I think, if enough of us believe that the vision Philander Chase brought here is still alive. But that must depend primarily on student assessment of what goes on here, on this Ohio hill. Only if you, the College's true sons and daughters, cherish Kenyon as a place where people's ideas really do get changed, will you want to think of Gambier as the magic mountain. Otherwise the nickname can be no more than an inside joke, cute and self conscious. Dan Horowitz, dangerously neglecting his major in Political Science, struggled to produce his remarkable '67 yearbook in order to give form to the conviction he and his collaborators shared: that this is no ordinary college, no mere seat of learning. Dan and his coworkers wanted to proclaim what many a Kenyon graduate has attested to. They knew that their lives had been reshaped here and given purpose, and in Thomas Mann's novel they found the appropriate metaphor for their years in Gambier.
But another question presses itself upon me. Is the magic something that only a privileged few come to know? Thomas Mann celebrated Davos as a magic place, because its effect upon his protagonist is so extraordinary, so complete, as to defy rational explanation. Reasonable interpretation cannot account for the transformation Hans Castorp undergoes or for the influence certain persons and experiences have upon him. Mann prefers to call it magic, a sort of alchemy, a lovely mystery. Yet, in his meticulously composed preface to his novel, Mann is at some pains to stress that, while Hans Castorp is an altogether typical young man, his experiences on the mountain are peculiarly and privately his. Castorp's story, as Mann puts it, doesn't happen to everybody. Indeed, to some extent the magic of the mountain is of the hero's making. He is the catalyst, bringing the elements of the Davos world into an alchemical union with one another, creating gold out of what for others is only dross.
I shall take Mann's careful emphasis on the particular and private quality of his hero's experience as a warning to me not to generalize about the magic of Gambier that I have known. I shall let it remind me that each of you, like Hans Castorp, has lived an individual life upon the mountain and I shall not try to tell you what it has been. Instead, I shall tell you of the magic Hans Castorp found far from the flatland that gave him birth, the magic that transforms him from the naive youth the author calls "this still unwritten page" into the man his creator wants to think a hero for his time. Now I invite you, as you listen to Castorp's story, to set your own against it, judging whether you too have known a transforming and inspiring power that surpasses conventional explanation.
When first we meet Hans Castorp, on the novel's opening page, he is traveling by train across the heartland of Europe, where in earlier times Caesar's legions, Napoleon's citizens army, and Bismarck's Prussians had marched. Yet, as though to impress upon us that Castorp is no giant of history, Mann at once insists that his hero is a very average fellow indeed, a lad with no special gifts and no claim at all to be an intellectual. He is a particularly characteristic representative of the privileged upper middle class, more concerned with creature comforts than with what he might make of his life, more given to relaxing than hard work. We travel with Castorp along ravines and precipices as the train struggles up the mountain, until he alights in Davos expecting to find only a sanitarium where he will spend a few weeks being pleasantly pampered. He doesn't suspect that he has entered a drastically different world, separated from his home by a psychological and spiritual distance far greater than miles or altitude could account for. The sanitarium has its own calendar and celebrates its own holidays. The standards of the flatland--in language, manners, social relationships--are consciously abandoned and often mocked at. Davos is a self contained microcosm where the days and weeks take on uniform character, their passage marked only by mealtimes and the ritual exercises imposed on the patients. It must therefore be counted as a first instance of magic in the place that Hans Castorp, so much the child of his bourgeois parentage, eagerly embraces his new circumstances and unreasonably turns his back on the flatland, wondering that he had wanted no more from life than to make a comfortable living.
We must take it that it is Castorp's very naiveté and middle class blandness that attract to him persons who are intent on becoming his teachers. In his first months on the mountain he is exposed to minds so much more sophisticated than his own that he can only gasp at their brilliance. They show him new worlds beyond his imagining, seeming to conjure up the marvels of the universe and the glories of humanity's achievement before his eyes, new worlds which begin to demand his full attention and energy. Yet, with time, Castorp begins to see that these "teachers" cannot resist turning the unwritten page that he is into a bluebook. They are so convinced of the superiority of the life of the mind that they cannot imagine his wishing to embrace any other. Though they insist they want only to free him from the chains of his middle class prejudices, their behavior argues that they wish to make him the captive of their particular philosophy. But Castorp, having only recently learned the value of independence, resists them, sensing that there can be no single way to understand life in all its complexity. For very quickly, through another seemingly magical process, Castorp has grasped that the sanitarium, a place deliberately isolated from the flatland, can grant him an understanding of himself such as he would have never known, had he remained caught up in the dance of life down below. The distance and detachment afford a view of the world that is sometimes telescopic, sometimes panoramic, sometimes microscopic. So, as his teachers turn more and more to arguing the superiority of their particular positions, Castorp seeks the truths of his existence through private reading, observing and thinking. And what he comes increasingly to understand, is that learning, when it is carried on for its own sake, moves people farther and farther away from the world and the concerns of ordinary humanity. But it is to life, he recognizes eventually, that he owes his allegiance. For Thomas Mann finds ways to let his hero see, sometimes shocking him harshly with the recognition, that he and all the others on the mountain owe their advantaged position to the labors of those who toil down there in the flatland. It is not enough, Castorp recognizes in a magic moment, to view life through the peepholes created by biology, chemistry, history, economics, psychology, and all. He must accomplish a synthesis of those separate modes and then put his comprehensive understanding into the service of humanity.
That realization comes to Castorp in one of the most remarkable episodes in the novel, in a chapter called "Snow."
Until this moment Castorp has been overwhelmed by a chaos of information, blown this way and that by the strong winds of vigorous intellectual debate. He lacks a center of belief about which to organize his understandings; he has no compelling faith upon which to stand firm before efforts to overpower him with argument. Determined to think his way through his confusion, he seeks utter solitude on the snow-covered heights above Davos, where he can be certain he will have no man's company. Up there he soon finds himself caught in a violent blizzard and unable, despite his best efforts, to find his way. Sinking into the deep snow, surrounded by the elemental powers of nature gone mad, he lies at death's door. And then there comes to him in a dream, a vision of a sunlit Mediterranean shore, a locale he is able somehow to identify as the cradle of our civilization. Even as he dreams, he recognizes that he is composing his vision, out of the elements of his experience on the mountain and the synthesis becomes the vehicle for his triumphant recognition that the vital forms of our civilization.--social, political, artistic.--came into being in response to the cruel destructiveness of death. It is out of love for life, love for the ordinary human potential we glimpse in every child, that civilization has developed. And we best express our love for humankind, Castorp concludes, in the creating and recreating of those forms which support and enhance life.
That inspiring recognition rouses Castorp and he struggles up, out of the blanketing snow that threatens his little existence. Fully awake, he declares the central significance of his dream: it is love, not reason, that is stronger than death. Only in the forms that love creates does life triumph over death and take on importance. That faith Castorp eagerly voices, but by the time he reaches Davos the details of the dream have already begun to fade. It is as though Mann wished to say that Castorp's vision had been the product of a state not to be realized in daily living. It was a dream at the very edge of life, in an exalted state of simultaneous terror and reckless courage, born of the will to push to human limits in defiance of chaos.
What Castorp must now do--all that remains for him to do on the mountain, the action of the novel seems to say--is to find a way to translate the essential elements of his vision into a metaphor, a way of organizing all he has learned so that he may carry it with him always, in capsule form so to speak. He needs a symbol that will inspire him afresh whenever he faces death's agents--cynicism, nihilism, and barbarism--in the flatland.
So, in the next purely magical moment of the novel, we find Castorp standing before a new discovery: music--music on phonograph records, an ingenious wedding of the forms of art and technology that Mann calls "the German soul brought up to date." Out of the host of musical selections the management has provided, Castorp chooses a half dozen pieces which have a special significance for him, making them the distillation of his life on the mountain. One record evokes a particular person; another a special feeling; a third a crucial experience. But there is one record, a well-known ballad, which itself becomes the summation of the others, a magical representation of what his dream revealed to him. The song is simple love given permanent beauty by death-denying form and it is simultaneously the expression of his deep feeling of belonging to both the mountain
and the flatland. In that song Castorp finds realized the essential paradox of the magic mountain: that the deepest affection for life he has learned at the greatest distance from it.
With Castorp having put Davos into his favorite song and made it portable, there is nothing left for him to learn or to dream upon the mountain. There is nobody to hold him there, no reason for him to remain. And yet he stays on. A reason to go the mountain cannot provide him. At this point magic seems to have no say. It is life, rushing along down below, that finally calls him home.
His reason to go is the outbreak of World War I, for, as that explodes, Castorp recognizes that all he has learned to cherish in the name of life is threatened by the mad outburst of the elemental passions in mankind. All that he has celebrated in the simple word "goodness"--home, family, decency, love of beauty, and innocent happiness--seems about to be overrun, its fragile structures destroyed by tyrants and vandals. And now Castorp thinks on the words of the man who has been dearest to him of those who have tried to teach him: "Whoever is unable to offer his person, his arm, his blood, in the service of the ideal is unworthy of it. However intellectualized, it is the duty of a human being to remain a human being."
