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. . . the last best hope... Democracy Makes New Demands on Education

reviewed by James F. Russell, II - 1956

coverTitle: . . . the last best hope... Democracy Makes New Demands on Education
Author(s): Henry W. Holmes
Publisher: John Wiley, New York
ISBN: , Pages: , Year:
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With that gracefulness his acquaintances have learned to expect, Dean Emeritus Holmes here records the views of democracy and of the relation of education and freedom which he has distilled from a long career in education. Like the other volumes in the distinguished series that make up the Inglis Lectures, this one, in slender compass, speaks to us from a deep well of experience. How many educators today can say with Dean Holmes,

Yes, I knew and studied with James, Royce, Palmer, Santayana, and later worked with President Eliot, William Alan Nielson, and Alfred North Whitehead. I have talked at some length with Dewey and Thorndike. I have known personally Hanus, Cubberley, Flexner ... and most of the other men who have given these Inglis Lectures. . . .

For Dean Holmes, democracy is more than a system; it is a way of life that derives from the ideal of the sacred worth of the individual. It challenges educators because "democracy implies an education which involves an understanding of ideals and hence is more than training, even if the training have behind it all the knowledge men can gain about the working of the human body, mind, and heart." And how will the educational job be done? Not, he says, by any simple panacea, by introducing a new course, or adding gimmicks to the overcrowded curriculum. No, it is to be done by discussion—discussion of the meaning of democracy and of selected problems of democracy.

Dean Holmes asks the word, discussion, to carry a great deal of meaning. For him, it is more than mere talking about items. His conception of discussion comes close to the Platonic dialogue. He visualizes that give and take which in examining various aspects of the thing discussed leads to a new and deeper awareness of its significance, of its relation to other matters, of its inner workings. Few will doubt the educational effectiveness of discussions of this type.

Still, in this reviewer's mind there persists a gnawing doubt as to the educational effectiveness of cognitive learnings in the normative and emotional areas. "If ends, including ends that are ideal, that draw from life's persistent mysteries, are not revealed through learning, then learners are condemned to learn but tricks," says Dean Holmes. He says nothing of the danger that the student who learns may learn about ideals without believing them. The objective is surely not to produce people who know about democracy—who can talk about it. It must be to help develop citizens who hold ideals which they both know and believe. The free man knows freedom, true; but he loves it, too. And he knows how to act in a free society, has civic skills and the habit of responsible participation. Education which inculcates love of freedom and civic competence calls for all the rationalism of Dean Holmes, and then for more besides.

There is little danger that we will ever see the day when we might have too much good intellectual fare in our schools. So it is good to reflect that men like Dean Holmes are devoting their energies to keeping up the flow of good teaching materials. And it is also good to reflect that a pluralistic America accords a place to those who devote their energies to school activities whose focus is not solely on the intellectual, but look beyond into the areas of behavior and belief.


Teachers College, Columbia

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 57 Number 7, 1956, p. 505-505
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 4664, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 10:04:28 PM

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