Educators across borders: the Conference of Allied Ministers of Education, 1942–45

3   Educators across borders

The Conference of Allied Ministers of Education, 1942–45

Miriam Intrator

In his capacity as first director of the interwar International Institute for Intellectual Cooperation (IIIC), the cultural arm associated with the League of Nations, Julien Luchaire viewed himself as representing those who were neither diplomats nor economists, but who envisioned the construction of peace occurring in the minds of men. Luchaire described how others all over the world “were obsessed by the same dream.”1 Belief in that dream continued to drive individuals like Luchaire into and through the World War II years. The Conference of Allied Ministers of Education (CAME), convened in London in 1942 and the focus of this chapter, brought together a group of men and women who viewed education and culture as vital elements for healing the world from the horrors of war and building a more peaceful future.

It is worth recalling that for governments to pay any attention to such matters when Nazi victory looked likely demonstrated breathtaking self-confidence and practical vision. Their work culminated in the November 1945 establishment of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The continuity of that shared dream is reflected in the most often-quoted line of UNESCO’s Constitution which still headlines the organization’s website today: “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men [and women] that the defences of peace must be constructed.” This chapter outlines the initial convening of CAME, the work of the commissions responsible for its specific activities and programs within the wartime context, and the early postwar transition of CAME into UNESCO. It concludes by reflecting on potential present-day relevance of innovative ideas and activities that emerged out of CAME.

Tasked with reconstructing communities and societies based on focusing on the realms of culture and education and on reaching people on an individual basis, CAME’s approach was not new to the World War II period. Indeed, CAME may be viewed as the intermediary body between the IIIC and UNESCO, though the connections are far from seamless. The IIIC, active from 1926 until 1939, did not have the time, resources, or reach to achieve a broad international impact and has largely been considered part of the failure of the League of Nations. Looking back, many at CAME also wanted to distance themselves from the perceived elitism of being identified by the word “intellectual.”2 Perhaps the greatest inspiration taken from the IIIC was that international cooperation in the realms of culture and education was essential to solving the overwhelming imbalance between resource supply and demand in the immediate postwar period, and to constructing a stable and peaceful world. At the first CAME meeting on 16 November 1942 (with the Nazis still winning at Stalingrad), Malcolm Robertson, chairman of the British Council, stated his belief that “collaboration on common tasks and problems would lead to that educational fellowship which [ … ] would be the solution to many of the problems of the future.”3

The primary forces driving CAME were anxiety about what impact the horrors of war and occupation were having on young people and the resultant conviction that the (re)education and de-Nazification of children and youth in all countries occupied by Germany should play a paramount role in reconstruction and rehabilitation. In order to heal the world from fascism, CAME and then UNESCO sought to instill values that would open young people’s minds to democratic ideals and render them less susceptible to militarist and other extremist politics, thus creating a more educated, tolerant, global society and peaceful future. A November 1946 report highlights how heavily World War II and its aftermath weighed on the nascent UNESCO: “The human and material losses and the war-born complexities of reconstruction are like great weights shackling the feet of the young Unesco, crippling its progress towards the goals of a better world. Until the weights are in some major way reduced, Unesco cannot run its best race.”4 To understand the establishment of UNESCO and how its initial activities came to be characterized primarily by reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts, it is necessary to look back to how its roots evolved over the course of the war.

As this chapter demonstrates, the planning that enabled UNESCO to undertake a relatively rapid and effective postwar response was launched early in the war years. Indeed, CAME exemplifies Mark Mazower’s argument that “the origins of the post war were to be found in the war years themselves.”5 According to Grayson Kefauver, American education specialist and delegate to CAME and UNESCO, “without the work of the Conference [CAME] it was unlikely that UNESCO would have been established so soon and so successfully.”6 The origins of CAME, and thus of UNESCO, emerged during the summer of 1942 in the offices of Rab Butler, member of Parliament and president of the British Board of Education, and Robertson of the British Council.

