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TOUJOURS L'AUDACE

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

In audacity of speculation and creation alone, it may be said, lies the salvation of a university. Its maintenance and its organization demand patterns of thought and patterns of life, but it is only in the destruction of these patterns that a university can preserve vitality or realize progress. Such destruction demands as its major requisite a willingness on the part of the student to apply some sort of critical faculty to the patterns which are created for him. Even a faculty of iconoclasts may labor in vain, if its students are afraid to doubt.

For in an educational venture of any sort, success must be read in great part in terms of the amount of individual and collective rebellion which it inspires. The attitude of its administrators must recognize that the best patterns are those which are most fragile. Mr. Bertrand Russell has pointed out somewhere that the State of New York until very recently held it to be a criminal misdemeanor to teach communism while Soviet Russia had enacted laws to require the teaching of communism. Either the state of New York or Soviet Russia was wrong about communism, and they were both wrong about education. The rigid application of a pattern can have no result other than to stifle that intellectual audacity which lies at the root of all educational progress.

It is only to true that this audacity in thinking often receives a cold reception from our educators in America. But it may be questioned if the major charge in the indictment does not apply to the intellectually docile student himself. Not even authority can make a mind so servile as apathy. The student whose critical contribution to his own education is confined to a reaction to the bearing of his professor, or his necktie, or his manner of speech, is dooming his own mind to be a cold storage warehouse, whence after months of disuse a fact may be resurrected in the same condition as that in which it was stored away.

Suppose a university where the professors were determined to foster this spirit of intellectual audacity. Suppose that courses in economics offered a reasonably unprejudiced treatment of socialistic theories, that English courses were prepared to deal adequately with Joyce or Eliot or Blake. Any education which such a university could furnish, however ideal its equipment might be would demand the contribution by the student of a certain amount of individual judgment, in reality a much greater amount than in the kind of university where education comes wrapped in neat patterns. If the student still furnished no intellectual reagent of his own, the compound would bear very little greater resemblance to education than it does at present.

It may be argued that this apathy is in itself a product of the attitude which pervades our entire educational system, that the student is rendered intellectually docile and unquestioning by that very authority which his audacity would combat. This is far from being a complete answer to the problem, however. It implies a very flattering estimate of the influence exerted by an educational system on the mental habits of its students. And no matter how great this might be, it must always be unimportant in comparison to the significance of the personal attitude involved. Until the student can stimulate in himself a challenging spirit toward the patterns of knowledge which a professor can furnish, he has only himself to blame. It is only in some sort of provocative skepticism that he will find the true meaning of his education.

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