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The True Relation of Education to War and Peace


by William F. Russell - 1948

What can the schools, or other means of education, do to prevent war? The author is considering solely the possible relation of schools and other means of education to peace and war.

HOW to avert war is the world's top problem. It fazes the United Nations.1 It frustrates the foreign ministers. It drives man to despair. Coming elections will be decided on this issue. Social institutions, including the schools, are being studied and assessed in relation to their contribution to war and peace.


Teachers' associations ask the persistent question, what can the schools, or other means of education, do to prevent war? That is my topic today. I am not considering what education can do to rebuild or reconstruct the world, or to make a happier life, or to increase productiveness, or to provide better health, or to do anything else, no matter how worthy it may be. I am considering solely the possible relation of schools and other means of education to peace and war.


We, as schoolmen, cannot keep the subject off our minds, because we cannot keep it off our consciences. We cannot but believe that somehow or other schools have something to do with war. In the preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO are the words, "Wars begin in the minds of men." The minds of men are what they are because of the impact of heredity and environment. Much of mental change is caused by environment. Much of environment is education. A good part of education is conscious, the work of schools and other agencies of education such as the cinema and radio.


We know that a pair of identical twins, with nearly identical heredity, will vary according to their environment. Place both in Russia and they will support communism. Place both in the United States of America and they will support free enterprise. Place one in one country and one in the other and one will become loyal to America and the other to Russia; and in these two the seeds of war will have been planted.


That is why in educational meetings there is so much interest in education for peace. Each of us wonders what his part is, what he can do, and how best to do it. We hear so much talk. So many suggestions are made. Societies are formed and we are urged to join. Meetings are called and we attend. But no single road is pointed out to us. No one map charts the way. There is no course of action upon which all agree. Just what can we do— you and I? That's the question. That's what we want to know.


There are several schools of thought which I shall sketch for you in quick vignettes—just as the artist draws a cartoon. These pictures will sacrifice completeness to brevity and balanced appraisal to quick impression. I put before you in a general way four programs commonly accepted as central and important contributions of education to avoiding war and keeping peace.


First, there are the advocates of Educational Reconstruction. They believe that in a world in shambles, with schools destroyed, teachers dispersed, equipment lacking, children hungry, homeless, and vagrant, you have the situation most favorable for war. War comes from ignorance and hopelessness, when people are desperate because they are ignorant, unproductive, improvident, diseased, and gullible. First, feed the people, clothe them, shelter them, teach and enlighten them; and then they will become self-supporting, self-respecting, and self-governing. Collect the money, books, and equipment. Help to restaff and reactivate the schools. Then you will have a base upon which peaceful attitudes may develop.


I want no one to misunderstand what I am about to say. Within the last twelve months, I have seen some of these ruined communities with their ruined schools. I know the conditions of Houffalize, Bastogne, and Caen. The teachers there deserve our highest admiration. The drives of TIGER and the NEA deserve our full support. But efforts of this type have little relation to the work of the school for either peace or war. All that reconstruction does is to open a school and get an educational program under way. Such a program may work toward either peace or war.


When the Educational Reconstructors assume that the mere rebuilding of an educational system is a necessary step toward peace, they make the same mistake that the Fathers of our Constitution or the leaders of the French Revolution made when they thought that mere extension of education to all would provide a bulwark for democracy. Jefferson thought that if the people were "enlightened"—that is, schooled—all would be well. But Hitler and Hirohito have demonstrated in recent years that widespread compulsory popular education may be just as effective a bulwark for despotism. No! Reconstruction may bring happiness, self-respect, and general welfare, but whether it brings peace depends on other factors.


Secondly, there are those who advocate the Interchange of Persons. Their theory is that war comes from isolation, from ignorance of others. (Do not introduce me to my neighbor, because if I met him I might like him, and I hate him.) Break down barriers. Interchange pupils, students, research workers, and professors. Scandinavian boys and girls are now visiting the Metropolitan School Study Council in New York; Latin Americans visited it last year. Reflect upon the extraordinary results of the educational use of the Boxer Indemnity Fund, which sent thousands of Chinese students to the United States, and of the Rhodes Scholarships. Write letters back and forth; interchange teachers; send thousands under the Fulbright Act. Note the work of the Guggenheim Fellows.


