THE profound involvement of the United States in world affairs raises many domestic questions, some at levels of deep significance. One, anxiously propounded, inquires regarding the adequacy of our education, both quantitative and qualitative, for our international responsibilities.

Though not generally differentiated, a number of quite different issues are involved in the question. One such is the cold war, now a decade old; many feel that education should take its direction from this central international reality. They believe the national interest is so deeply involved that it should be the dominant factor in determining the content and emphasis of our educational system. On this assumption, there is an eager demand to know whether we are turning out enough, and adequately trained, experts in a wide range of skills essential to "success" in the cold war. The varieties of expertness required for international effectiveness are many: legal, economic, political, linguistic, scientific, engineering, cultural and communication skills are all in demand. From the point of view of the national interest, all these seem to critics to be in very short supply. There are equal, and sometimes greater, doubts about another fundamental: the adequacy and quality of general education for international affairs. Are bachelors of arts and sciences ready to meet the citizen's obligation and participate effectively in shaping public opinion on world questions?

The most common measure of adequacy currently employed is the relationship between our educational product and that of the Soviets. Recently there has been an obsession with what the Russians are doing. In a report to the President, members of a special interdepartmental committee expressed their concern in these words: "Science and engineering have made such remarkable progress in recent decades that the nation which holds the lead in those fields holds the initiative in world affairs. Only at our great peril could we risk having leadership in basic and applied technology pass into the hands of our potential enemies." (Italics supplied.) This tone reflects a sharp reaction from earlier scorn of qualitative progress in the Soviets. For example, we badly underestimated their "mechanical ability;" it was said ad nauseam that Russian boys were not accustomed to strip and reassemble a jalopy, and that, as a consequence, Russia could not build and maintain an industrial society.

The superficiality, indeed the folly, of that misestimate of 30 years ago is now clear. Reacting from such extremes, we now tend to overestimate the Soviet Union just as badly, and feverishly seek to recruit scientists and engineers, not on the valid basis of fundamental interests and tastes, but to "keep abreast of the Russians." The educational program is judged in terms of a contemporary estimate of national security instead of the proper central objective in a free society--individual development. Again and again we are reminded that the Russian educational system is specifically designed, organized and operated for the purpose of serving the national interest. This, we are repeatedly told, is one of the "advantages" of the totalitarians.

In these circumstances, the questions usually posed are whether or not we are doing as much as the Russians, or doing what we do as well as they. As is usual, the mood of the moment can be "validated;" a flood of statistics is produced to convince us that we are doing neither so much nor so well. It is pointed out that Russian children go to school six days a week, ten months in the year. They are pressed harder to learn; they study under rigid discipline; more achievement is expected of them. Competition to gain the benefits of higher education--all at public expense--is exceedingly keen. Sardonic stress is put upon a contrast in emphasis in matters of education. We live in a free, competitive society; yet competition, so conspicuous in many aspects of our lives, has been virtually abolished in education. That is why, we are told, the competitive spirit, banned from the classroom, has become so keen in athletics. In the Soviets, on the other hand, the economy is not founded upon competition, but on central planning and direction. Education, however, is fiercely competitive: students know that progress upward is dependent upon superior attainment and they exert themselves accordingly.

In the Soviet Union, students are accustomed to far more rigorous examination procedures than are common in the American educational system. In the United States, many enter college without ever having faced a long, searching examination. Soviet university students, therefore, are said to know more when they enroll, to study more intensively during their undergraduate years, and to be better equipped when they have completed their formal education.

So far as quantity is concerned, the Soviets are turning out more "engineers" than are we; often it is asserted that they are graduating at least twice as many. They are also training more "scientists." It is constantly brought home to us, also, that when Soviet citizens are sent abroad on diplomatic or technical missions they have had longer and better training in languages, in cultural appreciation, and in other aspects of education relevant to international service. No one who has the capacity, the will, and is ready to submit to the harsh political discipline of Communism, is denied the opportunity to fulfill his highest ambition for specialized training. If he succeeds in his university work, he can look forward to certain employment, to distinctive social status, and unusually favorable financial recompense. If the process is not democratic in the sense that we understand the word, at least it is based upon equal opportunity without prejudice of birth, parental occupation or other irrelevance--save political conformity.