So Castorp goes home to the service of life, back to the flatland where once again the warring legions rage: destroying churches, closing colleges, burning books, and smashing phonographs. We last see him in the uniform of his people's army, an anonymous soldier on a nameless battlefield, moving with hundreds of his kind against a faceless enemy. Bullets fly and shells explode, the products of a perverted creativity, and with many of his fellows Castorp falls into the mud. But, as once before in the snow, he refuses to lie there and let death claim him. With the song on his lips that he has brought from the mountain, he gets up and charges the enemy, in the name of hope for a better world, of faith in love that is stronger than death. I quote Thomas Mann for the last time: "Up he gets and staggers on, limping on his earthbound feet, all unconsciously signing."
With that the story of Hans Castorp is told. Here his creator parts company with him, certain that, whatever befalls him, he will always fight for what Mann has chosen simply to call "goodness." There is in the end, The Magic Mountain says, something worth giving one's life for.
I have learned the truth of what Goethe once proposed as a paradox. Nothing, he said, can so alienate us from life as can literature. Nothing, he added, can more firmly bind us to life than literature can. And so it is with higher education. It can forever hold us aloof, content to look down upon life from the distance; clinical; contemptuous; calculating our advantage over the unsophisticated. But it can also return us to life able to love and serve it better, armed with the knowledge that our individual life takes on meaning and worth when it is given to the larger life of humankind.
Now time's onward rush has determined that your stay on Gambier's mountain is ended. The question is not whether you will stay or go. The question is what you will take with you. Will you take only the lofty view, the detached superiority your diploma will certify to? Or will you want to fight on behalf of those civilized forms through which humankind has sought to express its highest ideals and its best hopes for its children?
Go now, your College says to you, go to the flatland in Kenyon's name and let your years here sustain you in the fight.
THE CHURCH-RELATED COLLEGE
Like so much else in contemporary American society, the church-related college is not what it used to be. Once synonymous with higher education in our country, it plays a minor role in the nation's system today. Some colleges which were closely tied to their founding churches now have altogether different identities. Princeton University and the University of Michigan, Presbyterian colleges at their beginnings, have moved on separate paths to their modern definition. The one has long preferred to call itself independent; the other is an institution of the state--presumably serving it, certainly dependent on it. In their histories we can read the history of many a denominational college, including some which still bear a denomination's name. Even those colleges which still claim a vital relationship to their church are likely to declare a purpose very different from that their founders imagined.
Our earliest colleges were all church-related. They belonged to an age which recognized but one truth, revealed in Christ, and that truth was the foundation of all established order: political, social, economic--even artistic and academic. Like the ancient English colleges on which they were modeled, our early colleges took as the basis for their work the conviction that education meant the larger understanding of God's revelation. Like their English models again, these colleges took their prime role to be the preparation of persons who would hold office in a society built upon a foundation of shared religious belief. Even after our American republic was born in revolution, the founding of a college continued to be an act of faith of a traditionally minded congregation. Before the land grant university with its plethora of schools and programs became the characteristic American institution of higher education, church-supported colleges flourished here as they did nowhere else. Despite denominational differences which sometimes named them--Nebraska Wesleyan, Florida Presbyterian, Pacific Lutheran, Southern Methodist--these colleges shared the powerful belief that their students were to be educated to an understanding of the world as God's creation and of themselves as God's creatures.
It would be a rare college today which would describe its purpose in those terms, an even rarer one which would organize its curriculum to that understanding.
Even while most of our nineteenth-century colleges were still young, our shores were feeling the first ripples of drastic intellectual change. It came from Germany, where a new idea of the university had emerged out of the same celebration of freedom and independence which on our soil had inspired political and social revolution. The new spirit of inquiry enshrined in the German universities began, not with the certainty of God's existence, but only of the inquirer's existence. It celebrated the pursuit of knowledge, not in the understanding and service of God, but for its own sake. Thus it offered a rival truth based on scholarly research and rational analysis of natural phenomena, rather than on revelation. Truth could now be defined as an unqualified understanding arrived at by the fearless challenging of convention, rigorous questioning, and the rejection of whatever could not be proved by those who followed like processes. In the spirit of a time intoxicated by the idea of personal freedom, German thinkers argued that inquiry must in no way be constrained. The scholar could no more be limited by considerations of religious belief than by deference to a political system. Scholars, their disciplines, and the institutions which housed them must be independent, their autonomy guaranteed in the name of freedomCacademic freedom.
In this land where freedom had been canonized and the separation of church and state constitutionally ordained, the German idea found fertile soil. In our century it has become a truth the academic community holds to be self-evident. Johns Hopkins University was the first to be created in response to German influence, affording autonomy to the individual disciplines and allowing each to propose its special truth. But other, older colleges were quick to seek the same character. Long before "independent" took on its currently popular meaning of "not tax supported," it was used to describe those colleges which separated themselves from their founding churches. The idea of academic freedom, those colleges declared explicitly or implicitly, could not be reconciled with a commitment to Christian belief.
Over the past century those colleges which have wished to be academically responsible and to retain their ties to their church have had an increasingly difficult line to walk. For with each passing decade, as tax support and government subventions have weighted the scale more and more in favor of the universities, the national sense of what is important and responsible in higher education has been shaped by the policies and practices of those institutions. On their campuses the doctrine of separation of church and state has been regularly cited to justify the view that there can be no coexisting in the university of revealed truth and the academy's truths. In the eyes of the general public and of the majority in the academic profession, the church-related college is consequently suspect. It is commonly believed to value piety above scholarship, in its faculty members and its students. The young Ph.D. is likely to be given the same advice as the prospective freshman: "Don't go there! They'll tell you what you have to think." At worst, the church-related college will be suspected of simply indoctrinating its students, withholding from them any fact or understanding which might challenge their childhood beliefs. More generously, it is thought to offer a bland academic diet, creditable but undemanding, while exercising an all too motherly supervision of students outside the classroom. Church-related colleges have not been obliged, like the universities, to build a huge undergraduate base to support a pyramid point of exotic research; most have remained small. That is for many people, given the prejudices of that day, another reason to treat them with condescension or disdain. In a time when academic importance is related by the unthinking to the size of the marching band and by professionals to the number of nationally ranked doctoral programs, the church-related college, going its modest undergraduate way, may seem indifferent to genuine academic enterprise and the intellectual questions of the day.
Is the church-related college, then, only an anachronism, a relic of a time in our nation's history more remote than the Civil War? Is there any distinctive role for it to play in higher education today? If it is to be perceived as more than some sort of safe finishing school, it must convince the public of its serious academic purpose even while it demonstrates convincingly its commitment to Christian belief.
Let us acknowledge first that there have sometimes been grounds for suspecting the church-related college. "Church-related," after all has been an adjective stretched taut over a great variety of institutions. Some colleges have preferred piety in their members above academic achievement. Some have seemed at times more interesting in preaching than in teaching. Their occasionally narrow view of their role in loco parentis may have made them wish to shelter their charges from avant garde ideas, from new scientific discovery, or from the realities of twentieth-century life. But these are, more often than not, characteristics of some church-related colleges of yesteryear than of the majority today. To believe that all church-related colleges foster anti-intellectualism or are academically inferior is to tar with a very broad brush indeed.
The labels higher education uses do not help us. They mislead the general public. "Liberal arts" has become by now the catch-all for anything that is not brazenly vocational. We meet the name "college" on a modern university like Dartmouth and on a school for beauticians. Few bother these days to distinguish between training and education. We cannot expect "church-related" to carry a surer burden of meaning than other terms we use with abandon.
It is presumably because they have feared that their academic commitment would be casually dismissed by those noting no more than the label that some colleges, which were once pleased to be called church-related, have more recently taken to playing down the association, referring to it as no more than a fact of their history. As fashions and expectations have altered, such colleges have eliminated many features which once seemed to give them identity. They may no longer have a resident chaplain or have members of the clergy on their board. They will likely have no prohibition against smoking or drinking on campus. They will not ask prospective students about their religious preference and will not require them to take a course in Bible. Compulsory chapel will be a thing of memory; indeed, there may be no religious services of any kind. Interviewing prospective faculty members, the dean and president will likely make no mention of the church and, if the candidate should ask about it, will probably deny it any influence on the college's contemporary life. What, then, distinguishes the still church-related college from its now independent neighbor? What remains to bear out the catalog's assertion that "the College continues to value its historic relationship with the Church?"
We ought surely to expect that the college which quite self-consciously calls itself church-related will have characteristics which set it apart from the public university or the independent college. Too often, though, such a college is able to point only to practices and symbols which speak to the church's influence on the college's past, but not on its vital present. The visitor may well look in vain for evidence of the church's influence on those elements of the college's life which significantly shape the experience of the college's members and which eventually form the most profound convictions of those who study there. We may conclude that the college is, in truth, only a smaller and paler version of the university, relying on faded symbolism and neglected tradition to persuade the world that it is different.
