As in every critical period, the American people are searching again for the answers to their persistent problems. When persons holding different points of view come into conflict concerning the solution of these problems, each person is likely to appeal to the past for support of his own position. Whenever people are discussing a proposed plan of action, one of their first tasks is to analyze the problem situation that confronts them. This means a study of history in a real sense, for any present situation is what it is as a result of the past. An adequate analysis of the present with a view to the future requires a study of the past. Indeed, any decision in the realm of social affairs depends in the last analysis upon an interpretation of history. This is as true in education as in other social, economic, political, and intellectual activities. Therefore, it behooves the American people to reexamine and reevaluate what our inherited ideas mean for education today.
The war and its aftermath make more urgent than ever the task of reassessing our educational institutions and traditions. War always accelerates social and educational change, and postwar periods usually see revolts against and disruptions of the old, inherited patterns. Therefore, it is the task of all educators to see that we do not simply seek the past with longing or clutch at every new fad. Now is the time to reevaluate our educational aims, curriculum, and organization with a view to judging what was good and what was bad in the past and what will be good in the years to come.
The historical study of society and of education assumes that we can solve our present-day problems more intelligently if we know something about the development of the major directing forces of our society and how they have created the unsolved problems in education which now confront us. The way we set out to solve our educational problems depends in large part upon our underlying assumptions. In each age, conflicts have arisen between those who wish to hold to traditional conceptions handed down from the past and those who wish to change more rapidly when they feel change is necessary. Traditionalists in any age are likely to insist that new problems can be solved by looking to the past for the permanent answers. Progressives in any age are likely to insist that new problems demand new answers in the light of changing social and intellectual conditions. Controversies arise when these opposing points of view come into conflict over proposed plans of action.