The Crimson Mailbox
For Private Schools
To the Editors of the CRIMSON:
In a speech before the American Association of School Adminstrators on April 7. President Conant delivered a disturbing blast against private education. It is hard to tell from the newspaper reports of the speech exactly how far Mr. Conant meant to go, but one's impression is that he is made uneasy by the very fact that private schools--religious and secular--exist alongside the public high schools. Not even the best private schools would seem to escape his strictures altogether.
President Conant's views must be disconcerting to many Harvard students, faculty, and alumni. No one concerned with maintaining highe educational standards can ignore the fact that the public schools have presided over the debasement or standards. Ideally, perhaps, our efforts should be directed toward the reinforcement of intellectual standards within the "democratic" framework of the public schools. But as a practical matter, Mr. Conant surely recognizes the existence of strong adverse forces, ranging from simple financial and organizational difficulties to the pedagogists' lobby, which is currently in a position to impress its highly controversial theories on the schools as though they were revealed truth. The parent who wants to give his children the best available education, the college teacher who prefers students who have already taken a few steps toward literacy, and the man considering a career in secondary school teaching must look upon the private schools with more benevolence than the President of Harvard does.
My own objections to Mr. Conant's views are deeper still. As a general proposition, I feel that the interests of a free society are better served by diversity, competition, and private initiative than by state-controled uniformity--even when uniformity hides behind the slogans of democracy. It is amusing to imagine the storm Mr. Conant would unleash it he advocated, say, the nationalization of the steel industry. Will equal protests arise among Harvard's friends when the President questions the raise of private activity in education?
A great deal more would be said. One might argue legitimately that the best private schools do not follow undemocratic policies or produce graduates with undemocratic biases. One might talk about religious liberty in relation to sectarian schools. One might ask why President Conant denounces private secondary schools while still believing, presumably, that there is some excuse for Harvard, a private institution. In any event, the President's remarks ought to arouse debate. Charles M. Gray ('49--1G)