It has been the special genius of higher education in the United States, one observer after another has rightly pointed out, to sponsor a diversity of undergraduate institutions. We have room in our systemCor we ought to have roomCfor colleges across the spectrum. Yet in truth higher education daily becomes more homogenized; the experience of the student on the one campus becomes more and more like that of the student on another. The insistence on academic independence has led, ironically, to uniformity. It is difficult for insiders, to say nothing of the confused public, to see any significant difference between the curricular offerings of the church-related college and those of the university's undergraduate division. Institutional purpose and distinctiveness have been eroded by the shift of faculty focus from collegiate interest to departmental program and by the concentration of undergraduate education upon the student's special (usually vocational) interest. Public and private institutions have become more and more alike, thanks on the one hand to the pervasive influence of the idea of value-free inquiry and on the other to the failure of church-related colleges to create a distinctive curriculum.
I wish in what follows to argue that the church-related college can demonstrate its difference only is it makes its curriculum the ground on which knowledge and belief meet. In accomplishing that conjunction, moreover, it will find its modern mission: to return undergraduate education to its American roots. For the national crisis in education, to which so many by now have pointed, has its source, not in the neglect of traditional studies, not in vocationally minded students, not even in rampant faculty specialization (these are symptoms, not the disease), but in the divorce of knowledge and belief, in the schism between the life of the mind and the life of the spirit. Because higher education has decreed that it be so, we have become a society in which intellectual questions are divorced from ethical and religious contexts. Accepted notions of academic freedom and academic propriety guarantee that, while secular faiths flourish on our campuses, Christian belief withers from neglect. Our conventions make the classroom a place where religion may be attacked, but not defended. What we have enthroned as value-free inquiry, making it the supreme authority in higher education, often becomes in fact a celebration of secular belief.
The particular role of the church-related college, then, must be to demonstrate that academic inquiry can be responsibly reconciled with religious belief. It can thus affirm Christianity in its corporate life while it remains true to its identity as an academic institution. Such a college, let me say at once, has no business simply reinforcing the beliefs of childhood, any more than it has reinforcing the linguistic habits of childhood. Whatever students bring with them as freshmen, be it their English idiom, their clichés about America, their attitude towards authority, or their religious convictions, the college must require them to examine critically. They should retain only what, after thoughtful consideration, seems to them the better choice. For the first business of a college is critical thinking and the thoughtful consideration of alternatives.
But that will not be enough for the college I have in mind. The church-related college cannot espouse the notion of more intellectual appropriation, of value-free inquiry; for Christian faith goes beyond knowing goodness, demanding a commitment to the good. The college will first have to say that inquiry is only made to seem value-free and that we do not, except in some ideal sense, seek knowledge for its own sake. It is the distortion of that notion which has made the disciplines ends in themselves, as though "l'art pour l'art" had been extended to literature, philosophy, history, and the rest. It has made the study of the liberal arts in the undergraduate departments of our universities only a foretaste of graduate, which is to say professional, work in those disciplines. That same debasement has made the modern university merely a grouping of schools and departments, with no overarching interest except in their autonomy, their right to work independently to further the interests of their disciplines. The church-related college will wish to insist that, though the disciplines have their own interests and their integrity will be respected, they must also at times serve larger, collegiate interests. They will then be avenues to larger questions and larger truth, demonstrating how they can illuminate a human situation and provide a response to it. Thus will the college return to Jefferson's conviction that the pursuit of knowledge is for an understanding of what is the better life, for the individual and for society, and for living and contributing to that better life.
All that is crucial in the academic dimension of undergraduate education is defined by the triangulation of professor-student-subject matter. If Christian belief does not bear upon that triangulation, church-relatedness will be an empty concept. For the curriculum, to state an obvious but neglected truth, is the translation into the college's daily work of its essential commitments. It is there, not in the catalog or the president's speeches, that institutional purpose is really defined and there that the essential experience of students is charted. In the curriculum, then, the college must effect the conjunction of knowledge and Christian belief, or fail its mission.
For some, academic prejudices being what they are, that notion will seem an oxymoron, like "scientific creationism." Let them not imagine that I have in mind something like expecting the physics professor to open his class with a prayer or having a required course in religion every term. I say again that the first responsibility of any academic institution, the church-related college no less than another, is critical thinking and the careful consideration of alternatives. Religious conviction must be made a subject of critical analysis and Christian belief a prime element within the curriculum of the church-related college. But how can we accomplish that in the modern college without having the study of religion become, on the one hand, an end in itself like another autonomous discipline, or on the other hand a perfunctory "requirement" to be gotten out of the way as quickly as possible?
We have made a beginning by asserting that the pursuit of knowledge shall be a Jeffersonian quest to know the better life. The college's curriculum must, then, deal explicitly with values and seek to win students to them. Thoughtful men and woman do not espouse values because these have been preached to them, although their first encounter with them may have been in some form of preachment--from their parents, a minister, an author. Rather, they embrace them after considering alternatives, persuaded by them after critical examination of their claim. What we accept as a value represents the tension between our self-interest and another's. A widely embraced value is the correspondence of many interests, an acknowledgement of the surmounting of many selves. Such values may be proposed in the undergraduate curriculum where collegiate education, genuinely conceived and practiced, will demonstrate how extravagant self-interest is challenged and may be redeemed through general education.
I do not mean, of course, that debased and all too familiar form of "general education" which is merely a sampling of the different interests of several departments. That is more honestly called diversification or distribution, for it is no more than an effort to provide a breadth of academic experience. (Support for it comes from those who see general education chiefly as an opportunity for students to try out potential majors.) I mean a form of general education which requires students thoughtfully to examine large communal interests. To those interests then, self-interest, whether the student's or the discipline's, must be actively related if a sense of collegiate values is to emerge. It is the ignoring of those communal interests, in consequence of faculty specialization and exaggerated departmentalism, which has made undergraduate education a celebration of narrow self-interest and has made the academic mode narcissistic.
The first great task of the church-related college, then, is to create sequences of general education courses through which students must work for the four years of the degree program in parallel with their work in their major. (The popular pattern of making general education courses, when they exist at all, something for the freshman and sophomore years, has doomed them to being viewed as nothing more than a randomly painted backdrop to the serious work of the major--something to be "gotten out of the way.") These sequences must claim faculty and student attention for those matters which define our common humanity and which set us inescapably before the meaning of our existence. Only if the college moves its students through such a rigorous and carefully-structured program can it hope that they will be able to say at their graduation: "I understand what I believe and I know how to act on my belief."
But the church-related college will wish to do more than ensure that its students have thoughtfully examined their beliefs and have the understanding to live by those beliefs. It will wish to propose that Christianity offers the better choice. It will wants its students to embrace Christian values and to go out to lead a Christian life. Thus it must eventually propose that Christianity offers the best answers to those profound questions raised in the general education sequences.
We must not shrink from recognizing that this must be proposed, if students are to see it as a valid claim, by members of the faculty in their classrooms. That is a delicate and sensitive undertaking, one from which so many members of faculties have shrunk out of the persuasion that to introduce their Christian values and convictions into their teaching would do violence to academic proprieties. They have accepted the fiction that academic inquiry is never constrained and is carried on without reference to belief.
Despite the reiterated insistence that the university deals only with verifiable truths, all its members do their work, in fact, under the authority of some belief. In all areas of human experience, we acknowledge, there stretches an unknown beyond the knowable. What gives shape to the unknown in the mind of the inquirer is belief, some deep conviction about the nature of the world we inhabit and the nature of ourselves as beings. Beneath the surface skepticism which is the characteristic attitude of the scholar, then, is a defining and sustaining belief. (I take atheism to be a "faith," with others.) Out of that belief the scholar's values are derived and these are frequently proposed to students, without their knowing it, as though they were verifiable truths.
We take for granted that the disciplines have their particular canons--the humanities no less than the sciences--and we expect those who profess to be constrained in their teaching by the canons. Colleges and universities, choosing faculty members, expect to appoint people who are independent of mind and who yet acknowledge and respect their discipline's canons. Indeed, when we appoint them to a department we appoint them to exhibit the discipline. We know that when they speak with the authority of their discipline, they will often propose as a truth what is really a canon. Yet we do not fault them for that, for we know and respect the context of their assertion. Indeed, our appointing them is our declaration that we want their discipline's "truths" set before our students. But what we have failed to acknowledge is that our students are usually unable to distinguish canon from truth and that the difference is often obscured by faculty members who wish, in fact, to convert students to a materialistic world view or to their humanism.
Crucial now to my argument is my conviction that the church-related college should and can expect its faculty members, when they are teaching courses in those general education sequences I have imagined, to be constrained by collegiate canons. Thus the college may expect those who offer general education courses to propose and respect the values it espouses. In this activity, no less than in teaching their department's courses, they may be independent of mind and yet acknowledge a larger authority and interest which direct them.
