A system of education bears the earmarks of the civilization it serves. Speaking in general terms, our western civilization is materialistic and individualistic : the aims of the culture of the eastern hemisphere are largely idealistic and speculative. The West seeks chiefly to study the physical laws of the universe; the East to fathom rather its spiritual laws. An Einstein and a Ta-gore, the one called the supreme mind of the Occident, the other the Orient's greatest philosopher, may be considered symbolic of the intellectual outlook of their respective hemispheres.
And yet, in these days of intellectual, moral and industrial unrest, does not after all the soul of the West yearn, however unconsciously, not for more Einsteins to fathom the physical laws of the universe, but for a few Tagores of the West to direct men's minds with inspiring insistence toward its spiritual laws?
No one, surely, who appreciates the great forces of our modern civilization and their manifest place in individual and world life, would desire for a moment to minimize the importance of the contributions of the natural and applied sciences to the advancement and well-being of mankind. But however high may be our respect and admiration for these branches of learning and for their distinguished and indefatigable exponents, should we not at the same time guard ourselves against overlooking the no less important fact, that human experience teaches that man in his development has taken great and sure strides toward a finer conception of the meaning of life and toward higher goals of human existence not by reason of discoveries, however great, in the domain of physics or of any of the other so-called sciences, but rather through the force of great spiritual messages? The fundamental difference I have mentioned in the philosophic outlook of the East and the West goes far toward explaining the seemingly strange phenomenon that the bearers of transcendently great spiritual messages to humanity—Christ, Buddha, Confucius—have come from out the East. It is not unreasonable to suppose that if Einstein, endowed with his great faculty for investigating the mysteries of the laws of the universe, had been born in the East, he would have doubtless interested himself in the formulation of laws of spiritual rather than of physical relativity. For a law of relativity, as it might be termed, may be invoked which is applicable both in theory and practice, and which perhaps is even more valuable to man in problems relating to the spirit and intellect than in investigations involving the physical world. If errors in astronomical calculations can seemingly be proved by the laws of physical relativity, it is no less true that many errors in our philosophy of life may be corrected by the simple law of what I shall call spiritual relativity.
A film went the round of our motion picture theatres recently setting forth very clearly some of the simpler principles of Einstein's theory. Among the illustrations was the reproduction of a huge rock which almost filled the screen and rested upon the tip of another rock only partially visible which many of the beholders doubtless imagined to be the top of some mountain peak. But suddenly the camera was run back, the optical field became thus enlarged to include surrounding objects, and what appeared a moment before to be huge rocks proved to be merely two small stones resting in an outstretched hand. This illustrated a principle of relativity applied to physical matter. I think that we shall find that a law of relativity may be applied no less surely in the moral and spiritual relations of men by which we can measure almost as accurately, and with even more direct and important consequences to human welfare, the relative importance of our actions and responsibilities in the fields of patriotic, economic, religious, social and, most important of all, educational endeavor.
A simple illustration will make my meaning clear. High in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains in extreme northern India lies the hill town, Darjeeling. Should we stroll through its tortuous streets and busy bazaars, we should doubtless find the scenes, however interesting, only largely a repetition of the same strange life we could enjoy in a hundred other towns and cities of the Far-East. But if we should undertake that long night climb on horseback to a high outlying spur of Asia's great mountain range, and stand in the morning twilight as the summit of Mount Everest is touched by the sun's first rays, and watch these as they creep down into the great chasms dispersing the reluctant clouds of night, we should suddenly see the little city, in which we had stood but a few short hours before, revealed far below us in new and impressive significance. For from the new point of vantage we should remark for the first time the many roads leading from the great plains of India on the south and converging at the southern gates of the city. But suddenly we should also note that single, narrow trail leading from Darjeeling toward the north and losing itself amid the fastnesses of the soaring, snowy peaks behind which lies the mysterious land of Thibet. Then all at once the little town lying thousands of feet below us would be transformed from mere Darjeeling—one of a hundred other similar towns of the Orient—into Darjeeling, the far-flung northern frontier post of Great Britain's mighty colonial power in the Far-East, a vastly more significant conception.
But what occasioned our changed mental attitude in the illustration just cited? Was it not caused, exactly as in the case of the rocks mentioned previously, by our getting back or away from the object or subject we were viewing or studying and by seeing it in its true relation to the surrounding objects, landscape or causes? This is spiritual relativity. Its principles are as applicable to national and educational affairs as to problems of individual life.
