March 31, 2012
Contempt for Excellence

Bertrand Russell in Education and the Good Life, 1926:

In so far as the schools can rely upon the genuine merits of America, there is no need to associate the teaching of American patriotism with the inculcation of false standards. But where the Old World is superior to the New, it becomes necessary to instill a contempt for genuine excellence. The intellectual level in Western Europe and the artistic level in Eastern Europe are, on the whole, higher than in America. Throughout Western Europe, except in Spain and Portugal, there is less theological superstition than in America. In almost all European countries the individual is less subject to herd domination than in America: his inner freedom is greater even where his political freedom is less. In these respects, the American public schools do harm. The harm is essential to the teaching of an exclusive American patriotism. The harm, as with the Japanese and the Jesuits, comes from regarding the pupil as a means to an end, not as ends in themselves. The teacher should love his children better than his State or his Church; otherwise he is not an ideal teacher.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at March 31, 2012 03:52 PM
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I suspect he had a point, although what happened a few years later in Germany and Italy demonstrates that Mr. Russell, who I generally admire, was not aware of the state of resentment in those countries about the outcome of the Great War to end all wars. And of course there was Chamberlain. I don't know about Eastern Europe and the state of the artistic level. Stalin was either about to start or had already begun his purges of a whole host of artists such as journalists, poets, artists of the canvas and the like. All those things happened because of nationalism so the point is well taken, although Russell chose a poor example looking at it in hindsight.

Posted by: Buck on April 1, 2012 9:28 PM
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