By Will Fitzhugh Publisher of the Concord Review
In the fifties, I think it was, there was a science fiction novel, my copy of which has disappeared, by, I think, Charles Eric Maine, called High Vacuum. The idea was that in teaching cadets in the space program about the dangers of vacuum to their survival in space, it was useful to have them think about Vacuum as trying to get into their spacecraft and kill them. From a “Safety First” point of view, it seemed more practical for spacemen, as they were thought of in the 1950s, to think of keeping high vacuum out of their craft rather than to think about keeping their life-supporting oxygen from escaping, thus leaving them to die. So, instead of thinking of vacuum as the absence of atmosphere, they were taught to think of it as an active agent trying to get “in” and kill them.
When we think of Mediocrity in education, a similar strategy is advisable for us. Generally it is thought that Mediocrity is the absence of excellence, a lack of good quality in performance or knowledge. But in thinking about standards in our schools, I have come more and more to regard Mediocrity as an active agent, trying (with notable success) to establish itself and spread itself throughout every academic enterprise. [Full Article]
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