Have not too many of the ills from which the world is so grievously suffering been occasioned by our failure to have recognized, or applied, the simple principles of spiritual relativity to problems of education and of life? Disregard for the principles of this law—in other words our disinclination, or inability, to let the clear light of human experience of a long past illuminate our actions of the present in the spheres of politics, industry, religion and education—has caused man to commit many of the errors of shortsightedness and of selfishness in which have germinated, among many other evils, the World War, many acute forms of industrial strife and—what for want of a better inclusive term I shall call—the iconoclastic destructivism of these latter days in the domain of morals and of social relations and responsibilities. By "destructivism" I mean all those social, religious, and political theories and tendencies of the hour springing from a more or less sincere wish to accomplish purposes seemingly desirable from the circumscribed point of view of their supporters, but which, viewed in the perspective of history and from a more enlightened national and humanitarian standpoint, prove themselves practically and theoretically selfish and retrogressive, morally, politically and economically destructive, and in last analysis wholly incompatible both with the accepted principles of Christian ethics and of enlightened government and totally subversive of the common interests and welfare of humanity.
Applying now these simple principles to some of our problems of the present,—in other words removing ourselves to an objective distance from the four ultra-malevolent influences of our day—class, creedal, political and national selfishness or egotism—we find them assuming a new significance. For by their discordant obtrusiveness they are serving to transport us to one of those high points of spiritual vantage, from which we may gaze down upon the broader landscape of life and view man and his individual occupations and interests in their truer relationships in the wider panorama of human effort. In other words the disquieting tendencies of the hour afford an excellent opportunity for the application of the principles of spiritual relativity.
Indeed the realm of philosophic literature affords us an interesting parallel in this connection. In "Faust" Goethe conceived evil, represented in the person of Mephistopheles, not as being a hindrance to, but a furtherance of, Divine purpose. According to Germany's literary philosopher, if man is to evolve, if he is to become ever nearer to that perfection which is God, he requires as companion a disintegrating force, the "Spirit of Negation." This force by itself would be purely evil—Satan, the Devil, or whatever we may choose to denominate him. But this spirit of disintegration, when confronted by the integrating force of Divine Love, becomes in the drama merely "Mephistopheles," that spirit ever willing evil but accomplishing under the will of Providence only good.
Viewed then in the light of Goethe's philosophy, which is but another application of the principles of spiritual relativity I have described, it is soon seen that all these seemingly dangerous peace disturbers of today—the pessimist, the cynic, the political and religious radical, the exponents of vocalized patriotism—have after all their place in the economy of the world. For just as the awe-inspiring grandeur of the forces of nature is revealed to us m complete sublimity only at some world's end of sea or land, be it a silent canyon's brink or wave-torn promontory, so the full majesty of Nature's handiwork in man stands fully disclosed to us only when we pause as it were upon some lonely, unexpected height in our spiritual experience and gaze down not upon the sun-lit peaks merely, but also upon the dark depths below, where even the most somber and forbidding abyss of human selfishness and conceit has after all its part to play in Nature's scheme of things.
The recent movements in our country which have been a source of such apprehension and discouragement to many of our people, seen from this more philosophic point of view, take on a more heartening significance. They may be summed up, for want of a better name, under the general term "the spirit of destructivism" of our day. This spirit which responds so eagerly to that insinuating dual urge-selfishness and egotism—may be found in almost every activity of life about us:
It is to be found in the destructivism of our industrial life, which in its blind purpose, setting class against class, so-called "labor" against so-called "capital," would seek in the name of selfish particularism to wreck the toilsomely constructed edifice of American economic life under the red banner of a communistic democracy.
It is to be found in the destructivism of our political life, in the selfish machinations of some party leaders and others, who in the name of egotism, of party pride or of self-interest would bring to naught the inspiring humanitarian endeavor of those who have striven for a finer spirit and fuller measure of international co-operation and for world peace through the realization of some form of world league or tribunal.
