More importantly, why try to regain an educational foothold that had failed society in the first place? The classics and western tradition were unchallenged pillars of society before World War I. The leaders of involved nations and their politicians were the products of the Greek and Roman education. If they failed and thereby hurled nations into a debt of over twenty-million lost souls, why try again?
Then as now, education has to prove its purpose. Indeed, it must renew its purpose, and even in the face of slander and doubt, why we educate ourselves and our children must demand as much attention as the way we choose to do so. Even in the face of criticism, education must possess vigor enough to rise after a fall.
Education is a gateway for ethical investigation, and the educated are usually the first to question tradition and its dogma. The uneducated are blithe and unaware; they are simple and in possession of a single prism through which they judge the world and determine their path through it. Contrast this with the “educated.” Their minds have often been injected with the indulgent passions of one philosophy or another. Competing claims prod the mind toward schism, ceaseless questioning, and an attempt to fuse systems of thought that might provide answers to existence and purpose. The uneducated, often content with tradition, carry it forward unchanged; the educated challenge tradition.
The challenge doesn't always end well. History is replete with examples of intellectual plans gone sour and of the innocent lives lost or societal opportunities dashed in the process. The educated are prone to believe in their own greatness, moral efficacy, and right to lead the less intelligent masses to ideas of fuller understanding and utopian existence.
When coupled with political power, an intellectual’s sense of supremacy—however objectively “right”—can trigger movement from similarly-minded intellectuals and power-holders. Effects cascade across the geopolitical and philosophical landscape. The world changes as theory becomes policy, and new minds are molded as ideas formerly held by a single individual become mainstream educational dogma.
Reflection on the intellectual impetus to wars and revolutions occurs only after a spasm of violence or refashioning of intellectual perspective. But when a fresh view is provided, education is the surest way to correct a seizure of intellect. It refreshes itself on its age and models a new form from the accreted successes and mistakes of the past.
World War I was surely a lurch of political power informed by a coalescence of philosophical ideals. As students and educators we must remember that education affects more than employment prospects—it makes our minds that make the world. Education fails us by masking error as a truth upon which we act; but education also allows us to succeed in correcting error. The cycle will repeat itself. We “ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” will continue on, correcting and failing in our education, our philosophy, our humanity.