Two Memorable Addresses

Perry Stresses Need for Citizen To Take a Stand

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.

Self-Imposed Code

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...

Cannot Postpone

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.