Educationalists Taking Over the World
Upon his return from Florida, S.Q. Lapius buried himself in his den, clamped a set of stereo earphones over his head and didn’t talk to me for three days. It had been quite an effort for him to go to Florida in the first place, since it meant that he had to overcome his aversion to flying. The word aversion was a euphemism for “fear”.
I had, in the past, flown with Lapius, not in the least a tranquilizing experience. Of course the seats were too small, the space for his feet and knees, to say nothing of his abdomen, too crowded. The seat belt had to be pulled to its maximum stretch to encompass him. And he was wont to observe wryly, “If it’s so damned safe, Harry, why the belts?” He remained subdued and in deep concentration during take-off, permitting no intrusion on his thoughts, which, I was to learn, were concerned only with maneuvering the vast flying machine into the skies. I tried to explain to him that that job was the sole responsibility of the pilot. “Nonsense, Harry. We all must do our share. After all, if the contraption falls to the ground, it isn’t the pilot alone who suffers.”
When Lapius finally came out of his morose introversion I was able to ask him what he accomplished in Florida. “Not a thing.”
“Were they polite?”
“Barely. As you know I was invited to present my views on open enrollment to the annual education convention. But all I met was educationalists.”
“Who did you expect at a convention on education?”
“Teachers, but they don’t exist anymore. I learned, to my dismay, that there is a profession of educationalists.”
“Didn’t you know that?”
“No. When I was in school, if a man was a Latin scholar he was deemed qualified to teach Latin. Now you have to be qualified in education, then you can take Latin as a minor course and that enables you to teach it. You can’t teach mathematics just by becoming a mathematician. First you must take education courses.”
I was sorry to hear that he had gotten so cold a reception. He had gone to Florida to espouse his plan for open enrollment in professional schools. I knew his talk backwards and forwards, because before he left, he had practiced it ad infinitum, before and after every meal, which took up the entire day except for sleeping hours.
His point mainly was that the first year of professional schools should permit open enrollment. This would have the following advantages. It would obviate the necessity for someone applying to the various colleges all over the country, which cost up to $50 per application, thus disadvantaging those without the money. It would save time, because if a person was not admitted he would have to go through the entire process the following year. It would give everyone the chance to embark on the career of his choice, and leave it to the honest competition of a demanding curriculum to determine who would succeed and who would fail. It would tend to recreate educational standards, which lately, seem sorely lacking, and overall, it would be more democratic than the present system.
I had tried to point out that his innovation, which wasn’t really so new, because they did that in many countries of Europe, would still graduate the same number of doctors, lawyers, dentists, what have you.
“Of course. But you might get a better mix of graduates this way. Look how it is run at present. A student goes to college, then applies to a professional school. An admission committee, never having met the man, judging from grades alone, makes certain cold assessments. Then a certain number are accorded interviews, then the selections made.”
“I don’t see how your way is better.”
“You don’t?” Lapius’s eyes widened in surprise. “I am surprised at you. I thought that you had learned something through the years of our friendship, Harry.” I ignored the remark, which Lapius accepted as a signal to continue. “After all, how can an admissions committee from a brief interview really make a choice? From the applicant’s record – a cold uninformative document. But in open enrollment the faculty would have an opportunity to observe the student for an entire year. They would be in a position to offer remedial help if need be, or to take into account any number of factors that contribute to the making of a doctor.”
“It seems to me,“ I told him, “That would give certain students an opportunity to ingratiate themselves with the faculty. Students with smoother personalities might do better than the more abrasive person. All you would be doing is substituting one set of inequities for another.”
“I don’t agree. But even so, the system would be less complicated than the one currently in use. And most important, it would offer real hope – because people would be given opportunity where none exists.”
Anyway, it was with that mood of hope that Lapius embarked on his plane to Florida. But I found his black mood on his return irritating.
“What are sulking about?” I scolded. “So they didn’t agree with you? Does everyone have to agree with you to make you happy?”
“Not at all, Harry,” Lapius said solemnly. “You know better than that. It wasn’t that they agreed or disagreed with me. The problem was that they ignored me.”
“How was the flight back?”
“That was better. They didn’t ignore me. As a matter of fact, they paid considerable attention to me. The even searched me.”