How should adult education work? How do we educate the masses? (That's right, The Masses.) How do we widen the circle of people who love and support great art, great music, great literature? How do we widen the circle of adults who understand the science and engineering that our modern world is built on? How do we rear good American citizens? Or for that matter good German citizens, or Israeli or Danish or Chilean? And if this is the information age, why does the population at large grow worse-informed every year? (Sorry — that last one isn't a question people have stopped asking; they never started.)
These questions have disappeared because in 2001, the "educated elite" never goes anywhere without its quote-marks. Here in America's fancy universities, we used to believe that everyone deserved and ought to have the blessings of education. Today we believe our children should have them — and to make up for that fact, to even the score, we have abolished the phrase. No more "blessings of education." That makes us feel better. Many of us can't say "truth and beauty" without snickering like 10-year-old boys.
But the situation will change, as soon as we regain the presence of mind to start asking these questions again. We have the raw materials on hand for the greatest cultural rebirth in history. We have the money and the technical means. We tend to tell our children nowadays (implicitly) that their goal in life is to get rich, get famous and lord it over the world. We are ashamed to tell them that what they really ought to be is good, brave and true. (In fact I am almost ashamed to type it.) This terrible crisis of confidence we're going through was probably inevitable; at any rate it's temporary, and if we can't summon the courage to tell our children what's right, my guess is that they will figure it out for themselves, and tell us. I'm optimistic.
DAVID GELERNTER, Professor of Computer Science at Yale University and author of Mirror Worlds, The Muse in the Machine, 1939: The Lost World of the Fair, and Drawiing a Life: Surviving the Unabomber.