President Conant's recent speech on parochial and private school education is most reassuring. For the first time in many months, a Faculty member has stated a definite opinion on this highly controversial subject. He has broken through the distressing silence that usually enshrouds the Faculty whenever this issue comes up.
In his speech, entitled "Unity and Diversity in Secondary Education," President Conant praised public education as a "new engine of democracy," at the same time viewing askance the efforts of some to increase the number of private schools, and the amount of as-sistance to them. "By stressing the democratic elements in car school life and the comprehensive features of our organization, we can promote the social and political ideals necessary for the harmonious functioning of an economic system based on private ownership but committed to the ideals of social justice," Conant stated.
He went on to maintain that school should provide two things: "unity in national life" and "diversity that comes from freedom of action and expression by small groups. Public schools, he feels, can provide these best. To those who would aid private schools, he asks two questions: "Would you like to increase the number and scope of the private school?" and "Do you look forward to the day when tax money will directly or indirectly assist these schools?" His answer to both is no.
In principle, we agree most strongly with President Conant's position. The public school can provide the most effective way of fulfilling democratic concepts because its basis lies in these very principles. Public schools provide-or should provide-equal education and equal opportunity to all. Public education meshes together people of all religions, all creeds, and all races.
Once government begins aiding private secondary schools, it threatens public secondary schools. The private school, with subsidies added to its funds from high tuition fees, could draw all the best instructors and create the best facilities, thus attracting the support of many well-to-do parents who at present are still concerned with the public schools. Interest in tax-supported education would dwindle even more than it has already.
Provision of such aid to the private school would promote the cleavage along economic or religious lines that Conant rightly fears. Private education is always directed toward some one group, religious or otherwise.
Some, particularly the more vociferous elements in the Catholic Church, have assailed President Conant for his stand. They contend that he has called for uniformity in education, which they claim is basically "totalitarian." We feel that they have grossly misinterpreted the President's remarks. He did not say that education should have only uniformity, but insisted that it could have diversity at the same time. "The time may conceivably come when a state or the Federal Government may jeopardize this concept," President Conant admits, but he goes on, "as far as secondary education is concerned, I do not detect any danger signals in that direction now."
The main point of his speech, however, as Conant himself states, is "to make the hostile critics of the public schools in the United States show their colors." Though few colors have appeared as yet, we must applaud the President's effort; this issue has remained in back rooms too long.
Although we suport the principles behind his statements on the American educational system, we believe that he has made an incomplete, faulty, and in places perhaps naive presentation of his side in this debate. In tomorrow's editorial we will attempt to show where Conant has failed in his defense of the public school and what points he should explain more forthrightly.