Again, do not misunderstand me. The fact that most American scholars from 1880 to 1900 studied in Germany did not prevent war. Recall that some of the German alumni of the Elsinore International School returned to Denmark as conquerors; and many of the good-will pupils sent by Germany to Norway used their knowledge to betray their benefactors. Even Otto Abetz, Gauleiter of Paris during the occupation, had previously been a good-will fellow to the Sorbonne. I consider, nevertheless, that interchange of persons has great value. Surely it will make for mutual understanding, and frequently, although not always, for good will; but absence of interchange does not cause war, nor will full interchange prevent it.


Then there are those who urge free flow of communication, the Share the Ideas school, the work-together advocates, to whom UNESCO is devoting a large share of its money. UNESCO has plenty of money—more money than insight. In the belief that a free flow of ideas is basic to peace, UNESCO has embarked on such projects as the one designed "to preserve the fauna and flora of the Galapagos Islands," the establishment of an Institute to study the Hylean Amazon, and the development of "fundamental education in Haiti." Of $231,319 appropriated under formal agreement with the International Council of Scientific Societies to aid various scientific societies, $10,936 was appropriated to foster "International Zoological Nomenclature" and $11,740 to bring the astronomers together. Plans are being made to send parties of survey experts into various countries upon their invitation.


Again, I hope not to be misunderstood. I am not an opponent of the Share the Ideas school. In fact, at Teachers College this is exactly the task that we have been working at for many years. Last fall we had 451 students from foreign lands, including 129 from Latin America and 68 from China. We are committed to the stimulation of the free flow of ideas. I grant that such a flow is valuable for social betterment, for health, for productivity; but is it, in any sense, a guarantee against war or an insurance for peace? Certainly some former Teachers College students were active enemies of the United States before and during World War II.


Last, there is the Direct Teaching of International Good Will school. Prepare books and other curricular materials dealing with peace and international understanding; educate the teachers to carry out work of this sort; and the result will be the international mind and peace on earth. The logic of this position is easily understood. Hitler bent the German schools to war. He taught ideas of world dominance, master race, Aryan superiority, and the beauty and nobility of war. Why not reverse the process? Teach peace, interdependence of mankind, good will. The result is a lot of talking about peace. How many such talks have I heard! In fact, how many such talks have I given! I remember one in Mainz, to a typical German audience, which was most enthusiastically received. The textbooks in Bavaria and Baden in the 1920's oozed international good will.


This school of thought is hard at work again. I am a member of the NEA Committee on International Cooperation. For two years we have been preparing a major work on teaching for peace. The World Organization of the Teaching Profession, with members all over the world, has assigned one-fifth of its appointed task for this year to a similar project. UNESCO devoted a seminar to the problem in Paris last year and will have another one at Lake Success this summer. In Mexico I attended several meetings of the "working party," which was patiently struggling with this problem. I gathered that most of those who participated in these studies had hopes that thereby a real contribution might be made to the direction of education toward peace.


But teachers should know better. They know that such an educational program can contribute to culture, to general education, to learning, and to the dissemination of superior practices and ideas; but to peace, that is something else again. Dewey's students know that moral teaching results not so much in moral conduct as in ideas about morality; that health teaching is likely to yield ideas about health, rather than healthy habits. So it is with the direct teaching of international good will. Some good will may be achieved; but much more likely to ensue are ideas about good will.


These four lines of work are all good; they are worthy of our support because of their possible contribution, not to peace, but to other desirable social goals. Not one of the four—nor all the four put together—chart the course that educators can follow or that schools and other educational institutions can follow in order to avoid war and to keep the peace. They miss the vital point.


What is the vital point? What is the way, if any, in which education can serve the cause of war and peace? To discover this, we should analyze again the situation in Germany and Japan in the period prior to the last war.


In both countries there were flourishing school systems. Nearly everybody went to school. Nearly everybody could read and write. Book sales were high, far higher per capita than in the United States. In Japan you could not stop your ricksha for two minutes without the ricksha boy's picking up his book. Even the handkerchief which he wrapped around his head had a story printed on it. School opportunities were at a maximum. No educational reconstruction was needed.