The capacity of the college to do the work I have proposed will depend, clearly, upon its ability to staff its courses with faculty members who are able to honor both the canons of their discipline and those of the college. That is to ask of them no more, in the end, that they be simultaneously private persons and citizens. It is not be require them to be church-goers. It is certainly not to ask them to preach. What we may expect from all members of the college's faculty is their thoughtful recognition of the ethical and religious implications of their work and their sensitivity to students' beliefs. We ought to find in them a concern for persons as well as for data and theories, loyalty to collegiate purpose, and their respect for their colleagues in other disciplines. That is surely no more than to expect them to be members of the college--the collegium--as well as members of their departments.
But the church-related college will have particular need, besides, of some convinced Christians who are willing to offer capstone courses in general education which will urge the claims of Christianity, master teachers whose authority in their discipline is established, whatever the discipline. For I have in mind that such courses may as well be in literature, history, or psychology as in religion or philosophy. It is in such courses, even more than in other parts of the general education program, that students must be brought to see that academic inquiry is incomplete, if it does not bring us to decide on matters of faith. The church-related college will wish to ensure that all of its students are thus brought to understand the Christian claim.
Jefferson was right in believing that it would be higher education which would afford young Americans the vision of what they and their society might become. It was surely out of that same conviction that American churches founded their colleges. Today we may rightly wonder what vision our young people will be afforded by our colleges and universities. We may wonder that the more in a time when government is at best amoral and when fewer lives are touched by the church. That young people and older will come to our classrooms in larger numbers is certain, for they know that there they can find the skills necessary to succeed in our complex world. But what will they find besides?
THE JEFFERSONIAN IDEAL
Just what is wrong with our colleges? Clearly there is a strong sense across the nation that, apart from putting on football and basketball games for the TV networks, our institutions of higher learning are not doing much of a job. People are perplexed by the evidence of illiteracy among graduates, of embarrassing failures in international comparisons, and of the wholesale neglect of teaching in favor of research. And all of it accompanied by ever higher costs to families.
Inevitably there are those who claim that the only solution to the problem is to put more tax money into the system.
Those who want to see ever greater spending on higher education usually buttress their arguments by quoting Thomas Jefferson, directly or indirectly. They echo his well-known statements about the central place of education in a free society, seeking to put the stamp of traditional authority on their claims.
They are, of course, correct in asserting that the author of the Declaration of Independence saw the future of the Republic linked to higher education. They can rightly say that Jefferson urged that the state support colleges and universities, not only schools.
But, sad to say, the contexts in which we find Jefferson mentioned these days usually do him an injustice. I cannot imagine him, were he able to see the state of higher education today, being pleased to see public monies being used as they often are.
I don't mean only those practices which give obvious evidence of the decline of standards: the shameful grade inflation which puts mediocre students on the honor roll; the "gut" majors for those who don't want to study; the widespread ignorance of fundamental subject matter among undergraduate and graduate students alike. Familiar and awful as these failures are, they are not the worst betrayal of Jefferson's noble ideal.
Jefferson's arguments on behalf of collegiate education were made in the interest of the unique Republic he and his colleagues had brought into being. The new American society was one such as the world had never before seen. It would have no ruling class, no aristocracy. There would be no hereditary group to maintain its institutions and ideals from one generation to another. Those could only be sustained then, Jefferson knew, by what he called an "educated citizenry." The colleges were assigned the grand task of educating the citizen leaders of the new United States.
We must understand that Jefferson and his contemporaries gave prime emphasis to "citizenry" in that formulation. In the revolutionary age when this nation was born, the word "citizen" had emerged, both here and in Europe, to identify that member of society who would assume the responsibility for its welfare, who would direct its life and secure it for future generations. America, Jefferson knew, would have to educate future citizens to that role and responsibility.
Thus was born the distinctive idea of American education which inspired the creation of hundreds of colleges in the nineteenth century.
But Jefferson's vision has been nearly lost in our time. Since World War II the "citizen" of Jefferson's formulation has been replaced in college catalogs by "person" or--even worse--"individual." Higher education has moved farther and farther away from having a sense of responsibility to the society which supports it. It pursues its own interests and sets its own agenda. Our research universities made the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake the ruling dogma of higher education in the 'forties and 'fifties. They have gone on since to foster self-interest and self-indulgence. The slogans of the 'sixties and 'seventies--"Do your own thing," "If it feels good, do it"--were the slogans of the campuses before they were embraced by our larger society. They gave popular expression to what was already the university's focus on the specialized interest of faculty departments, to the neglect of student needs. It is no simple coincidence that "Do your own thing" was first shouted when colleges were abandoning a structured curriculum and general requirements for the degree.
How can our colleges be returned to the crucial task of educating young people to play a responsible role in and on behalf of our society? They will need first to move their curriculum away from the special interests of academic departments and into the purposeful education of citizens. They must teach the philosophic, economic, political, cultural, social--and, yes, religious--assumptions which have been the foundation of the Republic. They must have, in short, a structured curriculum of general education in the essential subjects, accompanied by rigorous major programs. And such an education must be required of all who aspire to a bachelor's degree in the arts and sciences. We need our colleges to celebrate those values and beliefs which are embodied in the great American declarations. If they cannot do that, what right do they have to ask for the public's support?
IN PRAISE OF DIFFERENCE
It will doubtless seem to you peculiar, if not downright perverse, that at a conference which has as its motto "Professionals Together," I have chosen to speak in praise of difference. I acknowledge at once my wish to juxtapose two apparently conflicting ideas, so as to invite you to consider this paradox: that we shall best understand what we share by appreciating America's essential difference; and that we in the schools and colleges can meet the challenges we face together, only if we understand what should be our institutional differences and celebrate those differences within a shared commitment.
But let me begin by speaking of what it is, in fact, that the public thinks we share today. If we can bring ourselves to see ourselves as others see us, we shall have to admit that what we have chiefly in common--schools, colleges, universities alike--is a national lack of confidence in us. I cannot think there has ever been a time in the history of this country when there was so much bad news about education or so much negative reporting on our schools and colleges. We have been condemned by a succession of critics, within the system and without, and we face a public that is confused about our purposes and suspicious of our intentions.
The harsh common denominator in the several recent and widely quoted studies of secondary and higher education is the conclusion that we in the schools, colleges, and graduate schools are alike failing in our educational mission. The American people, first startled a few years ago to learn that Johnny couldn't read, next had to learn that Johnny couldn't do math either. Now we have been told that Johnny, graduating from college, cannot think logically, can't interpret Hamlet, has no understanding of American history or our system of government, can't explain economic principles--and, what is more, can't write a decent paragraph about any of these.
For a time, the critics seemed to be presenting us with no more than their subjective opinions, even their prejudices, and so it was not difficult for us to shrug them off, if we chose to do so. But more recently the critics have captured the public's attention by producing what seems to be specific proof of our failures. For they appear to offer objective evidence--and our society often seems willing to equate that with absolute truth. They have required us to look at the scores on standardized tests achieved by typical products of the German and Japanese educational systems. In comparison, the scores of average Americans are deplorably low. It is as though, in the hundred yard dash, our children were floundering along at the sixty-yard mark while the Germans and Japanese were already breaking the tape. Newspapers and magazines all across the country have seized on this and, to judge from the letters to the editor, the public is greatly alarmed. And blaming us, we had better recognize, not Congress, not President Reagan.
Have you asked yourself, seeing the constant references to the accomplishments of young Germans and Japanese, how it is that their educational systems should have become the standards against which we are measured? Why have the critics chosen Tokyo and Frankfurt, rather than London, Paris, or Rome for their population samples? The answer seems to me inescapable: the critics begin with the conviction that the Germans and the Japanese build better automobiles than anybody else. The implicit pattern of their thinking seems to go like this: our economy has been thrown own out of whack by the sales of Volkswagens and Toyotas; if they were able to take away markets from Ford and General Motors, their technology must be superior to ours; and if their technology is superior, it must be because their systems of education are superior. What other grounds do the parents of Illinois and Iowa have for demanding that we make our schools more like Japan's? They have been reading in newspaper editorials arguments along these lines: if we are to compete in world markets against these new giants of technology, we must have a system which produces young people like those paragons of Germany and Japan. The critics and editors write in awe of their much higher mathematical ability; they catalog the impressive evidence of their superior accomplishments in physics and chemistry; they note a higher level of general knowledge; and so on. All of this to prove to us that American schools and colleges are failing to provide what our people need in the final decades of the twentieth century.
Now, I do not wish to make light of our need to build better cars or to run hard in the world's economic race. But surely there are other interests and concerns we must bring to bear, when we evaluate a system of education. Nowhere in the many reports and commentaries I have read has anybody wished to suggest that the Germans and Japanese have a better understanding of human rights or the dimensions of freedom; nobody has wished to claim they are more open-hearted, more tolerant, more generous to other nations, or more democratic. None of these gets a mention. I am struck again and again by the fact that, when we are measured against these international standards of performance, I find no mention whatsoever of the things that are most important on my list of criteria. Inevitably I have wondered what people really know about Germany and Japan, beyond the computer printouts of the test scores they quote uncritically.