So runs the argument. The inference is that if the race is to the swift, the Soviets are surely winning it. If weight of numbers is to be decisive, the advantage lies increasingly with them. If thoroughness and expertness are the touchstones, it is agreed that Russia is producing first-class engineers, scientists, technicians of many kinds. That the best of them can do work of the highest calibre is made manifest in the scientific and technical publications which find their way to the West. It is even asserted that Soviet scientists are given more freedom to publish in some "sensitive" fields than many American research scholars, whose work is often blanketed under unnecessarily tight "security" arrangements. Soviet diplomatic skills are evidenced in the United Nations; American officials from several departments and agencies serving abroad are struck with the adaptability of Soviet representatives in many parts of the world.

In current comment the debit side of the Russian educational ledger is not heavily stressed. Yet it needs to be kept in mind. That serious unhappiness and unrest exist among Russian students is indubitable. The assumption, long accepted here as well as there, that perpetual and consistent indoctrination will condition the responses of students and effectively eliminate doubts and questionings has not been borne out in practice. The rôle of students in the uprisings in Hungary and elsewhere makes the point explicit. Stubborn faith that the educative process will ultimately defeat efforts to confine it finds supporting evidence in the satellites, as well as in Russia itself.

When scholarly pursuits are carried to the higher levels, when the mind is challenged to new insights in science, to fresh boldness in technology, to appreciation of other languages and cultures, the inescapable result is to stimulate men and women to think for themselves. When Soviet-trained experts are sent abroad they see for themselves how false have been many of the stereotypes of the West which have been stressed in their school years.

Originality cannot be trammeled into official channels; this basic truth should be enough, by itself alone, to suggest the folly of shaping the content and emphasis of education to conformity with an officially defined "national interest." Opening higher education to more and more youth is like opening Pandora's box; while some wills can be curbed and many skills controlled, the human spirit is such that the more original and constructive individuals will seek freedom, not merely as one satisfaction among many, but as an absolute necessity. The very scope and sweep of the Russian educational effort may well hasten the evolution in the Soviet system for which we all hope.

In any event, it does not make sense to count noses of graduates and treat the resultant figure as a reliable index of growing strength or increasing weakness in the specific field tested. Many who are called "engineers" in one country might be called "draughtsmen" in another; labels never accurately reflect the content of education; for comparative purposes as between two disparate societies they are totally unreliable. Far more important than crude numbers is the use to which experts are put. The United States uses a very large percentage of its trained personnel in the production of consumer goods; the Soviets virtually starve consumer industries of such personnel. If we are considering the "usefulness" of expert training for employment in international affairs, the distribution of trained talent is more significant than the raw numbers produced.

More important still is the degree to which experts persist in their occupational commitment. It is said that by the time they are 15 or 20 years out of the universities perhaps two-thirds of the Americans classed as "scientists" or "engineers" have shifted their occupations to posts where their technical training is not of immediate use. That is one of the characteristics of a free society; a man is free to choose his vocation not only at the beginning of his career, but at any stage thereafter. Continuance or change may be motivated by an almost infinite number of factors. So long as so large a proportion of specially trained men and women leave the area of their expertness, it is hard to make a convincing case that there is a serious "shortage." It indicates, at the very least, that the best attack on the problem does not lie in producing more people with a superficial or unstable vocational commitment.

High-pressure campaigns to recruit students for scientific--or any other--careers in order to serve the national interest may merely increase the number who later become dissatisfied with their impulsive choices and leave the fields in which they were trained in search of more congenial or more financially rewarding occupations. Any attempt to alter these situations by legislative and administrative action would constitute a revolution in American life. Even before the lapse of time which brings disillusionment to so many persons with specialized skills, large numbers of them are at work which does not fully--or even significantly-- employ those skills. A great deal of specialized training is used inefficiently or wasted as a result of inadequate job analyses and poor personnel techniques.

We have no reliable information with regard to either of these two situations in Russia; we do not know how fully their available skills are exploited or how large a percentage persist in their specialized lines of endeavor. The lack makes comparisons almost, if not quite, worthless. In most recent discussion it has been taken for granted that the Soviets do better in these respects than we do, but solid evidence to support the assumption has not been forthcoming.

