As I finished The Screwtape Letters, I was surprised in the back of my library's paperback by another short story, "Screwtape Proposes a Toast". This was written well after the book itself, and has its own preface, which grabbed my attention. C. S. Lewis used this "toast" to make a few points about the state of education in America at the time (1962). He disguised it by having Screwtape speak of education in England, so as not to offend the Americans. HA. What he had to say then is every bit as true now. Here is what struck me in the preface to the toast.
In my view there is a sense in which education ought to be democratic and another sense in which it ought not. It ought to be democratic in the sense of being available, without distinction of sex, color, class, race or religion, to all who can - and will - diligently accept it. But once the young people are inside the school there must be no attempt to establish a factitious egalitarianism between the idlers and dunces on the one hand and the clever and industrious on the other. A modern nation needs a very large class of genuinely educated people and it is the primary function of schools and universities to supply them. To lower standards or disguise inequalities is fatal.
If this sounds harsh, I would observe that the opposite policy is really devised to soothe the inferiority complex not of the idlers and dunces but of their parents. Do not be in the least afraid that those who live out their school days - which would be brief - on the back bench of the lowest class will suffer any trauma when they see promotion and honors and official approval going to the diligent minority. They are stronger than it. They can punch its head and kick its stern. All the distinctions they really care about - the popularity and the success in games - go not to it [the diligent minority] but to them. They enjoy their school days very much. Our real problem is to see that they impede as little as possible the purposes for which school really exists.My, my, my. I do believe we have reached the goal of having the young ones stay in school well past when they want to be done (age 18 laws, anyone?). I think we have also lowered standards to fatal levels. I don't think it sounds harsh, but I'm sure those who disagree with this truth do! Especially the barb about soothing the parents, wow! Tell us what you really think, Mr. Lewis.
Do you agree or disagree with his assertions? What can be done now? Is it too late?