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Educational Leadership for a Free World: The International Scene

by Ahmed Shah Bokhari - 1956

In this situation the teacher of today and his pupil, the citizen of today and tomorrow, have an important function to perform. The development of the internationalist idea has created new and kaleidoscopic versions of the world picture. It has also exposed gaps in knowledge and understanding which one had not suspected. This situation is full of possibilities, creative or dangerous, and right in the middle of it your country has emerged as a leader among nations to occupy a significant and challenging position.

THESE are bewildering times.1 They are both exciting and anxious. Claimants to the allegiance of the spirit of man for purposes good and bad are legion. In such times the teacher must speak out, for there is real danger that unless he does so, he and those who look to him for guidance will be lost in the confusion. Perhaps it is the unprecedented increase in the means of communication, perhaps it is the discovery of new techniques for persuasion and exhortation, substituting subtle for crude methods of conquest—the fact, however, remains that modern man is besieged by myriad voices urging him to capitulate. The ideologist, the politician, the missionary, the huckster, the State, the alarmist, the demagogue, the subversionist, and a host of others are employing every means of exhorting, converting, enticing, or seducing him.

I do not believe that a teacher has ever before had to shout so hard to be heard above the din or to push his way through such a big crowd to keep in living contact with his pupil. His efforts sometimes seem pathetic, for he lacks the power and the means which others jostling in the same field have at their beck and call.

Yet if he believes in his mission he cannot accept this situation fatalistically. Indeed, the greater and the more powerful the seducers, the more important it is for the teacher to reiterate his aims. For his aims are different from those of most of the others who seek to occupy the rostrum. He is not out to capture, to circumscribe, to indoctrinate or to hypnotize. On the contrary. Plato, you will remember, even wait so far as to say that the young should be instructed in both false and true arguments, but the false first. The teacher's aim is to develop awareness, independent thought, and independent feeling—and with the minimum sacrifice of personal freedoms, to seek the individual's integration within the community by a balanced scheme of moral responsibilities and moral privileges. But above all, he strives for mental and spiritual emancipation of the individual.

The conference that begins today is a search for defining the responsibility of educational leadership in a free world. It might as well start off by asserting that the greatest responsibility of educational leaders in a free or any other world is to teach that freedom shall not perish. I beg you not to look for any political nuances in my submission. The need for spiritual freedom is eternal. It exists in all political and social climates, good and bad. It is man's daily need as much as is bread by which, alone, we know he cannot live.

First, then, the educational leader of today will feel that he must proclaim his determination to function, and refuse to let his role be argued away by any ideological, psychological, or methodological sophistry. He will remind us that he has an essential service to the community to perform and that the community which destroys him will destroy itself as a community of free men. Second, he will firmly persist in his aim—the achievement and preservation of mental and spiritual emancipation without which man's daily life can have neither worth nor dignity nor grace.

I should like to offer some observations on one aspect only of the question of integration within the community. Integration within the community must begin by inquiring what one's conception of the community is, how far it extends, what it encompasses, what it excludes. I suggest that the community that educational leaders of this age should have in mind might well be not the village or the town or the country but the world itself.

There is a time-honored custom whereby cities bestow their citizenship on strangers whom they love. It would be a happy and glorious innovation if we reversed this custom and showed our love for the world by adopting it as our home. The needs of mankind cry for it, the spirit of the age demands it, and there are many in this land and in others to whose stout hearts and free spirits this offers an irresistible challenge.

Last June we had in San Francisco a week of commemorative meetings celebrating the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Charter of the United Nations. This was not a meeting of the General Assembly but of the representatives of Member Nations. It had no agenda. There were no resolutions to discuss, adopt or oppose. Indeed, there was no obligation on the part of anyone to speak. It was therefore as unfettered an expression, and on the highest level, of the views of Member Nations on the international situation as one could hope to have anywhere in the world. It was interesting to try to forecast what this week of pronouncements would throw into relief. Some were a little nervous lest the disappointments felt by various nations might be publicly totalled up and under their sum the structure of hopes and ideals which the United Nations represents might crack. Others feared that the cemmemorative week and its orations might be merely festive and platitudinous—all very pleasant and all very inconsequential. Both these fears proved to be false and as the week progressed, sober and searching appraisal of the plight of the family of man at this point in history began to take shape. The disappointments and the disillusionments that had been felt were voiced. The lack of concord which more than once had hampered the United Nations in its functions was noted. Overtones too that the major powers had let down the world, leaving the smaller powers more or less helpless, were noticeable. But after the doubts and the disillusionments and the disappointments, the final note that was sounded by the speakers was the reaffirmation of faith in the Organization which is at once a workshop and a laboratory for international intercourse for peaceful and creative purposes.

Why was this so? Why was it that the heart-breaks of ten years, the gloomy developments of the last decade, could not dim the optimism of the world and its faith in international cooperation? It was because the world felt that in 1955 and in the years to come there was no other alternative. Men and nations must work together or be destroyed. The choice today was between international cooperation and utter annihilation.

