To the Editor:
After reading Edward Saveth’s article on racist doctrine in American school textbooks [ “Good Stocks and Lesser Breeds,” in the May COMMENTARY], I was reminded of Mark Twain’s dictum, “It’s better not to know so much than to know so many things that aren’t so.”
Personally, I was fortunate in escaping a great deal of elementary education. I did not attend school till the age of thirteen. Instead, I read at home, traveled, and saw many of the marvels of art and nature at first hand. Before I was twelve I had visited Italy and Greece, living in the latter country for eight months. I know the Parthenon and St. Peter’s; and Homer, Herodotus, Pericles, Thucydides, Michelangelo, Murillo, and Garibaldi were much more than merely names to me. It never crossed my mind that any sane person could suppose there was an inherent inferiority in being a Greek, a Spaniard, or an Italian. On the contrary, it was the more recently civilized nations that had to prove their capacities.
As for being a Jew—well, St. Paul covered that, in the third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans: “What advantage hath the Jew? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.”
They were the native stock. The Gentiles were the immigrants.
When I did go to school, it was in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The first textbook of American history that I read was John Fiske’s. I rather imagine that Cambridge knew better than to be influenced by the sort of cheap racism Dr. Saveth describes. But I cannot say positively, for I do not remember that the subject of immigration ever came up. Certainly, in all the courses I did take—in a year at the elementary school and four years at the Cambridge Latin School—there never was one word said by either text or teacher to suggest any racial grading. Everything I ever heard on the subject I heard outside the classroom.
True, my schooling was prior to 1920. The light of Lothrop Stoddard and Madison Grant had not yet shone upon the world. But since I have not been a teacher, I had no idea how deeply their influence had penetrated. I am shocked to learn it, and I think a great service has been done by exposing it.
The conclusion I come to is that the universities should take the lead, through their departments of history, social sciences, and education, and seek to disabuse the minds of educators and the public of these absurdities. I should think Harvard, under President Conant, could be counted on to show the way. Cooperation should be obtained from one or more of the great foundations, from the radio and from the press, particularly the popular magazines. I should be glad to offer my support to such a movement.
(Miss) C. I. Claflin
Buffalo, New York