My suspicion of them begins with their willingness to draw conclusions about whole populations out of their comparisons of the average product of another country's schools with the average graduate of an American high school or college. Do they know, I must wonder, what percentage of the eighteen or twenty-five year old populations in those countries is enrolled in a program of formal education? I must believe that they do not and that they assume that those percentages correspond to ours. Because I grew up in Britain, people have regularly sought me out over the years for discussions about British and American schools. (It is graphic evidence of Britain's economic and political eclipse, I might say parenthetically, that nobody seems much interested in doing that today. I cannot resist pointing out that the test scores of average high school graduates in Britain are every bit as impressive as those of young Germans or Japanese. I don't find those being quoted. Nobody wants to buy an Austin or a Triumph these days.) I have nearly always found people highly impressed by what they know of the accomplishments of those who attend British universities, but at the same time they are hopelessly ignorant of the population statistics. I have grown used to seeing disbelief spread across American faces when I quote the dismal facts about England. For it remains sadly the case that the very large majority of young people there end their schooling at fifteen or sixteen. Britain has the lowest percentage of its young people in secondary and post-secondary education of any country in Europe. Several years ago it fell below Spain and Portugal, the traditional cellar dwellers; more recently, I am told, Britain has dropped below Iraq and Libya. But while British statistics are not significantly different from those of Germany and Japan, they are very different from ours. We have, in fact, about the same portion of our young people completing the bachelor's degree as other nations have completing the twelfth grade; we have about the same percentage getting doctor's degrees that the British have completing the baccalaureate. Does it make any sense, then, to compare the average graduates of our respective systems?
But let me focus now on what the systems of Britain, Germany, and Japan have in common. And then let us ask how--and more importantly, why--we are different.
I will tell you an anecdote which illustrates it all for me. When I was Dean at Kenyon College, a colleague of mine brought a British visitor to see me, a member of the faculty at Cambridge University. Though he was totally unfamiliar with American practices, he was eager to learn and full of questions. He had already been impressed by the extraordinary number of students who majored in the humanities. Most of all, he was astonished at the large number, relatively, who were majoring in ClassicsCmen and woman alike. What, he wanted to know, would they do after graduation? Could there be such a demand for Latin in the schools that they would all find employment in teaching? He looked at me, incredulous, as I told him that virtually none expected to teach; that they would go on to law school or medicine, to careers in business or government service. I went on carefully to explain to him the freedom of choice American students have; that these Kenyon students had chosen Classics as the discipline around which to organize a liberal education, their preparation for life and work in a free society. His reply didn't surprise me at all. "Oh," he said, with something of a rebuke in his voice, "we could never allow that."
Of course they couldn't! Britain does not relate education to freedom; it does not think of education as liberation. For Britain, like Germany and Japan, remains an aristocratic society. Its people are reminded by daily television coverage of the Royal Family that in England what still counts most is who your parents were. British schooling is geared to fitting people into what remains a rigid class system; one observer has called it "a system of doors which are set to slam in the face of most who seek to pass through." It is a system designed to identify talent early and to develop it along a narrowing path in accord with the notions and needs of the ruling elite. It is devoted, not to the aspirations of the many, but to the refined intellectual development of the few. (You can find an American parallel in our cultivation of superior athletes at the expense of the many.) I have heard quoted a British study of 1980, which reports that power in Britain--economic, financial, social, as well as political--remains essentially concentrated in the graduates of four of England's most exclusive prep schools: Eton, Harrow, Rugby, and Winchester. Nobody who knows English life would doubt that report for a moment. From what I know of Germany and Japan, I would expect a comparable study to produce very similar evidence; for their societies, despite significant changes since World War II, also remain aristocratic and "old world."
I said earlier that I reject the notion that we shall find in Germany or Japan models for what our system of education should be providing. Those who recommend that, whether educators or newspaper columnists, fail to see a system of education for what it is: the expression and emblem of a society. Let us say it simply: the American system of education is different because, God be praised, America is a different society.
That is the first praise of difference I wish to utter and on the fact of that American difference I shall build all else that I have to say.
Nineteenth century America embraced wholeheartedly Thomas Jefferson's vision of the role of education in a free republic. Jefferson's vision remains the most powerful inspiration education has ever known. But I think that, secure in our contemporary assumptions, we forget how revolutionary his ideas were. For Jefferson discarded the centuries-old metaphor of education as the polishing of a rough diamond, a notion based on the belief that the few were born diamonds, while the rest were by birth chunks of coal or even dross. In its place Jefferson set a new metaphor: the child as a seed which, planted in nourishing soil and under the benign influences of sunshine and rain, can grow into a flourishing plant. Not that every plant would grow at the same rate. Not that all plants would be oak trees. Jefferson believed in difference. But he saw the world in a grain of sand and in every American child the potentially free citizen.
An American philosophy of education and a variegated system of schools and colleges grew out of that vision, carrying within them the promise of the Republic's hope. That growth was, by any standard, phenomenal and it continued past the middle of our century, at an accelerated rate, fueled by the conviction that a better and freer society would emerge out of a form of education which offered access to all and encouraged every child to grow to his or her fullest potential.
And yet something has gone wrong. The American faith in education has ebbed. The confidence is gone that our schools are the key to a better life. We know the critics are right when they speak of a malaise that besets our system. For we know the facts of widespread faculty demoralization, of curricular chaos, and unmotivated students. We know that Ernest Boyer and those like him are honest in their reporting on the state of our schools and colleges. And surely we must say that parents are right in thinking that something is fundamentally wrong with a system which leaves so many children functionally illiterate, unable to distinguish between right and wrong, and ignorant of the assumptions of Jefferson's new world. What has gone wrong? How are we to correct it?
I have said that I view a system of education as the expression and emblem of a society. I shall argue, then, that what ails our schools and colleges is what ails the United States. We have destroyed the balance that is vital to the health of both education and society: the balance between the single and the collective, between private interest and public weal, between individual and society. That balance was crucial to Jefferson's idea of
the American Republic. It is of the free citizen that Jefferson writes, not the free individual. The two are not the same.
It is the rampant individualism of the decades since World War II that has put our society out of joint. It is rampant individualism that has reshaped all of education and altered our notions of what diploma and degree should certify. We have seen the rights of the individual set above society's claim in our court ruling after another; so much so that today we could imagine it being said that a person does, after all, have the right to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater. The heroes of contemporary popular culture--Rambo, Elvis, or Frank Sinatra doing it his way--have been those who have thumbed their noses at society's standards in one way or another. The Chicago Tribune pays its tribute to rugged indivi-dualism by running the obituaries of notorious gangsters amid the death notices of community leaders, with the mobsters usually getting more space. The cult of individuality demands that we approve the utterly bizarre, the grotesque, the altogether tasteless. We are left with only one universally embrace social value: an acceptance of all things, which allows all of us to do our own thing.
Has any slogan seemed a more appropriate emblem for our age than "Do your own thing!"? Does it not capture completely the self-indulgent mood of our time? Has any phrase been so continually fitting for so many generations--jet-setters, flower children, the Me generation, and now the Yuppies? It has been the explanation for a thousand extravagances and it has been granted the authority of Holy Writ. By now it has been cited as justification by some who have committed capital crimes, as well as by casual shoplifters. It approves the scornful rejection of institutions and traditions, both by the highly educated and the illiterate. It gives moral sanction to selfishness and even cruelty. It has been used to give legitimacy to an evil like child pornography. This is, of course, individualism gone wild, out of control.
From the Declaration of Independence on forward, we know, American society has developed within the idea of equality between collective and individual rights and freedoms. The tensions between them are written into our Constitution. They characterize the bases of our laws and our working forms of government. They are the healthy tensions of a capitalist economy. They express, at our best, the very essence of Americanism. In particular times the pendulum of our national life has swung somewhat the more to the one side than to the other. But never has there been an age when there has been such a violent swing away from the center.
What is it that has allowed the one pole of our world to become so powerfully attractive that we nearly ignore the existence of the other? What gives authority to those who can proclaim that, in pursuing their private goals, they can deny the interests of others? And not only get away with it, but be applauded for it!
Some have thought to find the source of the triumph of egocentricity in the turn away from organized religion or in the influence of modern psychology, in the continuing development of forces unleashed in the American and French Revolutions, or again in a national revulsion towards both communism and fascism. Some of those who have written on the phenomenon, I must say, seem to me to be seeing cause where I see only effect.
