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The following tape recorded program is distributed through the facilities of the National Association of educational broadcasters. Oral essays on education a dynamic radio series designed to present leading personalities of our society as they attempt to discover the scope of problems which confront modern education. This week Dr. James and Tara of Michigan State University College of Education will interview Dr. Henry steel comment you're a professor of history at AM Hearst in this interview Dr. commenter describes the growing X alteration of what he calls the public enterprise. And now here is Dr. Tara. You know and when we talk about better colleges and universities in this country and our society expects us to train scholars being people in high schools and colleges and universities the higher education atmosphere in society expects us to train scholars. And you're pointing out you don't train
scholars scholars do a good deal of this themselves they develop themselves. Society also expects us to develop technicians to develop people who can operate in societies context and thus we arrive at vast numbers of students who does the actual supporting of this training. Is this is a responsibility of society is it at the local level in our country is it at the state level is it at the national level or is it at all levels. In the long run the support to all forms of higher education will be increasingly a public responsibility. Already the major part of education is public in one form or another. More students go to state or municipal colleges and universities and they do it to private and I have no doubt whatsoever that that proportion will increase as it is even now increasing rapidly. I look upon this development with the and with that women. And I think in the long run the public public support and education
will do quite as well as private support of education as far as the production of scholars scientists technicians and others as concerned. What. What impresses me very much is that in almost all old world countries that are have our traditions and the overwhelming part of support to higher education comes from the state. All higher education in Scandinavia in Switzerland in Holland comes from the states almost all higher education in Britain and that includes Scotland and Northern Ireland as well comes from the state. Well these countries have learned and what we have yet to learn. Is to dive orse financial support to higher education from either educational control or administrative control and European governments either municipal or national do not
in fact interfere in any respect with the academic content of education with the academic direction of higher education. Nor do they generally interfere in any improper way. Not much in proper ways with the administrative control. I'm persuaded that we must learn to give our government controlled institutions government supported institutions the same degree of educational freedom and of administrative freedom that private institutions now enjoy. I see no reason why that can't be done. If the English can learn it we can learn it if the Danes and the Swedes can learn this lesson we can learn this lesson. It means if it means improved and profit it means that it attracts first rate people to universities and able to function efficiently. It is something that I think the American people will support once they understand what is involved in the issue of
relative independence for their state supported institutions. Let's discuss this relative independence for a moment because I think this is a crux of probably one of our greatest problems in education in this country. If you notice the tendency to apply business commercial or industrial or government operations standards to education. Have you noticed that we apply the bookkeeping know Hala that we've developed through years of experience this way do you notice that we attempt to put this upon educational. Oh yes administrator is inevitable that a business society should apply the standard to all education not only to public education or publicly control but even to private. And nothing is more interesting than to notice the growth of administration in private institutions Parkinson's Law works as inevitably in private as it doesn't public institutions the administrative tail tends to wag the academic dog at private as well as at public institutions.
What it is very difficult for Americans to learn committed as they are to the philosophy of the IBM machine as it went was very difficult to learn is that in the realm of scholarship of Science of Learning of art of philosophy of all of these things you have to have some degree of not only of less a fair you almost have to have some degree of Anneke some degree of chaos some looseness at the joints. You simply can't impose these rigid administrative standards of one kind or another on first rate scientific minds first rate first rate artistic firstrate philosophical minds. A great thing to learn in every good college and university learns it is that when you get first treat people you really have to leave them alone. You can't badgered them all the time you can't waste their time filling out forms. You can't require them to waste too much of their time and energy at on committees
or at meetings. These things are important and have to be done. But as soon as you invade the realm of science or scholarship or of learning in general with these matters you know you are being very wasteful. And the thing to do is to realize that the price. One pays for a bit of administrative chaos is not too high a price if you get first rate scientific attract first rate scientific brains and keep them a first rate artistic brains and keep them. I think that lesson can be learned it's not too difficult a lesson has been learned at Oxford and Cambridge is learned at Upsala and I don't bagus learned at Paris from Bologna it can be learned and it's learned at Harvard in Chicago and can doubtless be learned at Michigan and California as well. There seems also an easily identifiable tendency to apply the same kinds of machine based standards for the selection of students. Somehow we seem
to have gotten into the drift of saying already moving in the direction of saying we can apply the standardized IBM processes that you were referring to here for our selection of students capable students in certain areas capable in other areas and seem to apply a tendency to say all right you need to do this and we need to encourage you to do this well you another you do something else. Do you find this tendency disturbing at all I do and I believe you do too. It's disturbing I can see how it's grown up in but it's perhaps inevitable at a certain level. Again we have to always remember that we're trying something no other country ever tried. We're trying experiments in mass education and Oxford and Cambridge colleges can interview every student. But American state universities can't interview every student and if you have a million or a million they have students applying for admission to colleges you probably have to fall back on some kind of