It is to be found in the destructivism of that form of so-called "law enforcement," which in a spirit of negation would on occasion take the administration of law and of justice out of the hands of the constituted authorities, and blindly and recklessly sweeping aside the governmental institutions created through the vision and sacrifices of our forefathers, would substitute for them those medieval instruments of torture—the scourge, the rack, the noose and the stake—administered under mask or cover of darkness to male and female alike in the name of a false morality and of a destructively ignorant patriotism.
It is to be found in the destructivism of that dangerously increasing mental attitude in our citizenry whkh makes suspicious, unfair and even slanderous criticism of our fellow men (not excepting even the occupants of the exalted presidential chair of our nation) the order of the day; a spirit which bids fair to make the embittered discussion of our neighbors' affairs, religion and mode of life a new form of national pastime; and which threatens even to transform the American people from a nation of men with manly confidence in their fellow-citizens into something approaching dangerously near a nation of suspicious, viper-tongued gossips.
It is to be found in the destructivism of an intolerant religiosity, taught by deluded parents at the hearth fires of tens of thousands of American homes, which setting creed against creed invades this land so blest by nature, setting neighbor against neighbor, citizen against citizen, daring even to arrogate to itself a new interpretation of the words of the Divine Master, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
When we turn the clear light of more detached judgment, which is again but the application of the principle of spiritual relativity, upon those of our citizens who in deed or in sympathy represent any of the destructive ideals or tendencies just mentioned, are we not reminded of another literary parallel and inclined to regard them as a sort of reincarnation of the spirit of Don Quixote, modern knights-errant sallying forth armed with ancient weapons and still more ancient views, and like Cervantes' immortal hidalgo —symbol of an age that is past—battling hopelessly and ridiculously with that mighty, ever-grinding windmill of human progress, the new age of religious tolerance, civic cooperation and international fair-play?
It is with some hesitation that I state that all the horrors, lawlessness and cynicism springing from this strange form of spiritual iconoclasm in America have also worked to our advantage; yet is it not true that they have made us, possibly for the first time, profoundly aware of the priceless value of the liberal institutions established by our forefathers? Do we not realize as never before how perilously dangerous it is to a democracy to enthrone in its heart the demon of hatred and prejudice in the rightful place of the spirit of peace? The madness which has taken hold of a portion of our citizenry has served to bring the realization home to all thinking men with convincing emphasis that even our apparently trusty Eagle of American Liberty is after all but an inconstant bird, ever ready to take wings unto himself and to desert his transient home unless carefully guarded by an ever-vigilant people. We have learned to our cost, and none too soon, that the ideals of our country, about which we are so fond of speaking, are more often on the lips rather than in the hearts of entirely too large a proportion of our citizens. We appreciate therefore as never before the full import of the old adage, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."
How now are the finer ideals of our nation and the broader and more generous spiritual outlook of this new age to be made to permeate wider circles of our citizenry?
The thought occurs to us at once that we should find the guarantee of the permanence of cherished institutions and the most direct remedy for present ills first of all in the American home. Unfortunately, however, we are discovering that this former Gibraltar of our national strength begins to exhibit many vulnerable points. On the one hand there are, as we have known, tens of thousands of firesides where the only flag respected is the red banner of radicalism, and at these firesides are growing up future American citizens. While on the other hand there are, as we did not know, scores of thousands of homes, which until recently would have been considered, and still consider themselves, models of patriotism, where the malignant seeds of disruption and civil strife are being planted, unwittingly it is true but none the less certainly and assiduously, in the hearts of countless other thousands of future citizens through the teaching of an intolerant and hate-breeding form of suspicious and exclusive creedalism. These two forces, radicalism and intolerance, undermining the home—the stronghold of our liberties—give us grounds for grave concern.
It would seem that the foregoing considerations force us, however unwillingly and though believers in the saving powers of the home, to the conclusion that, in proportion as disrupting forces threaten the constructive influences of the home, in like proportion the responsibilities resting upon our educational institutions are enormously increased. In other words, if the fundamental ideals of our American institutions in regard to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are still the ideals of the nation and are to be made to reign in the largest possible number of homes, the conclusion seems inevitable that America must concern itself, as never before, with who is teaching, the kind of teaching, and what is being taught in the schools and colleges of our land.
What then have American education, American educational institutions both public and private, and the American public to learn from all of this? Does the application of the simple principles of spiritual relativity to the problems of education—the employment of perspective vision, the getting of our eyes and minds back from a too shortsighted envisagement of matters educational—indicate any needed reforms? We believe it does.