Part of the American thesis is that, even tested by the national interest, the free and voluntary acts of individuals will, in the long run, lead to more productivity and better results than the directed activities of people, however well-trained, who must be politically obedient and do as they are told, accepting assignments which may be distasteful. It must be conceded that we do not have objective proof that this is true in the short run; the totalitarians, whatever the color of their shirts--black, brown or red--have had striking successes in diplomacy, in finance, in manufacture, in technological and scientific progress.

It seems likely that where men have never known freedom, as in Russia, and where the state has always had a dominant place in education, the adverse results of directed activity are not nearly so serious as we who take freedom for granted would expect. Count Sforza, in exile from Fascist Italy, like others who fled Hitler's Germany, lamented the readiness of intellectuals of many sorts to knuckle under to dictators and serve totalitarian states with fidelity and skill.

The traditions of education in this country where official control has been almost unknown evoke a different reaction. This is why loyalty clearances, and the uproar over persons who have been denied such clearance, have produced an adverse effect upon the readiness of scholars, students of diplomacy, linguists, scientists and technologists at the higher levels to turn their energies to government programs.

Freedom, voluntarism and self-direction are settled habits with us. When customary modes of work and thought are disrupted by the injection of political questions, the results are adverse. When the availability of individuals for government service is obstructed by over-elaborate loyalty and security procedures, many men, accustomed to the free atmosphere of universities, are repelled. The type of school required for specialists in cultural, linguistic, economic, political and communications fields has long set its own patterns of work and standards of accomplishment without governmental monitoring; when that appears, it is found exceedingly irksome. So long as individuals have complete freedom of choice as to the direction of their energies, they will tend to seek posts where their employment will not be postponed for months waiting clearance, where they do not have to be concerned lest some word misunderstood, or some earlier association, can be exploited to their perpetual embarrassment.

On the other hand, Russians who have accepted political conformity as the price of specialized education, who go to universities in the expectation of accepting direction after graduation, do not have the same resistance to the management of their careers as do Americans. This is the more true inasmuch as other avenues of employment do not stand wide open to them as is the case of specialists in this country.

Even in this matter, however, we should be wary of confusing the short run with the long pull. Over-long as the tenure of the totalitarians seemed to us, the black-shirt and brown-shirt dictators did not last long enough to test the ultimate consequences. And the red totalitarians have only relatively recently been accelerating their educational programs and sending large numbers of experts abroad; we do not yet have conclusive evidence that Soviet faith in directed effort will succeed, just as we do not have definitive proof that our confidence in freedom will be fully vindicated in this particular area. However, there is much positive strength in our educational tradition. The base upon which higher education rests is broader in the United States than in any other nation in the world, including the Soviet Union. If, under our system, we do not subject the young student to rigid discipline and such urgent pressure to learn, much is done outside school to stir his imagination, to encourage self-reliance, to stimulate originality and individuality of approach.

Undisciplined election of subjects is predicated upon the assumption that the fruits of free minds are both more varied and more valuable than the products of like minds moving under rigid control. Again and again foreign visitors testify to the superior responsiveness of American students. Coming to the United States in a highly critical frame of mind, they not infrequently comment upon the eagerness, the critical temper and the self-reliance of American students. Educators have long held that these qualities constitute a vast natural resource.

This much more can be said: there is almost no special skill, of whatsoever kind, that cannot be developed in some institution within the United States. Where such training is given, the facilities of library and laboratory and the availability of competent instruction cannot be matched anywhere else in the world. This applies to linguistic, literary and cultural subjects, to economics, politics, history, philosophy, as well as to science and technology. The range, the depth and the quality of specialized training available at some institution, or in many, are no less than astounding.

The size of the United States, the enormous variety in the patterns of institutions of higher education--in how they are controlled and supported, in their equipment and standards-- sometimes make it difficult to identify precisely the place where the individual can best fulfill his intellectual and vocational objectives. Nevertheless, so far as concerns the acquisition of expertness in almost any imaginable field which can be of national service, the graduate departments of our universities can meet the demands put upon them.

