Between Two Wars: The Failure of Education, 1920-1940

Between Two Wars: The Failure of Education, 1920-1940

Between Two Wars: The Failure of Education, 1920-1940

Between Two Wars: The Failure of Education, 1920-1940


The faith we have placed in education has not been justified by the results. With greater awareness and understanding, we may yet make better use of our opportunities and avoid continuing waste of our resources .

There have, of course, been successes, individual and local, as well as some permanent advance. Nor has there been lacking praise and gloating by the many, evidence of individual or national egoism. Those courageous men and women of vision who have had the initiative to get out of the rut, and the drive to blaze new paths into the future, I have not hesitated to celebrate these thirty years in my writings.


But if we are to go on we should know what to avoid. It is through experience, learning by trial and error, by persistent experiment, that humanity has come on up from the ape. That's the way organic life has evolved from the slime. The rocks are full of fossils recording failure of the unadaptive all along the way.

But life has gone on and proved a success. So don't bridle at the word 'failure', but let it be a warning to observe, analyze, diagnose, and be ready to win come what may. Even if you use all your senses and brains and all the help that you can get from your fellows and from any other source, there will be plenty of failures on the road ahead.

Our ominous title is too pessimistic, Columbia's financial expert on education, Paul R. Mort writes me reprovingly. "I am curious to know why you are so certain that education is a failure. I think I can give almost anybody cards and spades pointing out its potentialities for being more effective, but somehow or other the great array of its specific shortcomings does not lead me to the conclusion that it is a failure." Mort is right as to 'potentialities'. I don't know of any event that is a complete failure, from which we cannot learn something. In reply I wrote:

"My theme is that 'Between Two Wars' education failed to satisfy the faith that had been placed in it. Our present system of education must assume some of the responsibility for our present wastes and wars. That's a bitter pill for us educators, but it may lead some of us to 'take thought'. Until it is shown that our educational practices are ineffective and even harmful, there will be no call for the new, no reason for change. So there is need for iconoclasm today. The tangle of our mental growth must be cleared. Criticism need not always be constructive. There is 'a time to break down, and a time to build up', as Ecclesiastes said. . . ."

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