In this essay, which was originally delivered as an address to teachers in New York City in 1963, James Baldwin describes the “current times” as “very dangerous.
” He identifies a menace that threatens the American social order as a phenomenon that comes from within. Sadly, he notes that if teachers—those entrusted with molding the “hearts and minds” of the young—seek to rectify the ills that plague the nation, they can expect to meet the most “determined resistance.”Baldwin begins his argument by asserting that the purpose of education, which is designed to “perpetuate the aims of society,” is to teach people to look at the world around them and enable them to make decisions about it on their own.
The paradox that results from this commission, however, is that if the institution indeed succeeds in creating individuals capable of independent thought, those individuals will quickly recognize the wrongs in their society and will endeavor to change them. As Baldwin observes, “no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around.”