Limitation upon the numbers of highly trained individuals does not arise primarily from lack of facilities or space or equipment. Naturally every institution is ambitious--and rightly-- to have larger quarters and better equipment and more books. In their clamor for these desirable things they often make it appear that what they now have is "totally inadequate." By utopian standards, to which every good institution aspires, it is. In comparison with the rest of the world, however, the standards of university living are as superior as other phases of our living standards. More important than any physical lacks, so far as producing specialists is concerned, are deficiencies arising from inadequate preparation of applicants for admission. That difficulty begins long before the universities have any direct responsibility.


This leads to the consideration of another basic question, namely, whether we are supplying our society with college graduates who possess the knowledge, the point of view and the mental approach to international relations which will make them good citizens of the world as well as of the United States.

Basic to any useful thought about this matter is the remembrance that education is, in two senses, a long-term enterprise; programs to deal with fundamental national interests cannot be extemporized. In the first place, what the student can do in college depends, to a large extent, upon his earlier experience. Decisions taken inconspicuously and separately in a great many places affect that experience; in many instances they are not observable until years later. In the second place, the value for citizenship of what a student gets out of his undergraduate years does not become apparent in any decisive way for another 10 to 20 years when his personal responsibilities have come to maturity. Taking these two factors into consideration, there may be a lag of 20 to 30 years before trends and their consequences are perfectly clear. This is why crisis psychology and crash programs, to which we are so prone, do not constitute a wise approach to cold war problems.

Current confusions and frustrations are the fruit of old misestimates as to what needed to be known. Decisions made long ago with almost no public notice have produced some seriously adverse consequences. The damage done cannot be repaired in an instant; "intensive" programs, so often suggested to "cure" some deficiency, are bound to fail. This point is so fundamental that some background is desirable.

In the year 1940 an impressive list of names associated with education was attached to a pamphlet published by the American Council on Education, the most widely recognized organization dealing with the total educational program. It was called What the High Schools Ought to Teach. Its substance was of great importance; its tone was even more significant. It regretted even the modest amount of mathematics taught, and even the teaching of English, on the extraordinary ground that these were "difficult" subjects. They were described as "stumbling blocks;" insistence upon meeting standards of lucid and effective English and upon reasonable mathematical literacy had the effect of driving students out of school and thus were undesirable. The study of foreign languages was seriously deprecated; a "course in general language" was suggested as a substitute. As for science, "only a few pupils need advanced mathematical physics." Every established study had to face a "pragmatic" test: "What's the good of it?" All too often the "good" had to be tangible and marketable.

The pamphlet was saturated with the dejected spirit engendered by the depression. At that time, it was held that Hitler's rise was aided by people educated beyond their opportunities; many saw a like situation coming to dominate American education. There were not only "too many" engineers and scientists; too many young people were going to college. High school had been raising too many "white-collar" hopes; fear was expressed lest in the backwash of unemployment youth become disillusioned with the American system and fall prey to Fascism. In "the statistification of a mood," figures were produced to "prove" that we faced a dangerous intellectual glut. This mood prevailed long after the depression which occasioned it was gone. As late as the spring of 1950, government statistics led to a prediction that only half the graduating engineers would find employment; thereupon applications for admission in that field fell off sharply. At the same time it was "proved" that there was a "surplus" of high school teachers. Transient situations were projected into the future.

The pamphlet on What the High Schools Ought to Teach did not raise a storm because it was not nearly so much a new program as a rationalization of what had already been spreading through the school systems during the depression. When the Second World War ensued, it was discovered, to the horror of the armed forces, that the level of mathematical literacy was far lower than it ought to be. The reason lay in the persuasiveness of the point of view expressed in a pamphlet of which the public had heard little or nothing. Mathematical requirements had been whittled down so far as to produce results adverse to the national interest, not to speak of the intellectual impoverishment of unnumbered individuals. The pamphlet which symbolized and stimulated this drift failed to lay emphasis upon the almost magical effect which better teaching could have produced both in the use of our mother tongue and in one of the most precise instruments of human thought. All its emphases were negative; small wonder the consequences were also negative.

Furthermore, a slogan was current a quarter of a century ago: "The failure of the student is the failure of the teacher." This crisp aphorism may have been intended to stimulate better teaching. If that was the purpose it backfired badly. In any event, it did nothing to stimulate better study; it was carried to such an absurd extreme that the grade of failure was actually abolished by official decree in a great many communities across the country. Frequently all grades were abolished lest they stimulate competition.

