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What We Can Learn From England

WEDNESDAY, MAY 16, 1962.




Mr. CANNON. We have with us this morning not only one of the most indispensable men in national defense but one of the most remarkable men in our history and in world science.

In the last decade or so, Admiral Rickover has found time to make for himself a name both as Director of the Naval Reactors Group which supplies the United States with a nuclear Navy and directs the Shippingport Atomic Power Station program, and also in his chosen avocation of American education. We have asked him to come here this morning to speak in his latter capacity.

Three years ago Admiral Rickover talked to this committee on Russian education, a report that evoked a great deal of public interest and response. We had more requests for those hearings than for any hearings in the history of the committee. It was one of the six best sellers. It evoked both praise and criticism.

He recently wrote a book on Swiss education which has been published by the Council for Basic Education under the title of "Swiss Schools and Ours-Why Theirs Are Better.” In an earlier book, "Education and Freedom,” and in several of his speeches, he has described Dutch and German systems of education in some detail. Today he will speak on English education, a subject which he has been studying intensively for the last 2 years.

Admiral Rickover's reports do not make comfortable reading for Americans. They dispel illusions about the superiority of our school system which have made us complacent and therefore unaware of the fact that scholastically our position in the world is not what it should be. Our intention has always been to offer all our children the best in formal schooling. To make certain this objective is attained, we must be informed on what school systems in other countries of similar culture and industrial stature accomplish, for how otherwise can we know what is the best?

The Admiral likes to quote the statement of Victor Cousin, who in the 1830's was sent by the French Government to study the school system of France's old rival, Prussia, throughout the 19th century acknowledged to be scholastically the best on the Continent. Cousin recommended to his countrymen that they study the Prussian pub


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lic school system and adapt its best features to their own needs.
"The true greatness of a people," he wrote-
does not consist in borrowing nothing from others, but in borrowing from all what
is good and in perfecting whatever is appropriate.

When Admiral Rickover reported to us on Russian education, it was such a wide departure from his life's profession and his remarkable achievements that we asked him on the record to state his qualifications for talking about education, and here is what he said at that time. You doubtless will recall it, but I will remind you of it again.

As to my qualifications: I graduated from grammar school, high school, and the U.S. Naval Academy; I took 2 years of postgraduate engineering and received a M.S. from Columbia University, and I spent another year taking a graduate course in nuclear physics and reactor engineering at Oak Ridge.

I was instrumental in setting up the Oak Ridge School of Reactor Technology. I also assisted in setting up the first nuclear engineering course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and I am presently on the advisory committee to Princeton University to help them revise their mechanical engineering curriculum. It is true, however, that on the basis of these qualifications, I would not be permitted to teach even a course in "general science” in any grade of the District of Columbia school system, or anywhere else in the United States for that matter. That, of course, would be true also of such eminent educators as Dr. Killian, president of MIT, who was the President's scientific adviser, President Griswold of Yale, President Pusey of Harvard, or President Goheen of Princeton.

"From that standpoint and in the judgment of the National Education Association I am completely unqualified”—he makes a clean breast of it here—“I am completely unqualified to talk about education to your committee, sir. I was forced into the educational problem because I saw the poor products of our educational system. That is what got me started. I am a customer for the products of our schools, I tried to get people to help me do a job in nuclear power development, and I found the product of our schools quite unsatisfactory, so I set out to find the reasons.

Admiral Rickover, we deeply appreciate your being here this morning. We are honored in having you with us. Knowing your heavy work schedule in your proper professional field of nuclear power, some have considered it presumptuous for you to criticize a system built up through more than two centuries and with such beneficent results. Admiral Rickover, may I ask how can you evaluate an entirely different professional field? Leaving aside the question of your "certification” to teach in our schools, I trust it is not an imposition to ask you to tell us how you have the requisite knowledge to criticize our schools?

Admiral Rickover, we shall recognize you, and we will not interrupt you until the close of your statement, when members of the committee will be afforded an opportunity to question you.

Admiral RICKOVER. Thank you very much, Mr. Cannon, for being so gracious as to invite me to talk with your committee. I should also like to thank all the members of this committee, who have always been so kind to me and who have given me so much help. I will be happy to answer questions.


The first part of your question, sir, is, how can I, who am not an educator, criticize education, specifically American education?