Both countries interchanged educational personnel. Japan used to send abroad great numbers of students, professors, scientists, and engineers. Germany sent many and received more. Both countries were assiduous in attending international conferences, in importing ideas, and even in assisting at astronomical conventions and helping to standardize international zoological nomenclature. Nevertheless, both were geared to war.


So far as the direct teaching of international ill will was concerned, it is difficult to learn the truth. Hitler certainly forced the teaching of war and hate in the schools, but there is some difference of opinion as to the full effect. So far as Japan up to 1932 is concerned, later visitors agree with my observations in 1918 and 1921 (at a time when Japan was already anti-American and pro-German) that there was no warlike air about the schools, except possibly on the school playground. The schools had an air of kindliness and friendliness, little discipline, and very little martial spirit in a uniform-ridden society.


Nevertheless, both school systems were perfect instruments for war, despite the fact that they were universal, that there was international exchange of persons, international exchange of ideas, and in the case of Japan a not too warlike appearing program. In each case, the educational system did just what the war lords wanted because, first, it turned out the great mass of the people with basic schooling, able to earn a living, and at the same time obedient subjects of the State, looking for orders, ready and willing to do as told, and eager for someone to tell them. In Germany, they were disciplined to be subservient members of the Master State. In Japan, on the other hand, they were trained to be members of a religious sect, artificially stimulated by the government, of which the emperor was God and Japan the chosen land. Second, in Germany, the mass of the people went to one kind of school and the potential leaders to another. These were kept apart from the common people and educated out of sympathy with them. Generally from favored classes, they looked down on the slaves; and even the few cases of emergence from the ranks, such leaders as army sergeants become lieutenants, were harder on the ranks than the West Pointers. In Japan there was less social distinction in the schools; many leaders came from the ranks of the peasants, but they were educated so far out of touch with the people, that they lost all sympathy. Third, schools were purely a function of the State, and the parents had to keep out.


Here, then, are the important ways in which schools and an educational system work for the warmongers. If you want to bend the schools to war, you do not need to worry much about an iron curtain, or teacher training in patriotism, or revision of textbooks. See that every child goes to school; keep the parents out; make the child obey all the time. Never let him ask a question. Prohibit initiative. Permit no variation. Then train a set of leaders for this mass to obey. Pick them carefully, educate them for invention and initiative, keep them ruthless and cruel and completely devoted. You can do this more easily if you have an artificially created State church as in Japan, or a synthetic religion of Hitler-worship as in Germany. Then you will have a perfect instrument for war.


Jefferson and others of our Founding Fathers thought that you would have good government only if you had a free mind. Remember the words of the Ordinance of 1787, "Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and other means of education shall forever be encouraged." But certain kinds of so-called religions, and certain codes of morality basic thereto, and certain kinds of knowledge, taught in a certain way, and certain kinds of schools and other means of education will lead to war. What is needed is the counteractive influence of the free mind, and with this, free religion and the free school. Nations are thought to be dangerous when they have huge standing armies and great military potential; but they are truly dangerous only when either by ignorance the people are naturally subservient to political and religious fanatics, or by the prostitution of their schools they develop a manufactured subservience to cruel leaders. Stanley Baldwin once said to me, "A democracy is that kind of government in which you can have a crazy man at the head and not ruin the people."


If we schoolmen here highly resolve to bend our energies to keeping peace and to averting war, our task is plain. We must keep our schools free, our children free, our leaders free and close to the people, and our parents responsible; and we must use our full efforts to guard these liberties in our own country and in every country on earth.


That is what UNESCO ought to do; but that is precisely what I fear it cannot do, organized as it is. It started in the minds of some teachers; the idea was nurtured during the war by the Council of Allied Ministers of Education. But now it is an agency of governments, and the delegates to UNESCO are government agents. In many nations the schools (and other means of education) have become instruments of national policy, or more precisely put, instruments of the policy of a political party or of a coalition of political parties. These parties determine policy, which the Ministry of Education puts into action.


