Julian Huxley: Diversity and Eugenics in Education

Humanism and eugenics have long been associated together, although it is the brave secularist today who would dream of admitting it. In this 1964 excerpt from his essay, “Education and Humanism” (found in Evolutionary Humanism, pg 135), Julian Huxley is reflecting on the need to transform education into an evolutionary mechanism, which, by virtue of the fact not all are created equal, means educating individuals with an eye towards a Managed Society.  Shortly before this excerpt he wrote that it is “no good… trying to give mental defectives the same educational treatment as normal children.”

The general challenge of human diversity remains.  Man is the most diverse and variable of all organisms–variable anatomically and physiologically, intellectually and temperamentally, genetically and environmentally.  And a large degree of diversity is a source of strength to human societies, especially to high civilizations.  Successful psychosocial evolution demands a variety of gifts, temperaments and talents.  A humanist society needs men of action and men of thought; scientists and artists; brain-workers and labourers; saints and policemen; adventurers and stay-at-homes; eccentrics and established civil servants; leaders and led.

It would be a good thing if the numbers of the too abnormal and the too defective could be reduced, those of the more intelligent and more gifted increased; and perhaps one day eugenics will get busy on this.  Meanwhile the problem is how to utilize the existing and potential diversity of people to the best advantage of society and of themselves.  As Dwight Ingle has written, individuality must be a parameter of the educational process.

The Texan anatomist, Roger Williams, who has done more than anyone else to establish the full range of man’s anatomical and physiological diversity, has proposed Free but Unequal as the motto of a modern society.  Freedom in inequality is a good basis for an educational system to work on:  but as a goal for it to work towards, I would suggest Varied Excellence.

In any case, educationists must assuredly struggle against conformism and must resist the imposition of all dogmatisms, including their own.  They will remember that cultural and individual diversity is precious in itself, and will strive for vivifying variety and against monotonous mediocrity.  They will try to ensure that the more gifted children are not bored and frustrated by being kept back to the level of the average, the less gifted not made to suffer by being pushed beyond their capacities.  They will try to provide a range of opportunities to meet their pupils’ range of aptitudes.  But they will hold fast to the humanist vision of variety in unity, and will endeavor to provide a common ground of thought and action, a unitary vision and framework of ideas which all human variants can share.

One point deserves special consideration.  The increasing complexity of modern societies demands an increasing number of men and women of great ability and high competence to run them.  It should be a prime duty of our educationalists to meet this demand.  For this, genetics and education must join hands.  We need a comprehensive selection system to catch as many potential geniuses and top people as possible, and once caught, we must give them an education designed to help and permit them to realize their capacities to the full.  Failure to do this will lead to a running down of national efficiency and national achievement.  It will also be a lamentable waste of that most valuable of human resources, mental and spiritual power*, and will prevent many potential geniuses from developing their precious talents.

In doing justice to human variety, educationalists will be accused of encouraging an elite, and of aiding new class differences.  That must be faced.  Nature is not egalitarian; societies must always be stratified in some way; and, whether you call them an elite or anything else, outstanding people are needed at the top.

* Huxley conceives of ‘spiritual’ in entirely materialistic, naturalistic terms.  He is a thoroughgoing atheist.

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  1. […] Presumably, though, this is the same Michael Young who was the author of the book “The Rise of Meritocracy.”  He is not pleased with how the ideas described in that book have been appropriated.  In light of his article denouncing modern meritocracy, consider this from Julian Huxley. […]

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