Gateway to ideas; 8; Should We Be Educating For Excellence
Gateway to ideas. Me a. Gateway to ideas. A new series of conversations in which ideas are discussed in relation to reading. Today's program. Should we be educating for excellence is moderated by the Julia Peterson noted author and critic. Our guest today Dr. Abraham Tannenbaum associate dean of the Graduate School of Education of University and Dr. Harold Whiteman assistant to the president of New York University. The question of excellence is rather a difficult one there's always a tug of war between equality and excellence and sometimes they seem to be mutually exclusive. Are you willing Dr. Whiteman to undertake a definition
of what we mean by excellence for MySpace and I'll be glad to try. It's a very complicated word and has been of course given many meanings my own particular definition of axons is fairly simple. When I use this word I mean the full development the utmost development of all the capabilities and potentialities of the given individual or the given subject whatever that may be. In the case of a human being we're talking about intellectual excellence I'm talking about the for the development of the potentiality of the human mind for the development of that mind to understand to communicate. To analyze and above all to be able to synthesize and to create. I don't relate my answer to any one of those parts exclusively but to the whole complex.
Well isn't that the object of all education. Yes it is except that when we speak of excellence we've got to think of it in terms of a time and place. We know today that excellence is very often associated and sometimes identified with intellectual development especially in certain areas of and especially in the scientific and technological areas because our culture demands it. In some of our earlier eras and perhaps in other countries and in other times excellence was identified with another kind or other kinds of performance. For example in ancient Rome of the excellent charioteer was celebrated we don't have that kind of excellence today because our culture doesn't demand it. It's quite probable that in some of our primitive cultures even today excellence in other kinds of activity human activity perhaps
worthwhile human activity are is prized and celebrated perhaps as much as our own. Intellectual the bow and arrow and spear you mean. Quite possibly so I ask a question and I am kind of socked. Why would you agree with me that in speaking of this word it was for a long time in our particular culture rather unpopular or unfashionable to use the word with respect to the ultimate evaluation of a human being or his intellectual ability. About four or five years ago it seems to me the word was brought back into vogue by such people as John God who wrote the book entitled excellence by the Rockefeller Panel Report also written by John God nobody in Boston here in Columbia and so on. We've been pursuing this word using this word
for the last four or five years Pelley friendly but I sense now unfortunately it seems to me that we're getting a reverse twist in this word is becoming unpopular again. Yes I think our society is kind of vacillated and has been somewhat ambivalent about the term excellence or perhaps even the concept of excellence. We have that because the concept of excellence excludes the concept of equality you know isn't it sometimes it's counter posed with the concept of equality. We find it sometimes rather difficult to live in a culture where we try to foster excellence on the one hand and try to convince ourselves that all men were not only created equal but have equality of opportunity. Quality of performance in many kinds of work. I think that we will continue to be ambivalent about it. There is a rather interesting little book by a British sociologist called The Rise of
meritocracy where he brings to some absurd extremes of the trend toward merit rating toward evaluating the human being and his performance and his status in society on the basis of his merit. Of course you do have a state whose idea of education don't we I mean people a great many people go to college in the United States today for status standing and actually you can't sell stockings at Macy's unless you have a college degree I understand. Very much so. Perhaps this is not necessarily associated with excellence that is. I don't think it is the kind of Strive it's a kind of credential that our young people are required to have today. The diploma and sometimes we don't even ask what the diploma signifies in terms of personal achievement. Isn't the doctor Whiteman an enormous difference in the academic
standards of schools and colleges throughout the country state by state and city by city isn't it almost impossible to speak of a standard of education in this country. Well perhaps this was what I had in mind really when I gave you my definition. The answer to your question is certainly yes. By all of the common standards that we are able to apply such as college board tests and the like we can see a considerable difference in the preparation of students and in the records at different schools and in different colleges. However. To go back to what I said I just define excellence as the utmost development of the potentiality of the capability whatever that is. Perhaps this is a slippery definition biased in this sense. Well can you educate everybody can. Can we give
everybody an opportunity to achieve their maximum potential of development. This is the role of education today as I see it. It's a tough one it's a difficult one but certainly I hope we can. And sometimes education assumes the role of equalizing the achievement or the accomplishments of children in its charge and those who feel that that excellence is brought out only through the individual self development through the reaching out toward one's ultimate potentialities resent the fact that some schools and some educators make special provisions for those who are capable perhaps of reaching beyond the norm or or the normal level of achievement in our schools and this has always been a source of conflict among educators.