We believe that it will show that education, however prolonged or efficient, will not of itself give vision and understanding unless spiritualized and made a vital force: that in all too many of our institutions (even in some of our universities) instructors who are mere inexperienced youths, in some instances mere boys and girls, are expected to give vision and inspiration, or, more accurately stated, these things are not expected of them at all: that we shall have to face the issue more squarely than in the past and determine whether we shall be willing, in the interest of thoroughness and sound judgment, to demand that in our lower schools a few fundamental subjects be taught efficiently and well upon which to build the superstructure, or whether we prefer to continue training in our lower schools a superficial citizenry that has not been taught even the most elementary subject thoroughly and who as individuals will therefore probably never know what it means to perform a duty well: that in the grammar grades (beyond which the majority of our citizens never progress) in order to combat a false individualism, we should, while encouraging the right kind of independence, instruct the young less in the ideals of selfish, personal "liberty" and in exaggerated notions of individual independence, and more in those of service and of mutual cooperation for the common good: that the youth of America should be taught from the lowest grades that the vast resources of our country, natural and financial, are a sacred inheritance entrusted to their care, to be administered and applied by them to the betterment and uplift of their fellow citizens, and, in the veritable spirit of American idealism, of all humanity as well: that they should be taught that a respect for law and the ready willingness to support the constituted authorities in word and in deed are the supreme tests of true American citizenship: that a spirit of tolerance and a respect for the "other fellow's" religion should be inculcated by every possible means as a recognized cornerstone of democratic idealism: and that, finally, these things should not be incidentally treated but made a most important part of the school curriculum and taught by mature, consecrated teachers fully aware of their responsibilities toward the nation as a whole.
In regard to higher education we believe that perspective vision teaches: that a diploma from even an institution of first rank, as in the case of the two Chicago youths who have shocked the country, is today no guarantee either of sound judgment or of common sense: that scholarship, mere learning, not character or vision, seems the sole aim of much that calls itself higher education: that too many persons are being graduated from our halls of academic learning who are by training and temperament unfitted to assume the responsibilities of leadership: that through the workings of an almost unrestricted or unwisely planned "elective" system in choice of studies it is quite possible for students to pass through even our better-known institutions without having studied any of the important subjects calculated to endow the student with those faculties of judgment and of perspective vision which have been recognized as the criteria of the college trained man: that while admiring the achievements of the natural and applied sciences none the less, we must appreciate more the saving force of the modern humanities—history, philosophy and religion, history of the fine arts, ethics, sociology, the message of great literature— taught by mature, inspiring instructors as the reflection of great ages and great ideals of human progress: that an attempt must be made to counteract in our colleges the disintegrating effects of a departmental conception of knowledge —the teaching of a subject without any reference to its relation to other subjects or to the common problems of humanity, fostering thereby an exclusive, narrow and even false outlook upon life and its most important problems— and to nurture in the young manhood and womanhood of America, possibly by a well taught Junior or Senior course in the History of Civilization, the more modern and humanitarian ideal of the fundamental unity of all knowledge and of the indissoluble one-ness of humanity: that, however modernistic we may individually be, we must nevertheless come to a complete realization that university departments which in the undergraduate courses either thoughtlessly or wilfully reflect a cynical or skeptical envisagement of life or of spiritual things, while being unable to supply to youthful minds a steadying or inspiring equivalent, are contributing destructive, not constructive, materials to the edifice of our national character and of our national life: and that finally our college executives and trustees, college alumni, and our intelligent public, must realize, as perhaps never before, the vital importance of great teachers of strong personality (less easily found than highly trained investigators), who possess that rare fire of the spirit which can kindle in our youth the small but ever-growing flame of understanding and enthusiasm for the good, the beautiful and the true, without which the results of the greatest discoveries of productive scholarship in the sciences, and the highest intellectual attainments, would be meaningless so far as the highest advancement and the enduring welfare of mankind is concerned.