The effect was to relieve the individual student of basic responsibility for his own performance. Through a complete misinterpretation of democracy--a substitution of equal treatment for equal opportunity--the practice of speeding the bright student along at his best pace and letting the slow student take more time to master the fundamentals was virtually abandoned. Adapting the educational pace to the capacities of the individual was thought to develop a superiority complex in one group and an inferiority complex in the other.

These and many other decisions, no one of which was dramatic in itself, no one of which was imposed by federal or even state authority, infiltrated many school systems. Taken together, many separate decisions led to averaging down the quality and quantity of instruction until the bright were often bored and the zest for learning was sometimes impaired for those best equipped by mind, by motive and by character.

Linguistic competency, so important for our current world responsibilities, deserves a special word. Paradoxically, when the United States had few contacts abroad, language studies flourished; as our world-wide contacts multiplied, linguistic competence waned. In an emotional binge during the First World War, German was dropped from many schools. There was a switch to Spanish, partly because it was thought to be "more valuable" in our dealings with Latin America, but also because it was "easier." The teaching of French never gained great momentum. The suggestion that Russian should be taught would have been greeted with horror. On the grounds that Latin and Greek were difficult and not "useful," they disappeared from nearly all curricula. Were they not dead languages of vanished civilizations? What was their relevance for the new world of today? The abandonment of the ancient languages, with their great emphasis upon grammar, upon vocabulary, upon exactness; prejudice against German; and the denigration of precision in the use of English produced conspicuous linguistic deficiencies long before the time came for students to enroll in institutions of higher education.

To compound these deficiencies, the laws of many states required publicly-supported institutions of higher education to admit any graduate of a high school within the state. Since graduation became more and more a matter of spending a specific number of years, and less and less learning a defined quantity of knowledge, and qualitative achievement was discounted, many institutions of higher education were almost swamped with poorly prepared undergraduates whose objectives were social rather than intellectual and whose habits were far from industrious. So serious did this situation become that in many institutions at least one year, and often a second, came to be devoted to repairing the deficiencies produced by the soft techniques of pre-college education.

If one dwelt too long upon the various adverse factors in preparatory education, the result would be complete discouragement. Two reasons exist for reaching a more optimistic conclusion. The first has to do with the total environment of American youth. Their habits of mind and action are shaped by many experiences outside school; not all such factors are positive, but most have been predominantly so. This accounts for the independence of mind and freshness of approach which foreign visitors have so often noted.

The second favorable factor is that because of the almost complete decentralization of responsibility many school systems never followed the fads but kept a steady educational course. Moreover, in places which softened their programs scandalously some of the bad educational practices have been reformed. There is, for example, a renewed emphasis upon the gifted student. Mathematics has reversed its long decline and again is treated as important. Languages, likewise, are getting more stress. The intellectual disciplines are regaining their lost position; some of the "design for living" emphases are giving way to more substantial study. The fashion for extremes in the absence of discipline has passed. The fruits of these reforms are showing in the improved quality of students applying for admission to strong institutions.

Moreover, the tone of official utterance has changed. In the interdepartmental committee report to the President this is conspicuous. For the first time in many years an official document has laid great stress upon better teaching, upon mathematics and other basic disciplines, and upon early identification of and more attention to the students with outstanding talent. There is fresh and welcome recognition that the problems are complex and must be attacked "on many fronts" and with recognition that the long-range approach is vital.


By no means all the difficulties of higher education in the preparation for world affairs stem from shortcomings of the secondary schools. The colleges were swamped by the tremendous expansion of knowledge in the last half of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century. The progress of science, the diversificaation of economic studies, the expansion of anthropology, social psychology, sociology and other disciplines created problems novel in dimension. Many kinds of specialism invaded the liberal arts program; professional groups forced the pace of pre-professional preparation back upon the college years.