mechanical devices at least in a preliminary fashion. All mechanical devices when applied to human bein's are not only fallible they're pernicious. And if we keep this in mind we will I think work out as auxiliary devices and methods to deal with the problem of admission and not only of admission but of direction in counseling once a student gets into the college and the university the experience of many institutions that have studied the problem of admission and of subsequent careers of students admitted goes far I think to cast grave doubts on the validity of most of the purely mechanical methods for detecting talent at an early age or for developing aptitude. And I think all of us deeply distrust the over reliance on these mechanical devices. That we here at
Amherst for example and many other colleges as well rely not only on mechanical indices but on such things as written essays which indicate something of ability to handle English and something of ability to think in various other various other abilities as well. Ideally I think we must try to interview students or have counseling activities in the high schools which can which are so skillful that they can be reliable and be accepted by the universities in the colleges of the country. I see no reason why that should not be developed at the high school level. Let's turn our attention then for a few minutes here to away from the students slightly and toward the teachers now realize you can never separate student and teaching function because they are one in the same really. But if we can let's talk about the teachers with there's several million students who made the comment earlier that we need several hundreds
thousands whatever it may be the ratio we don't yet know of capable qualified scholars to perform the teaching function. No these are not scholars in general these are scholars specifically in teaching. How are we going to get this sufficient number what in our society prevents us from having a supply of teachers coming right along with the supply of students. Well I want to give a sort of a two part reply to that first. We aren't going to find sufficient number of first rate scholars therefore as I said earlier we must find some substitute. The colleges and universities can do some things I'm quite convinced to cut down on the number of scholars they will are going to need and colleges all suffer from. Our universities suffer from too great illusions the illusion that everything can be taught instead of learned and the illusion that it's a responsibility of every school to teach everything. So that any any university in America that has any
idea of itself as a first rate institution believes it has to teach and preach austerity in Chaucerian Elizabeth and restoration 18th century the Tory and twentieth century and perhaps a special called chorus and in Joyce and Yeats as well. And you know any European university tries to do these things and there is one professor of history at many European universities. There were two or three professors of literature. We teach too much and we teach too many subjects we cover too much ground we forget libraries are they are one thing we've got to do is cut down on the coverage and other thing we've have to do is develop far more rapidly than we are now doing. We now pay lip service only the kind of an inter university and into a college co-operation so that if one institution in a state does classical archaeology all of its rivals don't think they too have to teach can develop classical archaeology there aren't enough to go around. There are enough Sanskrit scholars or enough archaeologists to go around and there's
got to be a concession here. One institution to another just as there is in library field but having said that these are comparatively minor improvements that can be made. We'll have to realize there aren't enough classicist and we will have to do something about it. About conceding the teaching of classics to those institutions that have adequate libraries out of facilities. But aside from that how are we going to get people into first rate people into teaching at the college and university level. Now that is a very very complex problem it's not. Certainly it's not just a problem of money. You aren't going to in the long run the universities can't compete with private industry anyway. In the long run. The law schools can't compete with the high power law firms and the physics department can't compete with the great and the great engineering firms and so
forth and so forth. No teacher in a medical school is going to earn as much as a first rate search and we've got to offer something besides money that we must offer enough money to have a pleasanter standard of life. What you've got to offer first is first rate teaching exciting students. We've got to offer. Second we've got to offer the life. So I say the life of scholarship and I have been that even in the realm of science even the realm of engineering and all of these things. A life which has rewards other than those that come just from professional activity. If your rewards are only professional ones you might as well go out and be an engineer and go out and be a librarian and go on be whatever you want to be why do each. There has to be some opportunity to deal with students more than amass spaces. There has to be later. Former intern faculty communication that has to be other places of life pleasures of the mind pleasures of the Spirit. Above all we have to learn to
leave our teachers alone in the high school in the college in the university to give them more leisure which they can be trusted to use if they are scholars for scholarly purposes. Just as there is no great need to check in great detail the expenditures of departments engineering nobody's going to cheat at an engineering school. Nobody is corrupt so there's no great need to check up on the leisure time activities of scholars. The kind of scholars we have aren't going to use our leisure time activities playing poker and they're going to use a what we call a share of learning things and we've got to create facilities where they can have good library facilities we have to have time to give them time to study time to read time to think time to travel and enough money to do these things. This means that the vast number of colleges throughout the country have got to reduce the number of hours of teaching. The 12 15 hour schedule is absurd when you think of the two or three or four hours teaching that scholars in European universities engage him.