It was indeed noted that international amity was not always as complete as one might wish. This is not surprising, for the idea of internationalism which the United Nations, for example, embodies and symbolizes is forged by nations whose representatives proudly proclaim themselves as spokesmen for sovereign independent states. Thus we have the paradox of sixty representatives, avowedly, proudly, sometimes harshly, nationalistic, trying to nurture the idea of internationalism. The surprise is not therefore that the idea is weak, if weak it is, but that it is living at all. And there is no doubt that the idea will live. It will live because, in spite of national prides and governmental jealousies, governments and nations have found it in their own enlightened interest to pledge themselves to it. It will live because you and I and millions like us have a great longing for peace. One of the great features of an international organization such as the United Nations is that its deliberations are thrown open to the gaze and scrutiny of the so-called common man. It is ultimately his strength and faith that give and will continue to give internationalism its vitality and its urge. It will live because of his faith. Faith, you will remember, is a belief which even contrary evidence cannot destroy.

In this situation the teacher of today and his pupil, the citizen of today and tomorrow, have an important function to perform. The development of the internationalist idea has created new and kaleidoscopic versions of the world picture. It has brought remote peoples within hearing and seeing distance of each other. It has made new friends. It has aligned erstwhile enemies together in ways which but for the miracle of internationalism they would not have dared to contemplate. It has discovered Asia and Africa afresh to the West. It has built bridges which extend across continents from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And it has also exposed gaps in knowledge and understanding which one had not suspected. The dynamic self-realization of the Asian and African peoples, their pride in their history, and their faith in their future have yet to be fully appreciated, and their earnestness has yet to be adequately realized. It has also yet to be realized that great western cultures are beginning to acquire a new outlook, though they still seem to be bewildered at each new turn of the kaleidoscope. But they have great contributions to make in the future of which they do not yet appear to be fully aware themselves. Suspicion on the one hand and a sense of privilege on the other, both carried over from the past, sometimes create an astigmatism which makes it difficult to see clearly or to see far.

This situation is full of possibilities, creative or dangerous, and right in the middle of it your country has emerged as a leader among nations to occupy a significant and challenging position. It is not a position which you could have greedily wrested from another by coercion or cozenage. Neither is it one which you can reject at will. You have been accorded it by the forces of history—yours as well as the world's. It is your destiny and you cannot exorcize or evade it. All that therefore remains for you to decide is whether in this position you will add another glorious chapter to your record or merely trample the earth with jackboots.

You have great advantages. You began your national history as rebels against tyranny. Technologically you are the most advanced people in the world. Millions of poverty-stricken, backward peoples all over the globe stand in dire need of the knowledge which you can share with them for mutual benefit. I believe that you have no territorial ambitions and that you hold the freedom of others as dear as your own. You have a strong moral tradition. Your destiny, and I believe your warmth (which no cold blast should chill, for it arises from your robust moral sense and your exuberance), call upon you to look at the whole of the world, to roam around the globe, to try to understand it and to open your heart to it. Whatever your political doctrine or your religious faith, you could not condone the sins of apathy and ignorance in yourselves or in those you guide. As the educational leaders of a great nation it should be your proud privilege to reach out to the rest of the world and to share with it what God has given you through His bounty and your enterprise.

Your task, if I may so put it, is no less than that those who come under your influence should identify themselves with the world and its diverse peoples, to close up with the powerful drive of your worldwide quests the gap between the new dynamism of the Eastern Nations and the bewildered hesitations of the West, lest it should grow to be even more menacing than the gap between Communism and non-Communism which we have been watching for so long with such anxiety. Your country (provided your vigilance is unrelaxed and you continue to be the supreme example, the first I believe in history, of a nation great and yet not covetous) is in a position to lend its moral prestige and strength to the ordering of a peaceful and friendly world.

But this task cannot be undertaken with outworn equipment or with a type of mind which is too domestic in its scope. If you are to be a world leader, your youth cannout grow up with a provincial outlook. A world outlook, not a suppression but a sublimation of our patriotisms, an expansion of our mental and emotional horizons, is what we all need today. It is the citizen with a world outlook who should come out of our schools and colleges, whether in this or in other lands. In learning new languages, in undertaking mental adventures in strange lands, in creating warmth toward the art and culture of other people and stimulating understanding between people and people lies our future as teachers and leaders. In this you have already led the way. Today there are between 30,000 and 40,000 students of other countries who are invited by American organizations to come and study and make friends here, and there are as many as 5,000 students from this country studying and making friends in foreign lands. Altogether there are more than 100,000 students in the world who have left their own homes in search of learning, and one may be forgiven for dreaming of many hundreds of thousands of students spreading out into the world in a few years' time. Not warriors and conquistadors, but students and organizers, each making his contribution to the welfare of the world. I think the youth of this country under your guidance and beckoned by the destiny that lies before them could be among the greatest of these messengers and healers, these servants of mankind, these holy mendicants. If we cannot give our students the wide knowledge, the great perspectives, and the world-wide sympathies which alone can equip them to occupy their rightful and proud place among the citizenry of tomorrow, the teachers of this critical century, in which the East and the West standing face to face should be inspired to new and creative contacts, will have missed their opportunity.

1 The discussions appearing in this issue of The Record are papers, slightly abridged, which were presented as part of the two-day Conference on Educational Leadership for a Free World which was held at Teachers College, Columbia, November 21 and 22, on the occasion of the inauguration of Hollis Leland Caswell as President of Teachers College. The remainder of the papers will be published in the March, 1956 Teachers College Record.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 57 Number 5, 1956, p. 271-275
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 4594, Date Accessed: 10/21/2021 4:25:35 AM

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