Such people have generally wished to believe that the problems of our schools, then, proceed from those of our society. They see education as the mirror of society. But I would argue against that, proposing that education is the first shaper of our society's attitude. I shall place the responsibility for "Do your own thing!" at the door of our colleges and schools; though first, for reasons I shall give later, I shall place it at the door of our major universities. For I believe that the propositions made by education have authorized the rejection of the restraining influence provided by collective interest. They have thus provided seeming moral grounds for that celebration of self-interest which Christopher Lasch has castigated as the narcissism of our larger society.
Nearly all of us, I'm confident, associate "Do your own thing!" first of all with the campus unrest of the 'sixties and 'seventies. It was surely the extensive media reporting on the turmoil of those times which raised the phrase to the level of a national watchword. Perhaps it touched something in our national psyche, approving within each of us whatever wishes to protest against regimentation in whatever form we encounter it. But it is remembered above all as a student rallying cry, a call to the barricades, and thus there are those who see in student rebelliousness and adolescent self-indulgence all that has overcome our system of education. Again I must differ. For, paraphrasing Lenin, I believe that all student rebellions begin in the faculty lounge. I do not blame the students, but their teachers. Those who stood on campus platforms rejecting the authority of their institution's traditions and dismissing the claims of interests larger than their own had already found in the curriculum, but even more in the example of some of their professors, the legitimacy of the doctrine of self-interest they were preaching.
I want now to trace something of a history. What I think I find in the changes in education since World War II is the steady retreat of collective interest and institutional purpose. Those were once manifested in structured curricula, required courses, and shared faculty commitments. They have retreated in the face of advancing specialism. I want to call it that to distinguish it from the kind of specialization I approve of and because I think we are dealing with a new phenomenon: namely the claims of an expertise which is not constrained or disciplined by a larger understanding.
In the earlier decades of this century and before, we admired the specialized understanding to which generously educated persons advanced as they matured in their careers. Specialization was a mountain top activity, a peak of knowledge based upon a broad base of understanding. Formerly, an interest in 20th century American literature was the specialty of somebody broadly versed in the literature in English. But today it is enough for the specialty to be the early writings of William Faulkner, the specialty of a very young scholar whose Ph.D. program was essentially in 20th century American literature. Such specialists spend less time on the study of literary texts than on the writings of other specialists. The path to such specialism has become a ladder within a windowless tower.
It was in our graduate schools, of course, that the idea of such finely focused interest was first celebrated. It was there that the redefining of the idea of the educated person began. Appealing to the revered notion of the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, the professors of the graduate schools insisted that they could better focus the microscope of their interest, if they eliminated other matters from their field of vision. Defining what was to become the university mode of inquiry, they argued that a limited expertise was to be preferred to comprehensive understanding. After World War II, indeed, it became fashionable for academics to demonstrate their consuming interest in their special field by proudly claiming ignorance of other fields. Departments rapidly became islands, increasingly disposed to insist that other islands had no claim upon their attention. It was even easier for them to say that the larger society had no claim upon them, to insist that inquiry be value-free.
In the nineteen-fifties the undergraduate departments, even those of small colleges, began to feel the effect of the reorientation of faculty members who embraced the new university mode. Increasing numbers of faculty saw their professional commitment, neither to the college nor to the education of students, but to their specialty. Their first priority was their field; their second, the training of majors to follow them rapidly up the ladder. In the 'sixties and 'seventies such faculty members, often encouraged by presidents and deans who were no less captured by the university model, dismantled the traditional structures of undergraduate education. Students were told, in effect, that there were no large human or societal questions for their consideration; there were no topics to be taken seriously beyond their major field. They were free to snack from the smorgasbord array of departmental interests. If any structure of requirements remained, it appeared as a vulgarizing of general education in something called "distribution" or "diversification." Students were encouraged to follow their self-interest and permitted to spend larger and larger amounts of time within one department. They were even encouraged to follow their self-interest into that ultimate egocentricity: the self-designed degree program. By the sophomore year they were often engaged in research on topics that to an earlier generation would have seemed narrow for graduate school.
By the nineteen-seventies specialism had advanced so rapidly that many departments were unable to define a coherent program of work for their majors. Catalog offerings reflected the specialties of the faculty of the moment. English professors, speaking from the camp of their limited interest, could not even agree that all majors should be required to study Shakespeare. To admit that one author was more important than another violated a canon of specialism. For to acknowledge that a student's interest should be disciplined or constrained by reference to larger or traditional interest would be to allow that faculty specialism might have to be similarly constrained. Fundamental to the defense of specialism is the insistence that the individual acknowledge no law beyond himself. We can understand, then, how the notion of tenure has been transformed to fit the new idea of faculty membership. Once the guarantor of the freedoms of the corporate faculty, it has now become the license for the individual to do his own thing--which may include never attending faculty meetings, refusing to serve on committees, failing to keep office hours, or cancelling classes without telling students or colleagues why.
Over some forty years this increasing emphasis upon self-interest has gone far to destroy institutional distinctiveness. It has robbed colleges of their character and of traits they could once call unique. The supermarkets of education, as uniform as their commercial counterparts, invite their students to take from the shelves whatever their appetites suggest they put in the shopping cart of their self-interest. Who worries these days about a balanced intellectual diet? A permanent record card today is no longer a description of a coherent program of education; it has about as much coherence and lasting value as the slip the machine issues at the check-out counter.
Now, there is a curious irony here in this system ruled by special interest. It is the homogenization of education; not only in institutions large and small, public and private, eastern and midwestern, but at what used to be significantly different levels. Appropriate differences between schools and colleges, undergraduate and graduate, elementary and advanced have been obscured. The ruling assumptions of specialism have pushed down through the colleges into the schools. Even in elementary schools, collective interest has been increasingly subordinated to individual development. We commonly hear of high schoolers doing what they have been encouraged to believe is research. Requirements on them have been eased, lest these limit their individuality. At the same time our colleges are more and more expected to offer what they are less and less likely to call remedial courses. State university branch campuses offer Ph.D. programs and clamor to have research centers and medical schools. Meanwhile the medical schools have lately felt themselves obliged to hire faculty in the humanities to teach the would-be physicians the things they were able to ignore in their undergraduate years. The advanced and the elementary coexist at every levelCand are skillfully labeled to seem what they are not. No wonder that a foundation has created a national committee to try to describe what the bachelor's degree ought to certify.
You will have long since detected what I shall wish to offer as remedy to these ills. What I must urge is a restoration of balance in our system, by requiring that, at every level, individual interestCbe it that of student or teacher--be challenged and limited by collective interest. We need emphatically a return to Jefferson's conviction that the aim of education is to prepare our people, in the fullest sense of the term, to be good citizens. We need, of course, to preserve that redeeming American belief in open opportunity to move upward to the full realization of our individual talents and capacities. We need education to provide the vision that will inspire young people to scale the heights of their and our ambition. But we need also to restore the understanding that individual freedom (as distinct from license), is possible only in a free society and that the maintenance of a free society demands a full understanding of the implication of citizenship. It is our collective responsibility to recreate American education as the expression of the society we would have ours be. It is our collective responsibility to create and recreate a national culture, our joint task to demand of our students what responsible educators may demand in behalf of a good society. We must insist that doing the institutions's thing, for faculty as well as students, is as appropriate to American citizenship as doing our own thing. We need together to embrace the fundamental truth of the teaching profession at every level: that we best serve those we teach by making appropriate demands on them. Therein is all the justification we need for a return to rigor, for higher standards, for carefully framed requirements. Surely we cannot faulty students for lacking motivation, when we have done so much to persuade them that there is nothing that should challenge them, nothing that should inspire them, beyond their self-interest.
Instead of looking to Germany and Japan for models of what we should be doing, we can look to those who have held on to the central faith of American education, setting themselves against the seemingly irresistible movement of the times. We can praise those different faculty members who have held staunchly to the conviction that their discipline is not a self-contained little world, but the avenue to a larger understanding of the human condition. They have not seen teaching as a necessary evil, not just a job to support them while they pursue their true vocation. They have quietly done their work in institutions large and small, often dismissed by both their colleagues and the administration, because they do not fit the new definition of the scholar.
And we can praise those different colleges, the few which have sought to preserve a balance in undergraduate education and to bring their students to wisdom. They have risked the scorn of vocationally minded students and foundation grant makers. They have walked a difficult road, too long ignored by the media and overlooked by those who measure colleges only in terms of their productivity of graduate students. It seems to me the consummate irony of our times that, at a moment when the example of their difference is needed more than ever, their existence is threatened by the policies of our national government. Could you--I ask you earnestly--explain to a visiting German or Japanese what system of education you think our national government wishes our country to have?
I will tell you the system of American education I would create, if I could wave a magic wand and immediately provide a return to what I believe are the Jeffersonian essentials. Within the common enterprise of educating our people simultaneously to self-fulfillment and good citizenship, that would demand a crucial difference between school and college and between college and the graduate components of the university. Within such a system the differences between elementary and advanced would again emerge; there would be an appropriate postponement of specialization and the presence throughout of the constraining influence of societal interest and values.