Well of course if everyone achieved a standard of excellence there wouldn't be room at the top would they. What would happen to our economy if nobody had to be an elevator boy anymore for instance. I guess we would all be automated. That's my well. On the other hand in the affluent society I remember that Mr. Galbraith spoke of the new class of people with great leisure now on account of automation and the need for a superior education in order to give them something to do with their leisure. It's quite possible that many aren't capable of taking advantage of education to achieve real heights in intellectual development in technological skills and so forth. And we may find ourselves with a huge subsidy. We can't possibly contribute in an age that has moved ahead so far technologically.
To come back MySpace and your question addressed to me a moment ago let me say this that I doubt that you're going to get everyone at the top because after all a great amount of the research that we do universities today a great amount of the progress as we see it and as we measure it in this country today has a secondary quality of opening up more areas of the unknown things that we do for instance the building of our cities to take the obvious example the building about great cities creates a whole new range of problems the problem of urbanization. And so you have a self feeding cycle I think of increasingly complex and difficult problems so I don't think we're all going to get equal in that sense of time. I wonder how educators can get together on what an education consists in today.
Superior education because after all for a long time Matthew Arnold's idea of a broad base of classical education and then one subject outside of that learned in depth. Would give somebody as Stott as an educated person and today a broad base of classical education is totally insufficient for the modern world isn't it doctor time tonight. Yes I think so as a matter of fact one of the topics we rarely discussed in connection with the problems of excellence is that human knowledge has multiplied so greatly in the past two decades that what we teach in the schools today represents a much smaller fraction of the total world of knowledge within certain disciplines than what we taught say 40 or 50 years ago. And so children coming out of school today need to continue their education in some way or another. And there isn't really enough of a
base from which schools can build into the special areas that would be sufficient to keep up with today's world of knowledge. With so many specializations it's almost impossible to produce an educated person is not I think often of C.P. Snow's Two Cultures and the modern world and his remark which stuck in my throat like Khrushchev's rat when he said that that the person who doesn't know the Second Law of Thermodynamics is equivalent to the person who is not familiar with Hamlet. I find that really almost impossible to swallow and yet I suppose it really is true. I don't I don't agree with MySpace at all and if I could both argue just a little bit with Dr. Tannenbaum and also add to what he said in the first place. It is true that that has Ben as we all know this explosion of knowledge as it's called but it seems to me that a good deal
of this particularly in the multiplication of the disciplines the fragmentation of the disciplines is fairly artificial. We are trying to become two special specialty minded certainly at the undergraduate level I think this is true and we are seeing now we are witnessing now an attempt slowly but I think it's going to be come more and more pronounced to pull some of these many many disciplines back together. So that's my first slight issue that I would raise the second is this. Let's not confuse what we're talking about. By the actual quantitative concept of knowledge. Secondly yes no one human being today could accumulate all my asked. Anyway I NEED AIR. The proportion of knowledge that centuries ago a man could because knowledge
has grown. This is not education this is a mass stockpiling of knowledge intellectual excellence has a different concept. We can get at what we are trying to get at actual ance by new teaching tactics and methods where we're not trying to assimilate all that's gone on before we're trying to teach a method of thought. The method of a knot analysis a sensitivity to what's going on. All of these things. Like white head's definition which I thought was very beautiful. What education has to impart is an intimate sense for the beauty of ideas and for the structure of ideas together with a particular body of knowledge which has peculiar reference to the being possessing it. Would you subscribe to that. Yes I would and yet I wouldn't put as much stock as I would like to win the transferability of ideas. I've seen too many instances where
people have mastered their discipline and have not been able to apply the same kind of critical thinking to areas other than their own. People who are capable of reciting many concepts in human relations and in human development but don't see the application of these very same concepts in their own relationship with people. So we haven't yet licked the problem of how to teach the strategies of learning. We don't know enough about learning about learning. We haven't yet picked up for ourselves some of the skills necessary for people to become more self regenerate self-generating in the development of ideas. Dr. Todd about to revert to that man or that example you are using of the specialist who failed to communicate his ideas do you think this