Most of the delegates to UNESCO in Mexico City had been briefed by their foreign office. Frequently the head of a delegation was a minister or high official of a foreign office. So far as I could tell, there was only one teacher a full delegate, and not more than a half dozen among the alternate delegates who were primarily in teaching below the college level. What most delegates did at Mexico City had to be approved by some politician at home. For among the delegates were distinguished scholars, scientists, writers, and publicists, men and women of world-wide experience; and yet collectively they seemed so often to miss the point. Why, to add to the illustrations cited above, why allot $31,200 to the International Society of Microbiology, including the International Center of Type-Culture Collections? Why create an intersecretarial Translation Bureau to translate the Classics? Why organize a Youth Service Camp at Cauterets? Why set up a service to facilitate a "widespread understanding of painting," or "an anthology of creative writing under Axis occupation"?


After having supported projects like these, a delegate could face the politicians at home without fear of unhappy consequences. No political repercussions can arise from the preservation of the fauna and flora of a remote island, nor from teaching the ABC's in Africa, nor from the study of textbooks, particularly when it is only in the United States that they are much relied on. Foreign offices will subscribe to big principles and big words; but when it •comes to a fight against political domination of the schools, don't call upon the politicians.


You have to call upon the teachers and the parents. Teachers with free minds who are resolved to keep free; teachers who insist on free schools to turn out free men to keep the minds of children free—such teachers cannot be controlled. No ministry, no inspector, no tyrant can avail against them. Neither inspectors, nor Gestapos, nor Quislings, nor Buchenwalds can stay them from their appointed fight. For centuries, teachers in occupied countries have taught contrary to the high command. The classroom is a good place for an underground. If teachers want schools to be free, they can keep them free. But they must have support.


That is why I have such great hopes for the World Organization of the Teaching Profession. Given the initial start by the NEA, now composed of the leading teachers' organizations of some twenty-five countries, at present hard at work—as we in Phi Delta Kappa know from the report of our delegate, Mr. Cook, who attended the meeting in Glasgow—WOTP is an agency of great promise and enormous potential power. It can stimulate the ideas and mobilize the support of the teachers of the world. Plans must be made, tactics must be devised to fan the flame of freedom everywhere. It can learn from its own members where the flame burns bright, and why; from the intimate and accurate knowledge of teachers alone it can tell where it flickers and burns low.


Just as teachers' associations have given powerful support to individual teachers and administrators; just as teachers' associations have walked into disgraceful school situations and have brought the full force of the indignation of our profession and friends of our profession to bear upon recalcitrant and venal school authorities; so the teachers of the world in world association, from the intimate knowledge within their own membership, can reveal facts, can point out dangerous practices by politicians, and "submit the facts to a candid world." If, by the process of joining together in national associations and showing our indignation, we, teachers, can check politicians within our own land, why cannot similar pressure from teachers internationally organized check warmongering politicians anywhere in the world? That is why we need a Teacher's Charter, as considered by UNESCO. But far more urgently we need an Education Charter.


You and I are members of Phi Delta Kappa. We have sworn to devote our lives to education, particularly through the public school. We must do all that we can to see that these schools serve the cause of peace. Reconstruction is not enough. Interchange of persons, valuable as it is, is beside the point. Free flow of ideas, generally good, can work either toward war or toward peace. Direct teaching is likely to disappoint. We have a different task. It is to work to prevent nations from developing educational programs, under political control, to make slaves of the people. We must work to preserve the responsibility of the parent. We must keep our potential leaders close to and in sympathy with the people. We must keep the schools free.


It is not likely that this task will be accomplished by politicians or financiers or cabinet ministers. It is a job for teachers and parents, individually and as they organize, and with most promise, I think, in one world organization of teachers and parents, if that can ever be attained.


So it is at this precise point, fellows in Phi Delta Kappa, that we must exert our full effort, now and for the rest of our lives, if our schools are to make their maximum contribution to peace.








1 An address given at the annual luncheon meeting of Phi Delta Kappa in Atlantic City on February 24, 1948, and published in the March issue of Phi Delta Kappa.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 49 Number 7, 1948, p. 441-448
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 5428, Date Accessed: 10/24/2021 10:45:07 AM

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