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You can inform yourself about anything in two ways; by personal experience and by studying the experience of others. Personal experience is necessarily limited by the kind of life you lead and the kind of work you do. But study of the experience of others is limited only by the time you can find to study, to read, to correspond or to talk with experts. Now anybody can read books. They are available in public libraries and if your own library hasn't got what you want they will even order it for you—free of charge. When he was a young man, Lincoln remarked:

The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who'll get me a book I ain't read. We are fortunate that we all have so many friends in our local library.

What you get out of books depends, of course, on how well you choose your authors, how reliable they are. I myself get most of my knowledge of education from official sources: from expressions by education authorities as to what objectives they believe the schools should pursue; writings of educators which give one a good clue to how well or how badly they are educated, and how informed they are on their subject; also school curricula, examination questions and answers, the value given by outsiders to particular school diplomas and higher degrees, and so on. I am fortunate to be in contact by correspondence with eminent scholars and educators here and abroad who are kind enough to give me the benefit of their own wide practical experience and of a reasoned judgment in educational matters that ultimately rests upon their high intelligence and broad general and professional education.

THE VALUE OF OUTSIDERS' JUDGMENT All this, I know, has no value whatsoever in the eyes of educational officialdom. Like most bureaucracies, this huge organization would like to escape lay criticism and tries to do so by constantly using the stereotyped argument that only “professionals" or "inside” critics can judge the performance of other professionals and anyway, nobody can judge the schools unless he has personally inspected every school in the country, sat in every classroom of every school and listened to every child in every classroom of every school.

Now these are splendid gimmicks if all that the educators want is to save themselves the trouble to answer criticism of the schools. The most effective critics have almost always been outsiders-individuals working on their own, individuals who have no access to public funds that finance junkets of educators around the world. These days they rarely obtain even a foundation grant.

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But I wonder sometimes whether this is merely a gimmick or whether the educators really mean it. I would feel much better if I thought it was only a gimmick, but what I am afraid of is that they actually believe what they say. This is what worries me so much, because if they do believe it, then they are denying the validity of our entire educational system, because all education is based on what humanity has learned throughout history. If you can only learn from what is going on today, then obviously we should do away with our educational system and just have our children make field trips to the firehouse and city hall.

It seems to me that the educators are in their own adult lives following the precepts Dewey used for elementary school children in his Chicago Laboratory School. He felt that children learned more by practical experience than out of books. Hence his dogma that children should be “learning by doing.' For instance, he had 10- and 11-year-olds spend endless hours reinventing such things as how to make cotton, flax and wool cloth, how to card wool, and so on.

"You can concentrate the history of all mankind into the evolution of flax, cotton, and wool fibers into clothing,” said Dewey. But would this not give you an utterly materialistic, worm's eye view of history and of man? And can modern children afford to devote so much time to learning the primitive origins of a manufacturing process that is unlikely to be important in their lives unless they all become managers of textile mills? At that, a manager could grasp the principle of primitive looms in half an hour from a book.

Ordinarily, mistrust of "booklearning” is to be found only among uneducated people who do not themselves read books and whose schooling has not carried them from concrete things to abstract concepts. And so, quite naturally, they feel that to know, a person should have personally seen, heard, and touched the things he talks about; and before he can criticize anything, he must prove he can do the things he criticizes better himself.

Many people believe that unless a critic can demonstrate a better way, his criticism isn't "constructive." Doesn't the person who reports a fire perform a valuable service, even though the fire department puts it out? You sometimes hear people remark disparagingly of an art or literary critic—to take just one example--that they'd like to see this critic paint a better picture or write a better book. This way of thinking confuses ability to judge art with artistic talent, but the two are different. If it were not so, no layman could discriminate between good and bad art, or for that matter between a good and a bad doctor, lawyer, or teacher. The "professionals” would then have it all their own way. Many an administrator uses this strategem of requiring his subordinates never to criticize unless it is "constructive,” the administrator himself, of course, being the one who decides what is and what is not "constructive" criticism.


For myself, besides study and reading, correspondence and discussion, I have learned much about education through experience gained on my job with novel engineering development projects. Also, my many years in Washington have given me a unique opportunity to observe how greatly the United States is handicapped because we simply do not have enough people with the educational qualifications essential to keep us progressing satisfactorily. The lack is both in general or liberal education, and in the specialized education needed by professionals and technicians.

As a practical man I am not much interested in the mystique or esoterics of education which fascinate so many of our professional educators. I freely admit I judge schools by their products. Literally thousands of these products pass through my hands and those of my

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