was could you say whether this was the product of too early specialization or the product faulty educational system or how would you could you push that a little bit further that he interests me. I think it's partly that I also feel that. We may be making assumptions about the laws of learning that we are not yet able to make. We may assume for example that a man who has gone through a long course of study in sociology and knows something about jumping to quick generalisations about people's or about ethnicity. Will not necessarily be guarded against making these false assumptions himself in his own day to day relationships with people of this has been one of the serious lacks in our education the ability to build into our educational system of this kind of transfer
ability the ability to assume that if we teach children in the elementary grades to get along with one another in a small social setting this will be one step albeit a very short step toward of averting conflict between nations. I think I'd like to think so. Wasn't that the Dewey idea the idea of the freedom of the of the child to express himself the permissiveness. How much harm or good did the Dewey idea do to our educational system anyway. Well I think that people have jumped upon one aspect of doing the one that you've alluded to and have ignored other substantial contributions that one made by that movement associated with his name with regard to this one small part of his philosophy. And I'm not sure that he was really responsible for this. I would have to give a
negative answer but I'm not. I want to clearly understand that I don't want to condemn all that he did. But on this side the I think it was a very poor influence and one that we have changed now I think. It slowed down education a great deal. Do you subscribe to that Dr. Tannenbaum. No I don't subscribe to that I also don't think that do we would oversimplify his own theories to agreeing with it himself if he were alive today. Yeah I think so. The distortions of thought have come under more attack than Deweese thought. That's recorded in our books. I will say you know this but in relation to the question of excellence the problems of self-fulfillment of the child building a life for himself free of the pressures of
society are relatively free of the pressures and then trying to be free from the pressures of society. No not entirely and yet sometimes our educational system tries to build in a kind of freedom of choice that is perhaps not realistic and so we say to the child with the IQ of one hundred sixty five. It's all right for you to want to become a a mechanic and a gas station of this is what's going to satisfy you personally. And we are constantly under conflict as to whether this child owes society something or society owes something special to him because he has this unusual capacity we mostly tend to think that society owes something to us rather than what we owe something to society isn't that one of our major sins. At least I think it's a sin. Well you're opening up the political realm and I well I mean the violence on the streets for instance is attributed blamed on society the tendency is to take the blame off the
individual responsibility off the individual for his behavior and place it somewhere else almost anywhere. This is this I think is very true and it ties in I think very clearly with something you mentioned a moment ago MySpace namely that I mistaken notion of the educational process the understanding process is that once we get to know people and know about them all is going to be sweet and light in order and war will disappear and progress is inevitable. I don't think this is true at all and I think that an absolutely necessary part of the understanding of the concept of excellence is that we have to be ready to accept concepts that are not so pleasant. Aksel and it's implies success and failure. And now we don't like to admit failure we don't like to admit pain we don't like to
tell people the truth sometimes. And I think that we have no respect for a valid face. That's right. And we tried it to cover it up as it were by saying well he's going at his own pace our own pace something of this. And so I think that the concept of excellence in education has to be a tough one rugged one. Jock Barzani has pointed this out very clearly in the house of intellect yet he Sydney takes our system for a ride. Yes we sometimes take perhaps a a hard line toward excellence that's a bit too hard. We almost take a dispassionate view of the human being in relation to excellence and say that whatever isn't really personable personal whatever doesn't touch the heart. Might be included within the general domain of excellence but we hardly hear
