Out of his little-known wisdom in educational matters, Albert Einstein speaks directly to the contemporary crisis in US schools. This scientist -- who described himself as "more of a philosopher" to his close associates -- saw four major tasks "which the school should fulfill." Their failure to fulfill them, he said, could lead to a nation's loss of freedom.
A. "The school must firmly establish certain moral and social principles and standards, and conduct the character education of youth along their lines.
B. "It must develop important intellectual capacities like logical thinking, judgment, art appreciation, creative ability, as well as physical fitness.
C. "It must transmit general knowledge and information as skill in routine functions such as reading, writing, arithmetic, languages.
D. "It must impart special knowledge and skill in preparation for a profession."
How well are US schools fulfilling these tasks?
It is all too easy to generalize unjustly as well as inaccurately, so various are the educational environments in this pluralistic country. But the overall picture is ominous.
The absence of a moral climate in many, many schools -- especially in the great urban centers -- has compelled tens of thousands of parents to seek alternative schools, set up their own schools, even teach their children at home. As many as 35,000 families -- by a privately conducted survey -- are providing education outside any school through the help of correspondence courses.
Even as early as 1939 -- whe Einstein made his remarks about the tasks of the school -- he strongly felt that "schools generally do not pay sufficient attention to Aim B, the development of intellectual capacities, and even less to Aim A, which they often grossly violate." Contemporary evidence suggests that this situation Einstein described has grown worse, not better, since he discussed it.
As for Aim C -- skill in the three R's and languages -- independent schools all over the nation have founded summer programs for the wider community because summer sessions in the publicly financed schools provided nothing in the development of verbal and mathematical skills, in fundamentals, though they offered courses in what seemed to be about everything else.
Finally, there is Aim D. In the public consciousness, the fourth aim has come to be what education is for -- and not much else: a meal ticket.
What does this specialized approach to learning do to the conception of our "union" as a diverse people? How well can it prepare young or old as citizens to "promote the general welfare" or help foster "domestic tranquility"?
How can minimum competencies and vocational training instill in present generations a desire and willingness to "secure the belssings of liberty . . . to our posterity." What insurance does it even provide for "the blessings of liberty to ourselves"?
Einstein's last words in his 1939 statement were these: "Teachers, in my opinion, should fight for the right to serve the aims of A and B without let or hindrances. Politics itself, with all its passions, should have no place in school."
Maybe these should be famousm last words!