One of the avowed purposes of education is to lift society to a higher plane of thinking and acting, and it is always and altogether pertinent to make an inventory to discover if this laudable purpose is being accomplished. Such an inventory can be made only by an analyst; the work cannot be delegated either to a pessimist or to an optimist. In his efforts to determine whether society is advancing or receding, the analyst often makes disquieting discoveries.
It must be admitted by the most devoted and patriotic American that our civilization includes many elements that can truly be denominated frivolous, superficial, artificial, and inconsequential. As a people, we seek to be entertained, but fail to make a nice distinction between entertainment and amusement. War, it is true, has caused us to think more soberly and feel more deeply; but the bizarre, the gaudy, and the superficial still make a strong appeal to us. We are quite happy to wear paste diamonds, provided only that they sparkle. So long have we been substituting the fictitious for the genuine that we have contracted the habit of loose, fictitious thinking. So much does the show element appeal to us that we incline to parade even our troubles. Simplicity and sincerity, whether in dress, in speech, or in conduct, have so long been foreign to our daily living and thinking that we incline to style these qualities as old-fogyish.
A hundred or more young men came to a certain city to enlist for the war. As they marched out through the railway station they rent the air with whooping and yells and other manifestations of boisterous conduct. These young fellows may have hearts of gold, but their real manhood was overlaid with a veneer of rudeness that could not commend them to the admiration of cultivated persons. Inside the station was another group of young men in khaki who were quiet, dignified, and decorous. The contrast between the two groups was most striking, and the bystanders were led to wonder whether it requires a world-war to teach our young men manners and whether the schools and homes have abdicated in favor of the cantonment in the teaching of deportment. In the schools and the homes that are to be in our good land we may well hope that decorum will be emphasized and magnified; for decorum is evermore the fruitage of intellectuality and genuine culture.
As a nation, we have been prodigal of our resources and, especially, of our time. We have failed to regard our leisure hours as a liability but, like the lotus eaters, have dallied in the realm of pleasure. Like children at play, we have gone on our pleasure-seeking ways all heedless of the clock, and, when misfortune came and necessity arose, many of us were unwilling and more of us unable to engage in the work of production. In some localities legislation was invoked to urge us toward the fields and gardens. We have shown ourselves a wasteful people, and in the wake of our wastefulness have followed a dismal train of disasters, cold, hunger, and many another form of distress. Deplore and repent of our prodigality as we may, the effects abide to remind us of our decline from the high plane of industry, frugality, and conservation of leisure. Nor can we hope to avert a repetition of this crisis unless education comes in to guide our minds and hands aright.