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A reaffirmation of the plea for the study of American history as a stabilizing force in the life of the country, first utered in his annual report this year, was made by President Conant last night in a speech before the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City at their Semi-Centennial Celebration.
Stressing the fact that learning is necessary to the leaders of opinion today, the President defined this learning as knowledge of the past. "Unless historical perspective can be developed, which is the common patrimony of all the people," he said, "a vital growing civilization cannot be achieved. . . . Only by merging the cultural streams of many groups and concentrating our attention on our common past, brief as it has been, can the ground work be laid for a significant civilization. To me this is the great cultural and intellectual task of the coming generation."
History Makes for Wisdom
Emphasizing his tenet that wisdom is necessary in the leadership of the country, President Conant declared, "Wise men are most easily differentiated from fools in times of sudden emergency, and a study of history, I believe, makes for wisdom.
"I have mentioned the stabilizing value of a knowledge of history: by this I do not mean that a study of history makes one a conservative, let alone a reactionary. . . . But both parties are wiser if they know their own past and that of their opponents. It was a statesman who was also a philosopher who wrote, 'No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear. To make anything very terrible obscurity seems in general to be necessary. When we know the full extent of any danger, when we can accustom our eyes to it, a great deal of the apprehension vanishes.'"
17th Century Pamphlet
The President took as the title of his speech "Learning's Necessity for an Able Minister" from that of a 17th century pamphlet containing a plea for the defense of the universities from the Puritans.
Research should be valued for the benefits that it brings to society, he declared, saying, "In spite of the obvious material benefits that have flowed from the applications of modern science, there are those who quarrel with our universities for the vast sums spent on programs of research.
"Even the education qualifications for civil servants in certain states have been removed as a result of the demagogic argument that any recognition of a difference in ability and training is 'undemocratic.' Any attempt to apply the selective principle in education, even with a generous scholarship policy, is branded as 'aristocratic,' while the uniform education of an undifferentiated mass of students is called democratic.
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