Between Citizens and the State: The Politics of American Higher Education in the 20th Century

By Christopher P. Loss | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Educating Citizen-Soldiers in World War II

The New Deal brought the state and higher education into close contact during the 1930s, but it took World War II to make the partnership stick. The education soldiers received during and after the war altered their lives and the life of the nation. Fear of the psychological maladjustment of G.I.s in the field led top military leaders to approve the use of psychological screening mechanisms that seemed to indicate educated soldiers were superior soldiers. That conclusion brought education to the forefront of state policymaking and set the stage for the creation of a vast state-academic partnership that culminated in the 1944 G.I. Bill of Rights.

No development was more vital in forging a lasting partnership between citizens and the state than the passage of the G.I. Bill of Rights. Despite a recent surge of interest in the legislation, scholars have not adequately explained why education became the centerpiece of the G.I. Bill.1 This chapter does that. First, I situate the legislation in the context of a rapid shift in the state’s commitment to educating citizens, providing a rejoinder to those scholars who have branded the G.I. Bill an exceptional piece of federal social policy. While this landmark legislation was exceptional in many ways, it looks less so when placed within the stream of wartime education initiatives that preceded the G.I. Bill. Second, I link fears of psychological maladjustment among soldiers to the state’s unprecedented interest in education. Most scholars connect the G.I. Bill’s education provision to the state’s effort to rebuild the education economy and protect the macroeconomy by using universities as a floodgate to manage the flow of veterans into the postwar labor force. But the role of psychology in the state’s attention to higher education has not been explored. This chapter places the quest for adjustment front and center. Third, I connect the state’s interest in education to the exigencies of military service: for citizens to fulfill their military obligations, the state had to fulfill its educational obligations. Finally, I provide a perspective beyond that of policymaking elites by examining how the voluntary enrollment of millions of ordinary soldiers in educational programs during the war, and in colleges after it, accelerated higher education’s transformation into

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