Convening the Conference of Allied Ministers of Education

During the summer of 1942, Butler and Robertson developed an idea to take advantage of the “unique opportunity afforded by the presence in Great Britain of so many Allied educational authorities for collaboration on educational questions affecting the Allied countries of Europe and the United Kingdom both during and after the war.”7 In October 1942, an invitation sent to the ministers of education of the Allied governments and National Councils in the United Kingdom announced Butler’s hope “to confer with” them based on his belief “that it would be of value to have periodic meetings when educational questions affecting the Allied countries of Europe and the United Kingdom both during the war period and in the post-war period, could be discussed.”8

The initial invitation suggested general points of inquiry that the Allied ministers might consider. Listed first, categorized under “The Present,” came the study of British educational institutions, meaning that “accredited representatives of the Allied Departments of Education” could visit “any type of educational institution in the UK,” and assistance, defined as “all possible support and advice” to Allied educational establishments founded in the UK during and as a result of the war. Listed second, categorized under “The Future” and introduced by the disclaimer that the organizers “fully realised that it is not possible to foresee in detail what the educational needs of our respective countries will be in the post-war period, but it is felt that there are various general problems which will affect all countries and on which a discussion and an exchange of views, even at this stage, will be profitable,” came, “(i) the provision of books, especially text-books for schools, (ii) the provision of trained personnel, (iii) reports from unofficial organisations.”9 The unknown future represented by that second category was CAME’s greatest preoccupation.

The first meeting occurred on 16 November 1942 and included representatives from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Yugoslavia, and Great Britain. Through December 1945, CAME met 21 times (its various commissions and committees met many more), with participation growing steadily. Representatives of Luxembourg attended the conference’s fourth meeting on 25 May 1943, as did observers from the United States and Soviet Union. The latter stopped sending participants to CAME’s last two meetings in October and December 1945. At the fifth meeting in July 1943, CAME expanded beyond Europe with delegates and observers attending from Australia, Canada, China, India, New Zealand, and South Africa. Their arrival forced CAME to begin to take war damage in Asia and the East into increasing consideration, yet its focus, even as it transitioned into UNESCO, remained overwhelmingly on continental Europe. This geographical narrowness can be attributed both to CAME’s European origins as well as to its geographical location and financial limitations. In the immediate aftermath of war, travel was expensive and complex, requiring time, people, and resources that UNESCO lacked. It was also difficult to obtain permission from various occupying powers, making it more feasible to focus initially on Europe.

After the fifth meeting, the US ambassador to the United Kingdom, John Gilbert Winant, wrote to the secretary of state reporting that discussions of “restructuring” CAME on a “broader basis” had included “general desire … expressed for active participation of the United States, USSR and China”; all were already sending observers. The desire stemmed from the financial and material assistance they, and particularly the United States, would be able to contribute. As Winant wrote in a follow-up letter, “There is a general feeling that a satisfactory program of this character cannot be pushed through without assistance from the United States.”10 The United States began regularly sending observers at the next meeting, in October 1943, and officially joined CAME in mid-1944. Its commission consisted of key figures from the American educational arena, including Congressman J. William Fulbright, Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish, US Commissioner of Education John Studebaker, Stanford University’s Dean of Education Grayson N. Kefauver, Ralph E. Turner from the Department of State, and Vassar College’s Dean Mildred Thompson. The high-level delegation reflected those of other countries as well and is an indication of how seriously governments were taking concern with educational reconstruction. The impact of the official arrival of the Americans cannot be overstated, but it has been examined in detail elsewhere and is only briefly discussed here.11

The United States immediately encouraged a more clearly articulated plan and process, requesting “a memorandum indicating the end result toward which you are trying to move, the steps which you are taking and planning to take, and giving some indication of the justification for the various steps to be taken.”12 The goal of such a “compact and well-ordered analysis” was “to see the total process rather clearly, to avoid if possible taking preliminary steps in relationship to final objectives which are not in harmony with the total program of supply control and of planning for the procurement of essential materials for the badly devastated countries.”13 On one hand, the arrival of the Americans ramped up CAME’s planning activities; on the other hand, it escalated existing intergovernmental tensions over everything from nomenclature to mission. The American delegation had very specific ideas and, given its generous budgetary contributions (upward of 50 percent), requirements regarding CAME’s future scope and structure.

