the world challenges the educator

wilgey gray speech acrjr

The Duke Alumni Register, June, 1935, reported in the article Eighty-third Commencement. 652 Degrees are Conferred that "Alphonzo C. Reynolds, of Asheville, Wiley Grey medal winner, was the speaker representing the Senior Class."

The Register also printed the address, noting, "This is the oration that won the Wiley Gray medal at Duke during the academic year 1934-35. It was to have been delivered by the winner, Alphonzo C. Reynolds, of Asheville, N. C., at the graduating exercises in the University stadium on Monday, June 3, but rain prevented the carrying out of the full program on that occasion.

"WHEN GREAT political, social, and economic problems have presented themselves during the past century, education has been offered as the solution to these problems. Many of our leading statesmen and educators have clung firmly to the belief that, once education should become universal, the flagrant inconsistencies and. contradictions in our social structure would vanish. This thesis has been more or less accepted in countries like the United States, where democracy has been our ideal. Although a large part of the national income is already being spent for education, we hear on every side the plea for larger school appropriations. And even though we feel deep down in our hearts that this plea is just, at the same time we are beginning to question the worthwhileness of our present systems of education.

These questions arise: "What is the purpose of education? If this is answered in the terms of social development and progress, we then ask: Is our present system of education attaining that purpose? It would seem that it has not.. For when we look round us today, we find that the problems of society are greater and more complicated than ever before in the history of the world. Before we can recover from one mighty and. horrible World War, we are fearful lest we be drawn into a mightier and more horrible Second World War. The whole world is in the grip of a depression that is unprecedented in its intensity and extent. Governments are being overthrown; panic-stricken people are turning from the cherished ideal of democracy to follow blindly the even more blind, political demagogues of the hour.

There are plenty of men who think that, like Moses, they can show us the promised land, but there are no Joshuas to lead us into that land. Are we to conclude then that education has failed?

No, most certainly not-not in the terms of scientific, intellectual, and material progress and discovery, but education has failed to integrate this progress in order to make a social world, for us human beings to live in, incurable social animals that we are. We cannot fail to see the hand of education in the great era of progress of the past several decades. Here in North Carolina we know the value of education. We felt the close alliance of education to progress when Charles B. Aycock, our educational governor, went from the mountains to the sea, preaching a doctrine of education which changed North Carolina from a "Rip Van Winkle'' state to one of the. most progressive commonwealths of the Union. Other states have witnessed the same change. They have seen education and progress march ahead hand-in-hand.

However, the questions which I have previously raised still remain. And herein lies the challenge of the world to the educator. People are beginning to question the validity of the time-worn methods and technique of our schools. Education will not be deserted, but some of the out-of-date principles of education which retard educational responsiveness to social change must be eliminated. In the colleges and universities today we have evidences of the growing doubt in the mind of the college youth as to the rightness of his college as well as the rightness of some of the principles upon which our social structure rests. The challenge that the world makes to the educator today is that he must solve certain problems within education itself before he can hope to offer education to the world as a solution to its problems.

Let us consider briefly some of the general problems of education today. First, education has failed, in the correlation of the progress in other fields to that of education. It lacks responsiveness. It has clung too long to obsolete methods, technique, and curricula on one hand, while on the other hand it has failed to respond effectively to the ever-changing needs of society. It has failed to make full use of the wealth of information gathered by the scientist, the sociologist, the psychologist, and the scientific educator. What have military leaders been doing in this time? They have employed every newly discovered effective device from every field of human endeavor to make more effective armies and army equipment. They know all too well the value of human psychology in obtaining the desired reaction from the layman. Through the movies, the newspaper, the radio, and by other means they disseminate military preparedness propaganda which will, when the time comes, cause these laymen to rally round them. They will not be afraid to have others fight and die for them. Never do they hesitate one instant to scrap methods of today for more comprehensive annihilation of tomorrow. To use the words of one contemporary writer: "Ironically, it is the war lord, not the educator, who has employed most skillfully the fruits of his learning. The cobbler has given his shoes to his master and has plodded on his own way barefoot."

The second and most far-reaching problem of education is that of meeting its social obligation. We know that social change is both inevitable and desirable. As has been brought out before, education must integrate that change. We need education not only for social leadership, but we need education as well for social fellowship. We must realize that life can be made an intelligent process for all only when education becomes an intelligent process of aiding young manhood and womanhood in their discovery of their social, economic, political, and religious world. We know today that democracy is not a reality but an ideal. But if we are to preserve this ideal for posterity, we must educate for a democracy. There must be a democracy in education itself to supersede the inequalities of educational opportunities that now prevail. All children must have, as nearly as possible, equal opportunity for the development of their talents. By this I do not mean that the child of the wide open spaces of the West shall have the same education as the child of the heart of New York. But what I do mean is that the educational needs of these two children must be met with the same degree of efficiency.

Finally, there must be an integration of school experiences with life experiences. Education must be life itself. We can learn to live only by living. But an education which is life itself must be a telic education. It must be a planned education. And if we cannot plan our program of action today, what hope is there for our dreams of tomorrow? Approximately four million young men and women between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five are out of school, unmarried, and unemployed today. They are faced with the dilemma of leaving home or remaining at home idle; of marrying without even a job in sight or of continuing in school. These young men and women are challenging education to show them the light. And thus the whole world is making the challenge. But in so doing it must pledge its utmost support to the tireless energy of our educators. It is only through co-operation between the layman, and the educational leader that we can build an education that will be a definite antitoxin to the social virus inherent in the social heredity of our uncontrolled social background.

Clear principles and sound policies in education are our only hope for the success of democracy; yea, even the permanence of civilization-civilization which must pledge its faith in the scholarship and the vision of the educator of today who holds in his hand the future of tomorrow.