We've got to cut down the administrative overhead one of the oddities of American education is that the faster administration grows the more the faculty are involved in administration instead of the deans office taking over and doing the administration. The faculty serve on more and more committees of Parkinson's Law once again open. And he gets exemplified and less demands of a extraneous character on the faculty lest he mans for actual teaching on the faculty more leisure time more status more prestige more of the life. That is held up to then when they're in graduate school is the ideal of the scholar the life of leisure the life of contemplation the life of reading the life of intellectual intercourse with their peers all these things. I want to attract able young people into scholarship instead of into business life. If they get into the world of scholarship and find that they haven't got it that they're in a treadmill of 15 hours of teaching and another 15 hours of committee work and endless
reading of paper and endless holding of hands as it were with students intellectual hand-holding they will soon develop either an indifference to the world of scholarship or they will leave the world of scholarship. If we're going to attract first rate minds we have to make conditions such as well keep them it's as simple as that. And that means we have to leave them alone. And may I say we have to start leaving them alone. The high school level. If we're going to get good students in colleges we have to have well-trained students in high schools and we're going to get well-trained students in high school you have to have good high school teaching. If we're going to have good high school teaching we have to leave high school teachers alone and let them teach and not spend all their waking hours doing paperwork going to committee work listening to and ministry of talk going to summer school to get more credits and how to teach required to do a dozen community activities for many of them life isn't worth living and they end up taking a job in a business firm of one kind
or another where their leisure time is at least their own. As you're pointing out there isn't an attraction on the part of business or industry here for people whose devotion or whose set is toward personal security and a desire to perform in the kind of function you've been describing that a scholar or a teacher should perform in. Doesn't this devote or call upon presume a certain devotion to public service on the part of the would be teacher or a would be scholar in these development stages. It requires calls it presumes not only the devotion to public service on the part of the individual there's a great deal of that what it really assumes is a should I say change climate of opinion the country as a whole. That is the diminution of the emphasis on private enterprise and
the exaltation shall I say of public enterprise. For all of us at every stage are in a way creatures of our society. None of us can be very different from society as a whole. But above all the young breathe the climate of opinion they say they grow up in that they learn from childhood up. They learn from the headlines in the newspapers they learn from the popular magazines from television and radio from the talk around the table. They learn the things they're expected to admire and expected to be in the United States they learn that they are expected to to make contributions to private enterprise rather than to public. The great rewards go to the businessman the entrepreneurs the organizers the administrators rather than to the scholars the artist the philosopher is. If you look at the honorary degrees granted by universities and Commencement time if you look at the boards of
trustees of Museums are not drawn from painters but from business man boards of directors of symphonies are not drawn from musicians from businessmen the boards of trustees of hospitals not from doctors but from businessmen up and down the line. I make no criticism. The trustee in America is a dedicated soul and we're very fortunate in the dedication and the generosity of so many of our businessman to these public institutions. But just as in let us say Renaissance Florence or Renaissance Verona in Padua in Milan the thing to be was an artist. And the whole atmosphere was filled with the excitement of art and architecture with painting and sculpture. The life of the artist the church and the stayed by to patronise and so every child grew up wanting to be an artist just as in 18th century Salzburg and in Vienna. The thing to be was a musician a singer a piano player a violin
player and every child grew up admiring those who were dedicated their lives to music. Just as an 18th century Virginia or Massachusetts Bay the thing to be was a public servant. And just as these communities produced in a single generation a man whose fame will last I suppose as long as recorded history lasts is a Virginia of three hundred thousand white people produced in one generation Washington and Jefferson and Madison and John Marshall and Jerry George Mason and George with and a dozen other men whose life has not been seen since. That's a population the size of Syracuse or the size of Dayton Ohio in a single generation. And I think to be every child knew that the greatest thing to do was to it was to serve society to serve the public. To be a political political philosopher and to be a statesman the whole atmosphere was filled with talk of this. So in our own
day the thing to be is to be a successful businessman to be an entrepreneur or to be president of a corporation to get in on all that really requisites the fringe benefits and the tax exemptions and the that the advantages that come from that position. Do you part of the power elite. Now we've got a change that we're in process of changing it for the kind of society we're going to be. We're entering into an era when there will be a I think a diminishing area of activity for a private enterprise and a growing area of activity for public enterprise when with the growing population an and B growing growth of automation and the growth of American responsibilities all over the world to India to Africa eventually I'm sure to China and so forth. We will be called upon more and more to supply people competent in what I call the realm of public enterprise. More and more our society with its automation is going to demand experts or
