Article Concerning Education in America

Chicago Tribune Magazine | June 9, 1957

We have honored businessmen, lawyers, doctors, bankers and management experts, but America needs sages, saints, scholars and statesmen -- master-minds and master-spirits. We shall never get an adequate supply of them, however, until superhighways and supermarkets take second place to super-schools and super-churches.

In ancient days a famous woman, named Cassandra, lived in a famous city, Troy. Cassandra was not popular. She constantly predicted the downfall of Troy. She wailed loud and long that the Greeks would defeat the Trojan warriors. She was right, but no one listened.

Why should they? There seemed to be no good reason.

Troy was powerful and famous. Militarily it was a mighty fortress considered impregnable. Within its walls there was wealth, culture, prosperity and beauty. Helen of Troy was the most beautiful woman in the world, Agamemnon the greatest warrior. There was little for the people of Troy to fear: they had an Eisenhower to command their defenses, and a Marilyn Monroe to titillate their senses. Yet Troy collapsed. Even its location disappeared from the face of the world for almost 3,000 years.

Today I have no desire to pose as a modern Cassandra, a Chicago Cassandra, predicting the downfall of everything we cherish and respect. Yet I think it is important, necessary and honest to express the opinion that many leaders of our country -- political, educational, social, and economic -- are failing in their obligation to tell the truth to the youngsters of our day -- the high school graduates and the college students of 1957.

"We are asleep [in America] and the devil is doing his work," says an American released only a few weeks ago after six years in a Communist prison.

Today, Soviet Russia, we are told, is spending 10% of its national income on education; Great Britain 8%; the U.S.A. only 3%. Even in the depression ridden 1930s we spent 4%.

Today in Soviet Russia, we are told, 50% of all university graduates enter the teaching profession. In the U.S.A. the scarcity of teachers is posing a threat to the whole concept of maximum educational opportunity for all.

Today in Soviet Russia few qualified boys and girls fail to obtain an advanced education. In the U.S.A. 1/3 of the top 20% of all our high school seniors fail to graduate from college. Another 200,000 promising youngsters do not even "make the jump from high school to college."

We can't continue to waste youth – our most precious national and natural resource -- in this way. Recently I expressed the problem in these words: 

...“in the military they call it firepower -- when they talk of machine guns vs. rifles. Intellectually we must have the same ratio. The Russians have millions more people than we do.

The Red Chinese have 600,000,000. We've got to be -- everyone of us -- as smart as ten Communists” ...

We live in an era of radical social, economic, and cultural change throughout the world. Yet most of us in the U.S.A. still concern ourselves with "business-as-usual." We urge our youngsters to go to college. Why ? Because they will get a better job, improve their social position, gain entrance to better clubs, meet people higher on the social scale, make more money.

These reasons are typical of our American attachment to material goods and our desire, each of us, to make a personal fortune. But in any society, as Plato wrote in The Republic, "what is honored is cultivated and that which has no honor is neglected."

We have honored businessmen, lawyers, doctors, bankers and management experts, but America needs sages, saints, scholars and statesmen -- master-minds and master-spirits. We shall never get an adequate supply of them, however, until superhighways and supermarkets take second place to super-schools and super-churches.

We have neglected to emphasize to our youngsters that the five most important functions in American life are represented by the church, home, school, work, and "civic-political" service.

We haven't urged them sufficiently to prepare themselves for leadership in these fields and to
refuse to be contented with mediocrity in them. Nor has the older generation accepted its share of the financial burden. It must help. How? By redirecting our money and our energies into the five, same, all-important areas of life where the major effort of our children must be spent.

Point #1: We need to spend more money on our universities and schools. Money will not cure all our academic problems to be sure; but without it we can kiss goodbye any hopes we may entertain for leadership in tomorrow's world. Without original, creative thinkers, we shall never produce the new ideas needed in an atomic, space-ship, intercultural world of growing populations and many races. Education is essential to survival in the next fifty years.

Point #2: We need to tell our young people there is no substitute for hard work. Vice President Nixon's 4-day week may be feasible in mass production industries. But automation and electronic calculators will never replace the need for rigorous mental discipline or the individual effort needed to produce a first-class thinker. Even today in the era of the five-day-week, no important, influential, or powerful man or woman in American life works less than six days a week. No such person ever has or ever will. Ask Walter Reuther, chief of the U.A.W., when he last worked 4 days a week. The answer will be "never."

Point #3: We need to tell our boys and girls that excellence takes time to achieve. A master mind, master spirit, master craftsman is the work of years, not days.

Point #4: We need to tell them to avoid the idea of "get rich quick," get results quick, "make a fast buck." True greatness, the kind of greatness America needs to survive, will come from boys and girls whose lives will follow a schedule, perhaps something like this one: 

Age 16-30 Study and learn; absorb new ideas and thoughts; build a solid home life. Develop habits of silence and contemplation.

Age 30-50 Gain practical experience. Don't fear changes in jobs or career. Continue study habits. Develop confidence.

Age 50-70 Time of greatest capacity to produce.

Check the lives of Winston Churchill, Pope Pius XII, Albert Schweitzer, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Konrad Adenauer, Mahatma Gandhi to learn the truth: those who drink longest and deepest at the wells of learning and contemplation will have the greatest resources for leadership.

Point #5: We need to advise our young people to give maximum time to the liberal arts, the "arts of free men," those studies which help to liberate man from the restrictions of ignorance and superstition, and lift the burdens of vice and corruption.

Does all this sound difficult to accomplish? Does it sound boring, costly, time consuming? If so, take heart. Remember these facts: 

Never in world history has higher education been available so cheap, or so easy, as today in Chicago. Every Chicagoan can compete a two-year Junior College education a most without moving from his TV set. English, Biology, History, Mathematics, etc. via TV are being offered free to our citizens. Remember, too, that many graduates of Chicago Junior College get scholarships to finance a complete college education at the University of Chicago, at Illinois, DePaul, Northwestern, I.I.T., or Loyola. You don't have to go away from home. First class education is available right in Chicago's institutions of higher education.

Work, a priceless possession denied to millions in today's world, is more easily available in Chicago than anywhere. Chicago is creating more jobs faster than any city in the U.S.A., according to The Association of Commerce and Industry. If a student needs a job, part-time or full-time, to complete his education, Chicago is the place for him.

Finally, let us never forget we are all American citizens, members of the most powerful and wealthiest nation on earth. 95% of all living human beings are less fortunate than we for this one reason alone.

We are living in 1957, a year recently described by our Secretary of Commerce in Washington as one of the best years in the history of American business.

Job opportunities are greater than ever. Salaries are higher than ever. Even for those who must serve in military forces, there is less chance of being shot at today than at any time since 1952.

Add all these factors together and we can surely agree that of all living human beings American high school graduates are luckier than 99%. They are part of the 1% who must lead, inspire, and save the world, for the world is either lost or saved in every generation.

The expression "to make a break-through" has become a popular way to describe a great advance in human thought, experience, or knowledge.

Today we need a new break-through, a new vision, to create unity among men. Only through education and the rigors of true religion, only through hard work and fervent prayer, through humility and detachment from our own values, even the cultural or national ones, can we hope to attain such a unity.

This is the destiny and task confronting our boys and girls in the decades to come, 1960-1990. My sincere hope is that we of the older generation do not fail them now -- by providing a cheap, adulterated education; a pale, watered-down religion; a cynical disregard for the sanctity of life.