So great was the glut of courses that many institutions all but abandoned the idea of organization within the curriculum. What had once been an "elective system" among very limited choices was now applied to a vast array. Each course was taught from its own point of view and without much relationship to the content or method of any other. Students often made their elections on whims--on the time of day the class met; whether it met on Saturdays; for vocational reasons, real or fancied; and upon every kind of irrelevant or trivial impulse--as well as upon sound and well-considered grounds.

It was during this time, and in these circumstances, that international relations began to be regarded as of great importance for the United States. Concern was expressed lest we produce "international illiterates." In the attempt to edge into an already overcrowded curriculum, international relations suffered because it was not a "discipline;" that is to say, it had no well-defined corpus of knowledge and no recognized mental mode of approach to its mastery. Outside academic circles that may seem a trivial barrier.

Nevertheless, in the college context it proved serious; an inchoate subject was brought into competition with well-defined, long-established disciplines. History, for example, has a characteristic content and an identifiable method of approach to its mastery. So also has science. So, at one time, had economics and political science. But international relations as a subject is compounded of history, politics, economics, diplomacy, strategy, cultural appreciation and a dozen other identifiable but complicated subjects. It did not fit neatly into any curricular position; it seemed to trespass upon established fields of study.

In consequence, the new subject worked its way into curricula like a wedge. Early courses tended to center upon international law, reflecting a hoped-for extension of the idea of a "government of laws, not of men" into international life. It accorded with the American enthusiasm for the Hague Conference and the establishment of a "world court." It mistakenly overestimated the number and importance of the matters which opposing parties would agree to regard as justiciable.

The First World War brought disillusionment with international law. The Paris Peace Conference, the establishment of the Council of Ambassadors, the League of Nations and the new World Court centered emphasis upon structures for peace. Accordingly, there ensued a spate of courses on international organization. Ultimately the refusal of the United States to join the League of Nations, and then the failure of the League itself, lowered the level of their popularity temporarily. The establishment of the United Nations and the application of Madison Avenue techniques in "selling" it to the American people led to a renewed emphasis upon international organization.

Meanwhile, stress shifted to courses in diplomatic history. They often seemed to put the United States in the center of events in which its activity had been peripheral; they were marked by the lack of objectivity and catholicity of outlook which so annoys Europeans. Moreover, instruction regarding large parts of the world, such as Asia and Russia, was, to put it mildly, meager. With the decline and often the virtual disappearance of language requirements, the range of materials available for reading purposes was narrowed to English. Because relatively little of vital importance was in English, reading was still further narrowed in many institutions to textbooks; they have well been described as "condensed summaries of oversimplified, predigested information without intellectual challenge." Many were more nearly purveyors of dogma of one brand or another rather than enlightening expositions.

The Second World War again called attention to the serious deficiency in the knowledge of language and the inadequacy of language by itself without understanding the culture it expressed. Area-language studies were undertaken under Army leadership, using intensive methods and new linguistic techniques. For the most part the vogue did not survive in undergraduate studies long after the war. So serious is the weakness in this field that of the many thousands who take the examinations for the Foreign Service only a very small percentage can pass a language test of moderate difficulty. In consequence, serious language training must be undertaken for the majority after their appointment.

The cold war led to a strong revulsion from interpretations of international events in terms of law and morals. Instruction tended to make geographical and power considerations paramount. As a result, there was a good deal of emphasis upon geopolitics, accepting the dogmas of Mackinder and his followers rather uncritically. The "realists" who made power the touchstone of reality did almost as much damage to the understanding of international affairs as the sentimentalists had done at an earlier time.

Throughout the whole period there were some courses in current events, often carried under such pretentious titles as "World Politics." For the most part they were discursive and superficial. In the course of the First World War, for example, Stoddard and Franks' "Stakes of the War" became virtually required reading for most college students. It was meager fare, indeed, and far from scholarly. It was part of a tendency towards teaching international relations "for a purpose," in short, indoctrination. It is a tendency which has never been completely rooted out.

This sketch of the way in which the subject edged into the course of study illustrates two things. First, different phases of an ill-defined "national interest" led to successive emphases in instruction. Second, the development of courses revealed the fact that international relations are exasperatingly complex. Nearly every scholastic discipline in the whole academic gamut makes an impact upon their understanding. There is a tendency, at the present moment, to think that, so far as international relations are concerned, the importance of science is new. This is not true. The coming of gunpowder was scarcely less revolutionary in its day than the atom in our time. It required a complete revaluation of strategy and tactics and altered the balance of power decisively. In international relations such considerations cannot be overlooked.

