WAIS Benefactors: Hank Levin

WAIS thanks Hank Levin  for his contribution to its survival and development fund.  Hank, now a Professor of Education at Columbia's Teachers College, was for years a member of the Stanford School of Education.  This is an appropriate time for me to express my apologies for saying unkind things about such schools some sixty years ago.  It was fashionable then to deride schools of education, just as later it became fashionable to dismiss the social sciences as soft science.  This supercilious attitude was adopted by old subjects resenting new subjects.  Now the old subjects, like classics, modern languages and even history, are playing a diminished role in US higher education. Education courses were dismissed as teaching students such things as the proper size of a blackboard. In fact, education is of immense importance, since the child is father to the man.  Education is changing at all levels.  In the old days it was an unpleasant experience, as expressed in the Spanish dictum "la letra con sangre entra". Literacy is taught with blood".  In scholarly Germany, students celebrated the end of the school year by throwing their textbooks into a river.  Was the later Nazi book burning a more fiery demonstration of the same mentality? Such teaching revealed a failure to arouse the natural curiosity of students.

This takes me to the first of my proposed reforms.  The main product of universities around the world is dull lectures. The larger the class, the rose they are.  I attended a lecture in Madrid's university city.  The large hall was full. On the stage a professor mumbled his lecture, heard only by the students sitting near him. All the other students were chatting; I could not hear what the professor was saying.  At Oxford there were plenty of dull lectures, but attendance was not required since one read a subject, and the stress was rightly on reading and writing. In the US, attendance at lectures is usually required. Professors resort to all kinds of tricks, such as re-enacting the death of Lincoln, to get the students' attention. At Stanford we had one professor who fell asleep while he was giving his lectures.  As soon as he was asleep the students would sneak out, and he would wake up facing an empty room.  Being curious about everything, I was a great lecture goer.  I used to sit in the front row, but there were so many bad lectures I sat in the back row so that I could sneak out if the lecture was bad.  Then I stopped going to lectures.

Instead I watch documentaries on TV, and today I saw an excellent one about the last days of  World War II. Maps showed the Western Allies advancing across the Rhine, the Soviets across the Oder. Montgomery and Patton thought that they would be allowed to take Berlin, but Eisenhower made the fateful decision to allow the Russians to take it.  Berliners committed suicide rather than than submit to the Soviet troops, who were looting and raping women.  Scenes showed white flags appearing out of most windows, while Goebbels, who had taken command of the situation, said anyone who put out a white flag would be shot. When the situation became hopeless, he withdrew with his wife and six children to the Bunker. He rejected an offer to have his children flown out to safety.  He ordered that they, like he and his wife, die by poisoning.  I have visited the concentration camps of  Auschwitz and Buchenwald, and have read much about the war. However, that gave me only a dim idea of reality, which was brought brutally home by the scenes in the documentary of masses of corpses lying scattered un the ground and being pushed by bulldozers into mass graves,  In the last days Goebbels had assembled old men and boys to form brigades for a final stand. The old men soon gave up, but the boys fought to the bitter end. While this may seem heroic, it was once more proof that boys are prone to violence, as is demonstrated today by boy terrorists.  In conclusion, most lectures are dull, while good documentaries are gripping.  Mass lectures must give way to them.

The second important change in education concerns final examinations.  When I came to the US I was unfavorably impressed not only by the mass lectures but also by the examination system: students would scribble in blue books, regurgitating the words of the professor.  The whole examination system must be reconsidered. The third important change is the development of distance learning, in which WAISer Eric Boehm was a pioneer. Its role in future education is a vast subject which deserves special treatment. All these problems are under constant review at Columbia University, so any comments by Hank Levin would be welcome.

Your comments are invited. Read the home page of the World Association of International Studies (WAIS) by simply double-clicking on:   http://wais.stanford.edu. Mail to Ronald Hilton, Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA 94305-6010. Please inform us of any change of e-mail address.

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: November 20, 2004