Education – The Scientific Outlook

Bertand Russell, 1930’s

EDUCATION has two purposes: on the one hand to form the mind, on the other hand to train the citizen. The Athenians concentrated on the former, the Spartans on the latter. The Spartans won, but the Athenians were remembered.

Education in a scientific society may, I think, be best conceived after the analogy of the education provided by the Jesuits. The Jesuits provided one sort of education for the boys who were to become ordinary men of the world, and another for those who were to become members of the Society of Jesus. In like manner, the scientific rulers will provide one kind of education for ordinary men and women, and another for those who are to become holders of scientific power. Ordinary men and women will be expected to be docile, industrious, punctual, thoughtless, and contented. Of these qualities probably contentment will be considered the most important. In order to produce it, all the researches of psycho-analysis, behaviourism, and biochemistry will be brought into play. Children will be educated from their earliest years in the manner which is found least likely to produce complexes.

Almost all will be normal, happy, healthy boys or girls. Their diet will not be left to the caprices of parents, but will be such as the best biochemists recommend. They will spend much time in the open air, and will be given no more book-learning than is absolutely necessary. Upon the temperament so formed, docility will be imposed by the methods of the drill-sergeant, or perhaps by the softer methods employed upon Boy Scouts. All the boys and girls will learn from an early age to be what is called “co-operative,” i.e. to do exactly what everybody is doing. Initiative will be discouraged in these children, and insubordination, without being punished, will be scientifically trained out of them.

Their education throughout will be in great part manual, and when their school years come to an end they will be taught a trade. In deciding what trade they are to adopt, experts will appraise their aptitudes. Formal lessons, in so far as they exist, will be conducted by means of the cinema or the radio, so that one teacher can give simultaneous lessons in all the classes throughout a whole country.

The giving of these lessons will, of course, be recognized as a highly skilled undertaking, reserved for the members of the governing class. All that will be required locally to replace the present-day school teacher will be a lady to keep order, though it is hoped that the children will be so well-behaved that they will seldom require this estimable person’s services.

Those children, on the other hand, who are destined to become members of the governing class will have a very different education. They will be selected, some before birth, some during the first three years of life, and a few between the ages of three and six. All the best-known science will be applied to the simultaneous development of intelligence and will-power.

Eugenics, chemical and thermal treatment of the embryo, and diet in early years will be used with a view to the production of the highest possible ultimate ability. The scientific outlook will be instilled from the moment that a child can talk, and throughout the early impressionable years the child will be carefully guarded from contact with the ignorant and unscientific. From infancy up to twenty-one, scientific knowledge will be poured into him, and at any rate from the age of twelve upwards he will specialize on those sciences for which he shows the most aptitude. At the same time he will be taught physical toughness ; he will be encouraged to roll naked in the snow, to fast occasionally for twenty-four hours, to run many miles on hot days, to be bold in all physical adventures and uncomplaining when he suffers physical pain. From the age of twelve upwards he will be taught to organize children slightly younger than himself, and will suffer severe censure if groups of such children fail to follow his lead. A sense of his high destiny will be constantly set before him, and loyalty towards his order will be so axiomatic that it will never occur to him to question it. Every youth will thus be subjected to a threefold training: in intelligence, in self-command, and in command over others.

If he should fail in any one of these three, he will suffer the terrible penalty of degradation to the ranks of common workers, and will be condemned for the rest of his life to associate with men and women vastly inferior to himself in education and probably in intelligence. The spur of this fear will suffice to produce industry in all but a very small minority of boys and girls of the governing class.

Except for the one matter of loyalty to the world State and to their own order, members of the governing class will be encouraged to be adventurous and full of initiative. It will be recognized that it is their business to improve scientific technique, and to keep the manual workers contented by means of continual new amusements. As those upon whom all progress depends, they must not be unduly tame, nor so drilled as to be incapable of new ideas. Unlike the children destined to be manual workers, they will have personal contact with their teacher, and will be encouraged to argue with him. It will be his business to prove himself in the right if he can, and, if not, to acknowledge his error gracefully. There will, however, be limits to intellectual freedom, even among the children of the governing class. They will not be allowed to question the value of science, or the division of the population into manual workers and experts. They will not be allowed to coquette with the idea that perhaps poetry is as valuable as machinery, or love as good a thing as scientific research. If such ideas do occur to any venturesome spirit, they will be received in a pained silence, and there will be a pretence that they have not been heard.