Clearly the teaching of international relations requires a vast range of mental processes and assessments of values. To be "understanding" requires the student to be a competent amateur in many disparate fields of knowledge. The effort to oversimplify, to choose a key subject or to predigest everything into a ready-made synthesis requiring no urgent or painful effort on the part of the student will do more harm than good.


What conclusions can we draw? First, since it is a long-term enterprise, education that takes its cue from the current situation is obsolescent even before the student who has been exposed to it graduates.

Second, there are goals and values not only more significant but more valid than competition with Communism. There is something inherently absurd in the demand that we "recover the diplomatic initiative" while surrendering the educational initiative to the Soviets, making crude comparisons with them the test of educational success or failure.

Third, we must cease to think of education as stuffing the student, by the age of 21, with enough knowledge to last him the rest of his life. This is an unreal but a persistent expectation. It accounts for the tendency to regard the number of courses offered as a test of an institution's effectiveness. This false faith in bulk also explains that hardy perennial in Congress--"A West Point for Diplomats," as though the main reliance of the Army for general officers was upon what cadets learned there rather than their growth through experience and in the many post-graduate schools to which military officers are sent. There should be much less stress on what the student is taught and what he knows at age 21 than upon his capacity to find out, to think about what he knows, to organize it usefully in his mind. Above all we should cultivate the zest and zeal to continue to learn through independent study and reflection. Indoctrination achieves no useful purpose; it seeks to close the mind. What is needed in a world changing as fast as ours is flexibility in approach and power of thought.

In the fourth place, so far as the undergraduate course is concerned, the broader the acquaintance of the student with the fundamental disciplines in the humanities and the social studies, the better equipped he is likely to be for understanding international problems. In most colleges it is better not to have an undergraduate department of international relations, but to rely upon an interdepartmental field of concentration.

Fifth, for those who want careers abroad or wish to be professional students or practitioners of international relations, graduate study is essential. No one in a world as wide as ours can be a specialist in everything, and the universities have done well to distribute among themselves, by a process not entirely rational but nevertheless practical, the many specialized studies. There are several distinguished centers for the study of Russia, its language, culture, tradition, economics, history, strategy and diplomacy. There are four or five which deal with the Far East, more particularly with China. Still others are concerned with the Middle East or Southeastern Asia or Africa. The Indian subcontinent has itself become a field of specialization. There are good courses of study in Latin America and in Eastern Europe. There are almost innumerable graduate courses in law, diplomacy and international economics. There is, in short, an extraordinary range of opportunities for a graduate student to acquire specialized knowledge.

Finally, it must be remembered that in the United States extracurricular interests are often a very potent educational force. For many years there have been international relations clubs, forums of various kinds and a host of other voluntary activities which have stimulated interest and awakened the students' desire to know about international relations. Not to be overlooked are the informal contacts of undergraduates with foreign students registered in our institutions. Many assign to such contacts a great influence in evoking the interest of students in international affairs. All these voluntary, non-curricular influences are particularly valuable because they lay the foundation for maintaining a concern for international relations after graduation. They lead to participation in the almost infinite number of voluntary activities which are so characteristic a feature of American life.

American education is the responsibility of communities, of states, of private organizations. As a consequence, there is a variety of approaches to every educational problem which is bewildering to all but long-time students of the American scene. To minds which overemphasize "order" and to those who admire foreign educational practices, the variety will be called "chaotic;" to others it seems full of opportunity. In so complex a situation no "direction" can be established save by public opinion operating in many ways and in many places. Also no generalization can be made to which exception cannot be taken. Nevertheless, considering the relative newness of the United States as a major World Power and considering the problems which institutions have faced in incorporating not only international relations but a host of other new subjects into their courses of instruction, the results have been good.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • HENRY M. WRISTON, President Emeritus of Brown University; Chairman of the Secretary of State's Public Committee on Personnel, 1954-56; Executive Director of the American Assembly, Columbia University; author of "Strategy of Peace," "Diplomacy in a Democracy" and other works
  • More By Henry M. Wriston