The Promise of American Life eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 620 pages of information about The Promise of American Life.

The reader may now be prepared to understand why the American faith in education has the appearance of being credulous and superstitious.  The good average American usually wishes to accomplish exclusively by individual education a result which must be partly accomplished by national education.  The nation, like the individual, must go to school; and the national school is not a lecture hall or a library.  Its schooling consists chiefly in experimental collective action aimed at the realization of the collective purpose.  If the action is not aimed at the collective purpose, a nation will learn little even from its successes.  If its action is aimed at the collective purpose, it may learn much even from its mistakes.  No process of merely individual education can accomplish the work of collective education, because the nation is so much more than a group of individuals.  Individuals can be “uplifted” without “uplifting” the nation, because the nation has an individuality of its own, which cannot be increased without the consciousness of collective responsibilities and the collective official attempt to redeem them.  The processes of national and individual education should, of course, parallel and supplement each other.  The individual can do much to aid national education by the single-minded and intelligent realization of his own specific purposes; but all individual successes will have little more than an individual interest unless they frequently contribute to the work of national construction.  The nation can do much to aid individual education; but the best aid within its power is to offer to the individual a really formative and inspiring opportunity for public service.  The whole round of superficial educational machinery—­books, subsidies, resolutions, lectures, congresses—­may be of the highest value, provided they are used to digest and popularize the results of a genuine individual and national educational experience, but when they are used, as so often at present, merely as a substitute for well-purposed individual and national action, they are precisely equivalent to an attempt to fly in a vacuum.

That the direct practical value of a reform movement may be equaled or surpassed by its indirect educational value is a sufficiently familiar idea—­an idea admirably expressed ten years ago by Mr. John Jay Chapman in the chapter on “Education” in his “Causes and Consequences.”  But the idea in its familiar form is vitiated, because the educational effect of reform is usually conceived as exclusively individual.  Its effect must, indeed, be considered wholly as an individual matter, just so long as reform is interpreted merely as a process of purification.  From that point of view the collective purpose has already been fulfilled as far as it can be fulfilled by collective organization, and the only remaining method of social amelioration is that of the self-improvement of its constituent members.  As President Nicholas Murray Butler of

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The Promise of American Life from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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