A profound sense of public duty will be instilled into boys and girls of the governing class as soon as they are able to understand such an idea. They will be taught to feel that mankind depends upon them, and that they owe benevolent service especially to the less fortunate classes beneath them. But let it not be supposed that they will be prigs far from it.

They will turn off with a deprecating laugh any too portentous remark that puts into explicit words what they will all believe in their hearts. Their manners will be easy and pleasant, and their sense of humour unfailing.

The latest stage in the education of the most intellectual of the governing class will consist of training for research. Research will be highly organized, and young people will not be allowed to choose what particular piece of research they shall do. They will, of course, be directed to research in those subjects for which they have shown special ability. A great deal of scientific knowledge will be concealed from all but a few. There will be arcana reserved for a priestly class of researchers, who will be carefully selected for their combination of brains with loyalty. One may, I think, expect that research will be much more technical than fundamental. The men at the head of any department of research will be elderly, and content to think that the fundamentals of their subject are sufficiently known. Discoveries which upset the official view of fundamentals, if they are made by young men, will incur disfavour, and if rashly published will lead to degradation. Young men to whom any fundamental innovation occurs will make cautious attempts to persuade their professors to view the new ideas with favour, but if these attempts fail they will conceal their new ideas until they themselves have acquired positions of authority, by which time they will probably have forgotten them.

The atmosphere of authority and organization will be extremely favourable to technical research, but somewhat inimical to such subversive innovations as have been seen, for example, in physics during the present century. There will be, of course, an official metaphysic, which will be regarded as intellectually unimportant but politically sacrosanct.

In the long run, the rate of scientific progress will diminish, and discovery will be killed by respect for authority.

As for the manual workers, they will be discouraged from serious thought : they will be made as comfortable as possible, and their hours of work will be much shorter than they are at present ; they will have no fear of destitution or of misfortune to their children. As soon as working hours are over, amusements will be provided, of a sort calculated to cause wholesome mirth, and to prevent any thoughts of discontent which otherwise might cloud their happiness.

On those rare occasions when a boy or girl who has passed the age at which it is usual to determine social status shows such marked ability as to seem the intellectual equal of the rulers, a difficult situation will arise, requiring serious consideration. If the youth is content to abandon his previous associates and to throw in his lot whole-heartedly with the rulers, he may, after suitable tests, be promoted, but if he shows any regrettable solidarity with his previous associates, the rulers will reluctantly conclude that there is nothing to be done with him except to send him to the lethal chamber before his ill-disciplined intelligence has had time to spread revolt. This will be a painful duty to the rulers, but I think they will not shrink from performing it.

In normal cases, children of sufficiently excellent heredity will be admitted to the governing class from the moment of conception. I start with this moment rather than with birth, since it is from this moment and not merely from the moment of birth that the treatment of the two classes will be different.

If, however, by the time the child reaches the age of three, it is fairly clear that he does not attain the required standard, he will be degraded at that point.

I assume that by that time it will be possible to judge of the intelligence of a child of three with a fair measure of accuracy. Cases in which there is doubt, which should, however, be few, will be subjected to careful observation up to the age of six, at which moment one supposes the official decision will be possible except in a few rare instances. Conversely, children born of manual workers may be promoted at any moment between the age of three and six, but only in quite rare instances at later ages. I think it may be assumed, however, that there would be a very strong tendency for the governing class to become hereditary, and that after a few generations not many children would be moved from either class into the other. This is especially likely to be the case if embryological methods of improving the breed are applied to the governing class, but not to the others. In this way the gulf between the two classes as regards native intelligence may become continually wider and wider. This will not lead to the abolition of the less intelligent class, since the rulers will not wish to undertake uninteresting manual work, or to be deprived of the opportunity for exercising benevolence and public spirit which they derive from the management of the manual workers.

Need any more be said?


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