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“Our fitness to survive the Russian challenge,” says James Conant, “depends primarily on a vigorous demonstration of the vitality of our own beliefs in democracy and freedom.” Conant foresees, not an immediate conflict with Russia, but ten years or more of cold war. Here, then, is our chance to prove to Russia and to the world that the American ideal of equality of opportunity is no mere myth or legend. Yet as a nation we are a long way from anything like equality of educational opportunity. Parental pride, economic inequalities, cultural patterns, religious forms, and group hostilities all operate to create or perpetuate class distinctions which have no place in a democracy.
It is to our free schools, however, that we must look increasingly for the effective demonstration of our answer to totalitarian ideologies in a divided world—to our free schools without whose improvement there can be no equality of opportunity for the children of a technological civilization. In this book Conant shows how American free public education from elementary school to university can set about putting more fully into practice its proclaimed ideal and, at the same time, adjust itself to the demands and stresses of an armed truce, including the exigencies of military training. He asks how our schools may best prepare our children for the variety of careers they will follow. He discusses the role of the social sciences, the natural sciences, and the humanities in education in a divided world. He vigorously urges the necessity for Federal aid to education. His book is of major importance to every American who cares about the future of the democratic way of life.