very much about excellence in the realm of compassion excellence in the realm of responsibility excellence in the realm of kindness. Well you mean in other words that the characters underplayed in favor of the brain. I would like to include a little more than we have of the character in the general domain of excellence and I don't know that we in our schools have considered that as formally and as seriously as some other manifestations of one of the worst ways it seems to me to bring out that the character is the is the freedom of choice because there is no greater burden in the world on the adult than the freedom of choice and to place it on small children and give them that horrible responsibility seems to me to give them really designed at least give them suffering. Dr. Tannenbaum would you call these qualities that you were just mentioning and incidentally I agree fully with that great virtues I mean the most of the
virtues of compassion. Yes I would like to include those among the general characteristics that we want to develop in our youth. And there are individuals who may show excellence in these areas. Excellence in Leadership Excellence in self development within these areas which may be important to them and certainly to society at least as important as the development in the more shall we say dispassionate intellectual realms. I would like to ask one of you anyway about whether you think we are educating for and since obviously in the end it is an elite that becomes leaders are we educating for an elite or are we not. And if we are not should we Dr. White. Well I have come more complicated sort of view and this is a hypothesis originally suggested and sort of a political
analysis by my name Gabriel Allman who now teaches at Princeton. I think that we are educating toward sort of a threefold view of society. First I would agree that that I have been and always will be an intellectual elite next. And this is the large group the next grope and this is the one that we can concentrate a great deal of our attention on is what. I would call the attentive public the public that listens tries to make rational decisions and whatnot on the basis of what they have led for in the choice of a president for in the choice of a president. Well let's not go into that right. Still that's part of what I educate a lot of why
are you advocating for a bright reasonable free man and make a reasonable choice and then third the third group is the one that lets a way failed with because they are apathetic towards all of these issues. So I don't think it's a 3 to groping an elite an anomaly but it's a three group thing can these groups be determined by the IQ is that really a reliable standard of measurement. Dr. Tannenbaum. No it is not and I don't think that the developers of IQ tests have ever claimed it to be I think again the attacks upon testing especially mass testing have been attacks against straw men. Associated with testing but also we lean on the IQ tremendously now. Well sometimes we lean too heavily but I think those who administer the IQ test by and large understand its limitations and and its strengths and that has unusual strengths in predicting human performance in
certain specified areas of endeavor. I don't think however that the IQ test will lead us to identifying an elite early in life. I think there are too many restrictions in our society. For example I feel that there is a very strong anti-intellectual streak in our society manifested in a variety of ways including our belief in the common man including sometimes our belief that the outstanding person is something of a radical because we confuse radicalism with creativity and with with daring approaches to problems. I mean is it an anti intellectual ism in American life. Yes yes. And part of this anti-intellectual ism is not necessarily hostility. We sometimes feel that man's destiny is not controlled by his mind but by some factors that he has no real. Control over is emotions. Social conditions and these have a very popular place in our world of
ideas but shouldn't he have control is not the object of education ultimately isn't it. Socrates said intelligence and commitment systematically applied. Yes. I wouldn't argue with this but here we come back I think to the hard part of the real realistic part of the doctrine of excellence namely that every man every educated man must realize that there are certain limitations he's got to know his own. I'm afraid we're going to have to end on the sad note of limitations it seems that the conclusion is that a good deal more could be done about developing the Marvel character and the moral virtues in our education but I think both eminent gentlemen are completely devoted to the idea of education for excellence and I want to thank you both very much
Dr. Tannenbaum and Dr. Whiteman for being with us. Thank you for having us. You have been listening to gateway to ideas a new series of conversations in which ideas are discussed in relation to reading today's program. Should we be educating for excellence as presented. Dr. Abraham Tannenbaum associate dean of UCB University and Dr. Harold Whiteman assistant to the president of New York University. The moderator was by Julia Peterson noted author and critic to extend the dimensions of today's program for you a list of the books mentioned in the discussion as well as others relevant to the subject has been prepared. You may obtain a copy from your local library or by writing to gateway to ideas post office box 6 for 1 Grand Central Station New York. Please enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope. Write to book six for one Grand Central Station New York gateway to ideas
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