Temerarious indeed appeared he who twenty years ago, distinguishing very properly between the functions of graduate and of undergraduate courses, ventured to protest against undue prominence being given in the academic courses to the natural sciences at the expense of the important "humanities"—he who foresaw the sure results, already being realized today in the circumscribed vision of so many of our students, of exalting the constantly varying "truths" of science and of minimizing, or even ignoring, as it is possible for our students to do, the unvarying truths in the domain of history, literature, morality and aesthetics. But since that day (as a result in no small measure of vociferous protest on the part of college alumni) we are beginning to see that it is no more true that the colleges and the academic departments of our universities exist principally to train productive scholars and to advance scientific knowledge, than to say that the high-schools exist chiefly to train pupils for college. The sooner those of us living in the rarified atmosphere of research and "pure university" idealism realize that, however high in the clouds our minds may aspire, our feet are, and ever will be, deep sunk in the prosaic clay of Mother Earth and of life's realities, the better it will be not only for the practical, but also for the ideal, interests of higher and highest education in America.
It has often been asserted that the need for the humanistic or liberal arts college is past; that institutions emphasizing the eternal verities have played their role, however excellent, in American life. Barely a decade ago many good and thoughtful persons felt compelled to admit the probable truth of the assertion. Our universities, state and endowed, with their wealth of equipment in the natural sciences and engineering branches, seemed to overshadow completely the humanistic colleges. Individual and national salvation appeared to depend upon the highest possible efficiency in the natural and technical sciences. And yet, as we begin to raise our eyes today from our individual preoccupations, we are commencing to wonder whether, after all, the woes of our present world, the results of that crushing car of Juggernaut that has rolled mercilessly over our modern political, economic and spiritual life, are so much due to a need for more efficiency on the scientific and industrial side of modern education, or more nearly to a superabundance of it—to an over-appreciation of power, size, speed or the new, and to an under-appreciation of justice, cooperation, morality or the true. This assertion is by no means dictated either by a want of appreciation for, or with a desire to belittle or oppose, scientific and technical education as such (with which I am wholly in sympathy); but merely in protest against what appears in certain quarters to be a tendency toward a scientific or technical imperialism, or a misplaced and narrowing research enthusiasm in undergraduate courses, tending to disparage spiritual values or seeking to replace them by the natural and exact sciences or by a mercilessly efficient industrialism.
The afterbirth of the sufferings of the Great War, the turning inside out of the garment of our national character which, while revealing the finer quality of its material, yet has also disclosed the loose stitches and dropped threads of its seamier side, has caused a healthful shifting back to some of the safer and finer ideals of our past. For we have been taught (witness Germany) that the elevation of the highest scientific, technical and industrial efficiency to unrivalled first place in the national mind will, as it always has, bring national disaster even to a nation of idealists; just as we have been taught (witness Russia) that the dethronement of all respect for religion and the enthronement of the Goddess of Reason as sole arbiter of national destiny will bring, as it always has, not alone moral, but national, chaos. It is becoming increasingly evident that an over-eager and wholesale displacement of inspiring, humanized and spiritualized scholarship by coldly calculative, investigative efficiency in our undergraduate courses will never stimulate in the future, any more than it has in the past, those intangible, but vitally productive, spiritual forces in man upon which, in last analysis, humanity must depend both for highest inspiration and for ultimate regeneration.
The foregoing considerations, based not upon theory but upon the regrettable, self-evident, practical consequences of our educational policies of the recent past as reflected in the life about us, would suggest the concluding thought, that those in the university world who have foreseen the ultimate consequences of the tendencies of higher education during the past two decades in America and that portion of the public which appreciates, as perhaps never before, the eternal value of spiritual things, are anticipating a renascence of more liberal ideals in national instruction. This will mean the final recognition on the part of higher education of its solemn and unavoidable obligation to the nation to prepare, first of all, future citizens for life and then, only after this primal duty has been fulfilled, to dedicate its remaining efforts and resources to the preparation of specialists and to scientific research.
The interchanging of the relative importance of the two widely distinct functions of higher instruction—"education" in its broader sense in the undergraduate departments and "specialization" in graduate courses—cannot but have deplorable consequences in the intellectual life of a democracy. When this fact becomes more widely recognized, when all friends of education apply the simple principles of spiritual relativity to an honest analysis of the situation and lend the emphasis of their approval to needed reforms, higher education will become not less alive to the consideration it duly owes to the needs of research scholarship, but more completely aware of its graver and more urgent responsibilities to the larger body of undergraduates and to the wider intellectual and spiritual welfare of the nation.