talented leadership in fields of public service in the preservation of the natural resources of the country and the development of public health and the development of mental care and psychiatric care in dealing with the young too. To diminish children to delinquency in undertaken the great task of education which is going to be a great task at the elementary and high school level as well as at the university level in all of these realms. The demands for people who can serve such things as scholarship and science and public health is going to grow and the need for for the. Let's say the Craftsman the working man the farmer even the businessman is not going to grow with equal rapidity. It is therefore of utmost importance that we do encourage the growth of what might be called a psychology of public enterprise. Now how that has to be done is a complicated business. It's not
going to be done by admonition. All those who cry Lord Lord shall light into the kingdom of heaven. It's not going to be done by in any formal fashion I think it has to start very early indeed. It has to start in the home it has to start in the publishing offices of the great newspapers the great magazines it has to start in the television and radio broadcasting stations. Most of the attitudes toward what is worthwhile in life are in call created very early. Just how early I suppose none of us know. But to get a youngster at the age of twenty two and put him into that a say a school for diplomacy or a school for public service is all very well but unless you start at the age of five or six or seven or eight you're not going to find very many at 22 who want to do that they all want to be doctors and engineers and stem. There's nothing wrong with being doctors and engineers but we need people who are willing to be doctors and engineers and Pakistan are in the Public Health Service as well as in private. What is it called for here I think is not something new but
something very old in even in American society is a restoration of the kind of dedication to the public service that was a common place in the age of the revolution in the early era of our nationalism. It was a commonplace to a Benjamin Franklin to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and Albert Gallatin and a hundred others who thought that service to the Commonwealth was the highest highest duty that a man of the greatest possible reports ability of ma'am and who spent their lives in the public service of one kind or another. And as I said earlier about education just as a line between public and private education is to a large degree an artificial line. So the line between public and private services to a large degree an artificial line and public service doesn't mean that you can't go on in private service after all private engineers private doctors can serve the public just as well as those who are on the public payroll. And so to those who are on the public payroll. As I said about he must be allowed a private life. What we need to do is
learn or erase many of the artificial boundaries we've conjured up over the years as if there were some sharp distinction between public and private enterprise or a sharp distinction between public and private education. What we've got to do more than that however is to restore the sense of excitement and enthusiasm. Four of the great areas of public service that existed just recently and I don't want to sound partisan here that existed as recently as the early days of the New Deal to make the development of the TVA as exciting a thing for example as a building of the Acropolis was in the Athens of apparently. To make these great public enterprises of saving and restoring natural resources or saving restoring public health as glamorous as a great enterprises of industry or of finance are in the eyes of radio and television and mass
circulation magazines and newspapers are at the present time. I repeat no formula can be provided for this. It is a matter of of changing the climate of opinion of society. But this I think must be repeated and I can't be too emphatic about it. That nothing will be achieved by preaching at the young the young are much clever than adults sometimes think they are and it does no good whatsoever to say to Johnny or to Susie that the life of the mind is the great thing our public service is a great thing. If the headlines of every newspaper tell the re feature then the result of yesterday's basketball game. If all the prestige goes to the successful football player. If all the prestige and the rewards go to the private banker was carried through a particularly good financial coup or to the great industrial entrepreneur. We've got to mean the public.
Oral essays on education
Dr. Henry Steele Commager
Producing Organization
Michigan State University
WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Dr. Henry Steele Commager, professor of history, Amherst College, on "The Public Enterprise."
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The thoughts of distinguished Americans in a survey of American eduction.
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Interviewee: Commager, Henry Steele, 1902-1998
Interviewer: Tintera, James
Producing Organization: Michigan State University
Producing Organization: WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 61-3-12 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:20
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Chicago: “Oral essays on education; Dr. Henry Steele Commager,” 1961-02-27, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 6, 2023,
MLA: “Oral essays on education; Dr. Henry Steele Commager.” 1961-02-27. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 6, 2023. <>.
APA: Oral essays on education; Dr. Henry Steele Commager. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from