For the schools I would set two fundamental tasks: the development of essential skills and a basic education in citizenship. I place great importance here on training children in the most basic skill and the activity which defines our humanity: language. There is nothing more liberating, I am convinced, than learning the subtleties and nuances of language; there is nothing more necessary to creating a healthy society than wholly sharing a language. Accordingly I would give much time and attention to reading and writing English of increasing sophistication--lots and lots of writing. Besides that I would require all students to have six full years of a foreign language. Yes, six years; enough to give them competency in another tongue, but also an understanding of a different society. I would require all students to go as far as they could in mathematics, the second valuable skill in our world. To those basic skills I would readily give half the time in school.
The other half would be given to the work necessary to understanding what it means to be an American citizen in the twentieth century. And that is no small task! It would obviously require inquiry into the assumptions of the founding fathers, study of our nation's history and its antecedents, appreciation of its arts and technology, knowledge of the economics of capitalism, the origins of its peoples and their beliefs and values, the privileges and obligations of citizenship, and so on. To this I would join a fully developed program of physical education and games which would emphasize cooperation and success through shared accomplishments. My overarching requirement would be that no study be undertaken for its own sake, but that everything--be it literature, history, biology, or whatever--be done for the purpose of bringing young people to an understanding of the phenomenon that is American society. The schools should be so clearly purposeful that neither students nor teachers would ever have to ask, "Why are we doing this?"
For the undergraduate years I would again propose a dual task, with neither part being subordinated to the other. I hasten to say that I don't propose the horizontal split that has often characterized the college curriculum, where two years were given to general education and the junior/senior years to specialization. No, mine would be a vertical division, providing for simultaneous work over all four years in a general education program and in the student's major area of interest. Depending on the institution, the latter might be engineering, architecture, business, nursing, agriculture, the sciences, humanities, or the arts. Its purpose would be to give every student, not a foretaste of graduate school, but a comprehensive understanding of and competency in a recognized field of human activity, their choice depending on their interest and talent.
But for all of them I would want to require a four-year inquiry into our common humanity. That wold require again a harnessing of the disciplines to do the institution's work, to address abiding interests and large human questions. I would entail the study of human societies other than our own, of the past and the present, utopian and actual. It would mean coming to grips with the physical universe in which our society must exist, with the resources available to nourish populations, with the resources and limitations of our physical selves. It would mean studying the great responses--literary, philosophic, religion, artistic, scientific--that the human spirit has brought to the world and its life forms. All of these would be stepping stones to a capstone consideration of values and beliefs, for I believe that students must be brought to see all of education as a moral process. We cannot talk of the good society or the good citizen, without talking of values, of judgments, of choices between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and untruth. A system of education which avoids those questions cannot nourish freedom.
To the graduate school altogether my system would postpone research and work within the interests of the field--for faculty members as well as students. But I do not imagine even the work of graduate school going on in isolation. For one thing I expect, as did the creators of the modern American university, those who founded Johns Hopkins, that the work of the graduate and professional schools would be constrained by the moral and societal values developed in faculty and students by their school and college years. But I would also require that those who sought the Ph.D. be once again required to demonstrate, as the name of the degree--Doctor of Philosophy--suggests, a capacity to view their discipline philosophically, to see it in the larger context of knowledge and human experience, to reflect upon its right and wrong, its capacity for good and evil.
You may think this utopian stuff and I am well aware of the vested interests arrayed against a revision of the kind I have proposed. Yet the deepening crisis in education demands radical approaches. We need an American Renaissance in education, an effort to resurrect the values of our founders in a contemporary frame. Without it, we risk becoming a society of bread and circuses, or what some have already envisioned as a fascist state in which an elite corps of specialists rules over a merely trained work force. The only alternative for Americans is in Jefferson's vision of a free, educated citizenry. We can afford nothing less than that. That is the challenge we face together as professionals. We can begin to meet it by seeking to restore the balance in our own institutions and by working actively against selfish interest in student and faculty practice. We can champion the difference of our institutions again, even as we embrace a common cause for all of education in celebrating the worth of a truly free life.
There was a photograph in the Chicago Tribune this past week which looked at first glance like a conventional picture of a wedding party. Bride in flowing white gown. Groom in tuxedo. Best man, also in a tuxedo, discreetly positioned just behind the happy couple.
A closer look, however, revealed that the members of the wedding party were all young adolescents, fourteen- or fifteen-year olds whose grins had nothing to do with the prospect of marital bliss.
The caption under the picture told us the real facts. The photograph had been taken in a Chicago suburban school and these children were acting out parts assigned to them by their teacher in a course on "Family Living."
Do we need anything else to tell us what is profoundly wrong with our public school system? Our schools do not have the time or the resources, we are told, to equip our young people with the knowledge and understanding they need to go on to college or to get a job. Yet we have taxpayer money to spend on renting tuxedos and gowns and what have you. Perhaps that is only a small number of dollars, but it is symptomatic.
Worse than that, of course, is the fact that those in charge of the curriculum believe that it should offer instruction in how to plan and organize a wedding. For that, the caption underneath the photograph told me, is what these students were really learning. By what stretch of the imagination can we believe that this is an appropriate topic for the tenth grade? Can we think that class time for this is appropriately taken away from mathematics or the study of language?
Such activities in our schools trivialize the processes of education and the purposes of our school system. But I am reminded of what the late President of Yale University wrote in an essay published not long before his death. He spoke there of his anxiety that our universities were trivializing education also. Has the university become, he asked, "a haven for trivial pursuits?"
It isn't difficult to find compelling evidence to suggest that the Yale President's fears were well grounded. Colleges have been known to give academic credit for cheerleading or for courses in how to answer the telephone. One can find courses on how to organize a party, how to have a successful vacation, how to arrange a liveable backyard. But that's not the kind of thing the President of Yale University was really concerned about.
The trivialization of the undergraduate curriculum has come about, because narrowly specialized courses have displaced the comprehensive courses on the human condition which characterized the curriculum of forty or fifty years ago. The titles of courses in undergraduate departments these days often seem more narrowly focused than the graduate school courses of half a century ago. The undergraduate curriculum is shaped, in fact, by the professional interests of those faculty members who happen to be on the staff at the moment. With their departure their special interest courses go, to be replaced by the no less narrow courses of their successors.
I once served as an advisor to a Department of English, the members of which were trying to come to agreement on what should be the requirements of a student who wished to major in English. The department had 13 members and they were unable to agree on a definition of English literature, to say nothing of what should be required of those who study it. In the end they settled for a statement to the effect that an English major was a student who had taken a certain number of courses in the Department of English. They could not agree that any author was sufficiently important that all students should be required to study his or her writings. They could not agree that any text written in English should be required study for all majors. Each thought his special field was crucially important, but the others didn't let themselves be convinced of it. To them nothing was trivial, even as nothing was important. To my question, some of them replied that they could argue for comic books being included in a course on literature.
Trivialization follows when we have lost our capacity to say that some things are more important than others. Family life is trivialized when children are taught that it consists of weddings, birthdays, funerals, and reunions. Weddings are trivialized when they become things of tuxedos and gowns instead of celebrations of the sacrament of marriage.
Our nation needs to recapture its sense of what is important and the place to begin is in our schools.
RELIGION AND EDUCATION
Some twenty years ago, a teacher in our village school found our older daughter, during a test, sitting with her head in her hands, her eyes closed as she concentrated her thinking on the question. The teacher tapped Margaret on the shoulder, saying, "If you are praying, I have to tell you to stop."
After a pause, she went on, "You're not allowed to do that in school anymore, you know," and walked Away. That is how that particular teacher interpreted the Supreme Court's decision on prayer in school. She was not alone. Many a person has believed that it is against the law now for anybody to pray privately in a school or college which is supported by the state or federal government. Many a student has been caused to have guilt feelings about saying a silent prayer during an exam or before running the hundred yard dash. Many an administrator has not known how to answer questions from parents, alumni, or trustees as to what is permitted.
Interpretations of the Court's decision are still being handed down, as lesser courts rule out prayer at commencement exercises in public colleges or nativity scenes in public buildings at Christmas time. (Though the workers in those buildings, like the students, will have Christmas Day off.)
In one way or another, all of us live with the confusion that has followed upon interpretation of the doctrine of separation of church and state. We are surrounded by ambiguities. Though official prayer is outlawed in our schools, there is official prayer at every session of Congress. We have chaplains in the armed forces, as well as in government agencies. We pledge allegiance to the flag as a symbol of one nation under God. Our coinage speaks of our trust in God. Yet we find no way to incorporate such expressions of belief into a form of prayer which would be acceptable in our schools.
Outlawing prayer, we have outlawed religion. Increasingly, the separation of church and state has been translated into the separation of religion and state. Is that really what our founding fathers intended?
