It is sometimes supposed that the citizen has discharged his political obligations when he has voted, and that he deserves special credit if he drives somebody else to the polls. But voting is the least arduous of a citizen's duties. He has the prior and harder duty of making up his mind. As election day approaches he has to decide how to vote, and in season and out he has to decide what to think. His private opinion, when put together with the opinions of others like him, is public opinion; and public opinion is the ultimate force which, in America, governs policy and political action...
The immerse responsibility in world affairs which America has more or less reluctantly assumed now devolves upon the American citizen. He must become globally minded. World affairs are not entrusted to a learned ruling class...
Think for Oneself
How shall the responsible and thoughtful citizen be enabled to inform himself and think for himself in the glare and din of modern publicity? What is to prevent mass communication from creating a mass mind? The future of the democratic process depends on the solution of this problem...
The formally educated individual would be made acquainted with what the agencies of mass communication are their dangers as well as their usefulness, their commercial motivations as well as their educational possibilities--all very concretely in terms of names and places. He would have learned to discriminate and choose amidst the welter of news and opinion. He would have acquired a sales resistance, and yet know how to buy; an initial skepticism which would nevertheless permit him to believe. He would, in short, be the maker and guardian of his own mind...
During Commencement Week two memorable speeches were delivered at the University. On this page are printed excerpts from Ralph Barton Perry's Phi Beta Kappa address, and on the following page is part of Thornton Wilder's Commencement afternoon talk. President Conant called the latter speech "the most significant I have ever heard from an academic man on a Commencement program."
A program for teaching citizenship on the level of higher education would include a knowledge of the facts of life. The immense development of the social sciences, and the inclusion of such studies in the new programs of "general education" guarantee some acquaintance with social ideas and practices--political, economic, and psychological. But as education for citizenship in after life this is in itself not sufficient. In order that such knowledge is to be profited by in later life a connection must be made at the time when it is acquired. It must be ear-marked for use--otherwise when the time comes for its use it will not be recognized as relevant: it will belong to the past history of the mind and not to its present resources.
The extent to which the teachers of social science prepare their students for citizenship is further limited by their self-imposed code. As in other subjects, such as philosophy and literature, in which it is likewise respectable to entertain different opinions, teachers hesitate to teach their students how to choose among opinions, and hesitate themselves to choose.
But thought is applied to action through decision. Giving students ideas without enabling them to draw conclusions is like giving them sharpened tools without teaching them what to do with them. There are many fields of inquiry in which it is possible to reach exact and certain results. As a matter of fact, it is impossible to reach exact or certain results in most of the important affairs of life.
I might mention matrimony. It is not possible to reach a conclusion concerning the choice of a wife or husband that is comparable in exactness and certainty to the conclusions reached in mathematics, or physics, or indeed in any of these life sciences or social sciences most immediately concerned. No one, however, would on that account recommend that one should either remain unmarried, or go it blind.
Furthermore, one cannot postpone the decision indefinitely. If one is to enjoy the benefits of marriage, one must decide within a limited time...
In the field of practical politics it is necessary to make decisions on the ground of evidence that no scientific expert would consider sufficient. The statesman cannot leave matters undecide or postpone his decision indefinitely and bequeath the problem to later investigators...
What should the teacher try to do about it? I suggest that there is what might be called an "art of decision"--an act of commitment following an interval of non-commitment. The teacher should help his student to learn this art. First, he should practice it himself. The teacher who makes no decisions is evading the hardest part of the task. It is comparatively easy to raise doubts; to point out the ignorance and conflicting evidence that beset the mind on every side. It is well to do this--an honest and trained mind will do it. I would not abolish or disparage the critical part of teaching.
But doubt should be regarded as the prelude to belief; or, as we say, criticism should be constructive, and not merely destructive. If beliefs are demolished, they should be built again, or others in their place. If this is not done, the vacuum will be filled by authority, hearsay, or superstition.
Art of Decision
And then, having exhibited the art of decision, the teacher should help his students to reach their own minds for themselves. This is something very different from proselytism. It is respectful of other minds; it is both scrupulous and modest. But at the same time, it is responsible. It is an attempt to be of help to those whose minds have been awakened to doubt, but are suffering from indecision through being ignorant of how to make decisions.
