Mission to Afghanistan, 1949 recalling the observations of Harold Benjamin.
Harold Benjamin (1893-1969) was arguably the most thoughtful and popular American educator during the world-wide Depression of the 1930s and the first decade of the post-WWII reconstruction era. Benjamin's widespread experience as teacher-administrator-consultant, formal training in education at the University of Oregon (B.A., 1921; M.A., 1924) and Stanford University (Ph.D., 1927), and editorship of the McGraw Hill education series (about 120 books 1936-1966) made his the most recognized American voice for educational reform at home and abroad for nearly three decades.
Benjamin's extensive military service (Mexican Border War, 1916; World War I, 1917-1919; World War II, 1942-1945) introduced him to the horrific consequences of "blazing guns." His even wider experience with educational systems throughout the world fueled his optimism that the instruments of education would one day deflect "weapons of flame and steel" into "weapons of mind and spirit." Estimates of the potential for education to change a people's ways in the direction of their own goals were drawn when he served as technical advisor to members of the U.S. delegation at the constitutional conferences of UNESCO in Washington, D.C., and London (October-November, 1945). His most thorough outline of a non-coercive alternative to educational reconstruction appeared in his 1947 Kappa Delta Pi lecture, "Under Their Own Command: Observations on the Nature of a People's Education for War and Peace." The outline helped orient the work of the 1949 UNESCO mission to Afghanistan, and his reflections on its work are reprinted here. (Benjamin published a shorter reflection, "Personal Report from the UNESCO Mission to Afghanistan," in the Phi Delta Kappan, pp. 442-5, May 1950.)
Associates in the social foundations of education program at The University of Michigan were well acquainted with Benjamin's orientation to the study of education and his optimism that teachers in different societies would play lead roles in helping its people "take command of their own education." Claude A. Eggertsen (1909-1995), director of the program, and sponsor of some 75 dissertations, 19391979, had been Benjamin's student at Stanford, and, (with Edgar B. Wesley), the University of Minnesota where he inherited much of the Benjamin outlook. He also served as one of Benjamin's teaching assistants at both institutions, and shared the office with him during the 1938 summer school at the University of Colorado, where the now famous lectures in the Saber-Tooth Curriculum first appeared.
Because of the Benjamin influence, Michigan students explored their own research questions against the backdrop of distinctions Benjamin drew between "education," "restraint," and "passive resistance" as approaches to social change within different cultural and geographic settings, and across historical periods. They were also grounded in the challenge Benjamin argued educators in any society (and any time period) faced in deciding how to balance the simultaneous need to cultivate individual "idiosyncrasies" and social "uniformities" to nurture the talents of its people and security of its society.
It remains quite uncertain almost 60 years after Benjamin's optimistic assessment that education under the control of the people of Afghanistan can be established to bring peace and stability for itself and the region. Nonetheless, if the goals of modern living in the context of the "great [Islamic] faith" are to be met anytime soon, his outline for integrated schooling of children and adults merits reconsideration. Likewise, in light of current upheavals in educational systems throughout the world, Benjamin's analysis of the problems nations face in making new institutions for educating their people is worth remembering.
Kim P. Sebaly is Emeritus Professor of Education, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio, and President of The University of Michigan Associates in the Social Foundations of Education.
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|Author:||Sebaly, Kim P.|
|Publication:||Notes and Abstracts in American and International Education|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2011|
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