Legal minds have disagreed and continue to disagree on this subject. But those to whose argument I am sympathetically drawn are those who argue that our founding fathers were concerned to defend the free practice of religion and, therefore, to ensure that there should be no established church in the new Republic. The practice of religion was not to be supported by the state. They did not intend to exclude religion from public life or public institutions, as any number of their statements and declarations confirm. What they wished to ensure was that no denomination or faith should have the authority of the state behind it. All religions were to be equal.
It seems to be amongst educators that the doctrine of separation, interpreted as the absolute divorce of religion and public life, has found most favor. They have often made the study of religion and the practice of religion synonymous, saying that neither has a place in the university. Thus most public universities have no Department of Religion and declare, at least implicitly, that there is no justification for the study of religion. It is most unlikely today that, among the several hundred courses offered on the typical university campus, there will be one in which students read or discuss the Bible.
By now, this is very nearly the case in the Protestant college. Whereas once the study and practice of religion occupied the foreground in such an institution, today it is likely to be scarcely visible in the background of the institution's life. Alumni will recall, often with affection by now, that they were once required to attend daily chapel and to go to religious services on Sunday. They will remember courses in Bible, required of all students, courses that were often taught by the president of the college as capstone courses in the senior year. Thus did the church related college propose to its students that religion was central to their life's experience and to the history of the culture of which they were part.
Today, from kindergarten on through graduate school, our schools seem to wish to tell those they teach that religion is not worth their serious attention. Though we place the study of science prominently in the curriculum, together with the study of history, human behavior, and human accomplishments, we make no place for the study of what transcends the physical universe and its life forms. Those who justify the exclusion of religion do so either by saying that questions of belief are too "personal" to be the object of study or by asserting that the curriculum should include only objective truths, excluding matters of faith.
I find neither defensible. Our response to things beautiful is surely personal, yet we include the study and appreciation of the arts in the curriculum. It takes a strong faith to believe that science will be able to tell us what went before the big bang, even as it does to believe that the study of history will help us better to understand our present and future. It isn't faith or belief we are excluding from the curriculum, then. It is knowledge of humankind's belief in God.
Listening to the news the other evening, I heard the announcer say that Bobby Knight had won so-and-so many games at Indiana since taking on the job of head basketball coach there. I know what the announcer meant and so do you, but let's pause and wonder why the media give credit these days, not to the players who actually win the games, but to the coach who is paid a vast salary to produce winning teams.
Is this habit just a convenient form of shorthand, like saying that Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo or that Czechoslovakia defeated the United States in the recent Olympics? Perhaps, but I don't really think so. Rather, I think of it as the tip of an iceberg which, growing ever larger, is slowly revealing itself to the American public.
The habit speaks to the unhappy truth that university athletics programs have very little to do with the students. Only a foolish person would believe that big-time college basketball is played for the players' benefit. The coaches command the game and the allegiance of the fans.
But this defining feature of what we would do better to call university, rather than college, athletics is consistent with the general movement in our universities over the last several decades, a movement of the institutions' activities away from student interests. It is a movement so powerful that it has increasingly shaped the character even of small, undergraduate colleges.
I have just heard of a young man, a Ph.D. in economics, who was let go by a college because he was too interested in teaching. That college, like some others which seek the sort of reputation which attracts grants from government agencies, has taken to calling itself a research college. The faculty there are now spending less time on students and more time on publishing research papers.
Meanwhile at the University of Notre Dame a professor has declared, in response to student complaints about overly large classes and indifferent teachers, that students must stop thinking of themselves as the essential element in the university. The faculty are, he said, and they should be allowed to get on with their work without being distracted by students.
There's nothing terribly new in this, at least at the university level, for people were saying the same kind of thing at Harvard in the 1950s. University practices ever since then have encouraged the subordination of undergraduate teaching to research. This has not changed, even in the face of the recent national outcry about the poverty of instruction in our major universities. Data from the University of Illinois show that in the last five years that institution has shifted even more of its resources into its graduate programs and research, at the expense of the undergraduate body.
But there are emerging signs of what can properly be called a consumer backlash. All across the country, state legislatures are cutting back on the budgets of the public universities. Parents are balking at paying high fees at private universities which, they believe, are not serving their children as they ought to be served. Alarmed by reports of narrowly specialized courses in the faculty member's research field or of classrooms that have become arenas for political brainwashing, parents and legislators alike are demanding to know what students are getting for their money.
What they are getting is the very antithesis of what philosophers of education have traditionally considered essential in undergraduate instruction. They are not being taught by teachers skilled in using their subject matter to expand students' minds and excite their interest in learning. The university puts its students into introductory courses which enroll several hundred students, courses which provide students with opportunity neither for discussion nor for writing. The multiple choice test is standard fare. A great deal of the teaching, moreover, is in the hands of teaching assistants who were themselves undergraduates just a few months ago.
This is all being done so that the university's resources can go to support the faculty in the activity they most enjoy and find most professional satisfaction in. The modern university is a huge pyramid, where thousands of undergraduates at the base are necessary to support the increasingly narrow faculty activities at the upper levels. Don't believe those who argue that research fuels great teaching; nobody has ever successfully demonstrated that. Moreover, when the university says "research," it really means publishing papers.
Not the way to go, Bobby!
MONMOUTH COLLEGE: AN AMERICAN OXFORD?
The professional literature has been telling me for some time now that we are on the threshhold of a remarkable breakthrough in the production of computer software for higher education. I find these forecasts altogether believable, for I have had the opportunity to see some of the materials that are already on the market. Even for a conservative like me, a demonstration of these materials and their potential is a remarkable eye opener. Like all new materials of this sort, the cost of the single item is at this point prohibitively high. But it is already clear that the cost will come tumbling down, as more and more manufacturers decide to move into what will be a gigantic, lucrative market.
It is time now for Monmouth College to begin to think how the availability of such materials, which must not be confused with familiar textbooks, will revolutionize our colleges. In my view, it will demand a rethinking of the traditional faculty role in education.
Let me at once make clear that I do not think that the computer will completely replace the faculty member. I reject those notions of the college of the future as a gigantic databank, serving students who sit at home with their modems and their screens. I know of no computer program, existing or imagined, which can play the role of the faculty member that I think crucial to higher education.
There are, as I see it, two quite different processes which go on in higher education. The one is the instruction of studentsCproviding them with information and training them in necessary skills. The other involves the student's response to the knowledge acquired and the student's use of information and acquired skills. A very large amount of faculty time at the moment is given over to the first component, a considerably lesser amount to the second. This is true, even in small colleges like Monmouth with low student/teacher ratios.
It has often been asserted that the colleges of England's Oxford University provide the best form of education in the world, a style of teaching that most American undergraduates never encounter and that these days is rarely available even to graduate students. It is usually referred to as the tutorial system, but in fact the Oxford mode of education has again two components to it. The first is the familiar program of lectures, with faculty experts on particular disciplines discoursing to students in large lecture halls. The lecture has been the time-honored way of imparting information and understanding while achieving some reasonable economies of operation. Even Oxford, with all of its endowed wealth, has had to rely on the large lecture format in order to be able to afford to do the other things that it wishes to do for students.
Those who have gone through the Oxford system, however, seem invariably to refer to the other component when they talk of their undergraduate experience. Indeed, there are those who believe that the real processes of education are accomplished through the tutorial system. Simply put, that system makes the tutor responsible for the education of the student, the lectures being preparatory to and the necessary foundation of the tutorials.
Students meet weekly or biweekly with their tutor, either for an individual session or with a small group in seminar fashion. The student is typically called on to read a paper, which is promptly critiqued by the tutor and that leads into the dialogue that really makes the tutorial go. Skilled tutors guide their students into reading and wider inquiry, all the while linking the topic of discussion to larger contexts.
Both the admirers and critics of Oxford University agree that the tutorials offer the kind of experience that every serious student ought to have. The obvious reason why other institutions have not been able to offer this to all their students is that the program is very costly. Some colleges, like Monmouth, have attempted to offer something close to the Oxford system in their honors programs, but the need to have faculty members employed so extensively in the instructional phase of education has prevented their being used extensively as tutors.
But now the advent of sophisticated software programs allows us to believe that the computer can effectively take over the role of the faculty member as a provider of information and a trainer in skills. Indeed, I have read pieces which have argued convincingly that in some cases the computer can do it better. There is already some evidence that students learn foreign languages better, better acquire the skills that are usually learned in basic courses in English and mathematics, and even learn better the materials of some advanced courses, when they work with an interactive computer program, either singly or in small groups of students.
I find it exciting to imagine a college in which faculty members are released to spend all their time in the process where we know the intellectual growth of students is best realized. It is exciting to imagine the flexibility that these technological breakthroughs will afford, even as it is stimulating to think of the new horizons that even the smallest of colleges can anticipate. All of this will demand some very careful rethinking of some very basic assumptions about the way Monmouth College does its work, most particularly about its definition of teaching. But for the first time we can truly think that these remarkable technological advances may allow Monmouth to realize that dream of American education, expressed in the 19th century's fashion as the student on one end of the log, the great teacher on the other.