A second article of the self-imposed code that seriously limits the teacher's training of citizens is his reluctance to be explicit on questions of value. Social "science" no longer embraces knowledge of the good.
Values are left to personal "attitudes," and to tamper with these is to expose the teacher to the charge of that indoctrination" so notoriously exemplified by totalitarianism. It is a point of honor with the scholar that while the mind should be taught to examine evidence and weigh opposing arguments, or even to draw conclusions, this must be done without at any point insinuating a creed.
But what is this "point of honor?" The fact is that the honorable teacher has a creed, and cannot, if he tries, withhold its influence. The most scrupulous respecter of the freedom of other minds will, the more scrupulous he is, incline his students to his own scrupulousness. The rightful freedom of minds, the maxims of logic and experienced proof, of intellectual honesty, of tolerance and persuasion, are themselves values. Together with all their personal and social implications they constitute a body of indoctrination to which no objection can of distantly be raised.
Here, I believe, is the reconciliation of the teacher's scruples with moral a political education. Let him look to the ground on which he repudiates indoctrination. If he is against it, it is because fundamentally, he is for something...
The question of "academic freedom has become a lively issue owing to the spread from state to state of the example set by congressional committee created to protect the minds of Americans against the contamination of "subversive" ideas. There are those who believe that the academic communication calls for a peculiar watchfulness, least freedom be abused, and there are those who believe that it calls for a peculiar tolerance and encouragement lest freedom be strangled in its cradle or die of starvation.
Nursery of All Ages...
The former believe that young people in their late teens and early twenty should be protected against dangerous thoughts. The college or university, according to this view, should be a nurse where tender plants are protected again the rough winds of controversy. It assumed that later on, when they are matured and toughened, it will then safe to expose them. There are some, course, who believe that time next comes, and who would enlarge the nursery to accommodate American of all ages.
According to the opposite view, to bolder and more realistic view, the place in all the world in which it is most proper to deal with controversial subjects is the college or university; a that of all periods in the individual life, youth is the period when this encounter with controversial subjects most natural and profitable.
For the sake of emphasis let me state this position somewhat extravagant First, all thinking is dangerous, if "dangerous" is meant the possibility arriving at opinions different from the which prevail in the community. Second, all important questions are controversial, if by "controversial" is meant that there are at least two sides that can conceivably be taken, for if two sides are not already taken, the attempt suppress a question will, make it controversial.
More Likelihood in Youth
Third, assuming that thinking somewhere at some time is desirable, there more likelihood that the individual we think in his youth than later in life. If he does not begin to think then, he may never think. After graduation he finds himself more and more committed. His mind becomes more and more dominated by the opinions of his professional business associates, by his religion, economic class, or political party, or by the agencies of mass communication.
He becomes less and less apt to think and rethink his beliefs. Youth is the period of untrammeled curiosity, when the mind is most receptive to ideas. The college or university is designed to stimulate and develop this aptitude--to provide the tools and materials of thought at the time when the individual is most disposed to use them....
In self-defense, as well as to fulfill the obligation of public service, all institutions of higher education must educate not only their own students, but the people at large, to value such institution for that unique service which they alone are qualified to render. They must not be expected to be retreats for the tender minded, clubs for the privileged, factories for the manufacture of standardized products, or even training centers for specialists, but communities of freedom where the art of freedom is taught, portside, learned and so deeply implanted as to last for life.
Student, Then Citizen
Insofar as this idea is realized the college and university will no longer cloistered from the surrounding world., There will be no abrupt change when the student becomes a citizen. He will carry with him the poise and self-mastery one who, having drawn to himself all possible rays of light, will be compete to make enlightened decisions.
The American citizen may well troubled. What he thinks, and how thinks, and whether he thinks at all, now a decisive factor in human history. But though he be troubled he need not despair if he will make use of the high privileges which he enjoys in a society which offers him free education, and this education be free in a double sense--education freely available, education the art of thinking freely.