Among other things, the American delegation encouraged discussions begun in February 1944 regarding the establishment of a permanent body focused on culture and education. There was general agreement that this new organization should be associated with the United Nations, which should appear in its name “because it implied a broader basis,” reflecting in part the non-European nations involved and demanding more inclusivity and attention.14 The Australian delegate, for example, said that “it would not be possible for his Government to accept full membership of any organisation which did not include in its realm the territories of the Far East.”15 He was echoing the resistance of other non-European states to contribute to an organization without evidence that they would directly benefit. Nevertheless, throughout the CAME-to-UNESCO transition, there was virtually no debate over the primary mission: preparing for immediate postwar educational work. French philosopher Jacques Maritain addressed this surprising consensus, arguing that “different as [UNESCO] members are in their views, they all seem to believe in doing the same things.”16

Disagreements did arise, for example, over whether the focus would be on intellectual cooperation in a direct extension of the interwar IIIC as the French wanted, or on mass communication and education as the Anglo-American contingent wanted, or on whether or not science would be included in the organization’s name. The founders of UNESCO attempted a conciliatory approach: headquartered in Paris, highly focused on mass communication, with English scientist Julian Huxley as first director-general and largely financed by the United States, they sought to incorporate the views of and assuage the concerns of these primary states, ultimately an impossible undertaking that also contributed to the fragmentation of mission and identity that continues to trouble the organization today.

Given CAME’s concern with postwar reconstruction, becoming a UN agency was a delicate matter as the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) had been established already in 1943. CAME’s position was that “UNRRA would feed and clothe the people, and a parallel body must be started to go to the liberated countries, to re-create the schools, universities, etc., gather the students together and look after the rebuilding.”17 UNESCO’s reconstruction and rehabilitation activities had, first, to be limited to the realms of education, science, and culture, and second, to be designed to integrate into broader, long-term development and improvement goals. UNESCO struggled from the outset to balance the short and long term:

From an educational and cultural point of view, the Governments of the United Nations are facing a twofold international problem. One aspect of the problem is of a transitory nature and the other of a permanent character. The cold-blooded and considered destruction by the enemy countries of the cultural resources of great parts of the continents of Europe and Asia; the murder of teachers, artists, scientists and intellectual leaders; the burning of books; the pillaging and mutilation of works of art; the rifling of archives and the theft of scientific apparatus, have created conditions dangerous to civilization, and, therefore, to peace, not only in the countries and continents ravaged by the enemy powers, but throughout the entire world. To deprive any part of the inter-dependent modern world of the cultural resources, human and material, through which its children are trained and its people informed, is to destroy to that extent the common knowledge and the mutual understanding upon which the peace of the world and its security must rest.18

This organizational strategy ensured that UNESCO would not be confused for a relief agency, which it emphatically was not. At the same time, CAME argued that the feeding of people’s bodies and minds was intricately interrelated and recommended that UNRRA consider providing meals to students during the school day: “Until the young are restored to good physical condition, they cannot learn well. They will not be able to concentrate or to attend properly; they will seem restless and disobedient; their memories will appear weak.”19 The two bodies communicated throughout their period of overlapping activity and UNESCO took over some of UNRRA’s activities when the latter ceased operations.20

Ultimately, CAME was driven by its own specific interests: information gathering and sharing, re-equipping educational institutions, re-education and de-Nazification, restitution, and creating international standards and central clearing houses in order to ease the transnational sharing and exchange of information and resources. Eight commissions, each tasked with a specific realm of activity and formed over the course of the war years, addressed these interests:

1  Books Commission

a)  History Committee

b)  Inter-Allied Book Centre

2  Commission on Cultural Conventions

3  Science Commission

4  Audio-Visual Aids

5  Commission for the Protection and Restitution of Cultural Material

6  Basic Scholastic Equipment Commission

7  Commission for Special Problems in Liberated Countries

8  Committee on the Belgian Memorandum (de-Nazification)

The primary mission and plan of action of a selection of these commissions is discussed in the following section by highlighting some of their most innovative and effective ideas and projects. The selection reflects the fact that there was much overlap between certain commissions, and that some were far more active and productive than others.

The work of the CAME commissions

Re-education and de-Nazification constituted a central concern of all commissions from the outset, with CAME fearing the fascist propaganda infiltrating schools and media and poisoning young minds in occupied countries. Planning ways for “counteracting Nazi racial propaganda,”21 CAME was sensitive to the reality that “de-nazification could not be achieved merely by setting up counter-propaganda, nor would it be wise merely to try destroying slogans by counter-slogans.”22

Planning for the postwar in the midst of the ongoing war created a serious impediment: uncertainty, lack of information, and misinformation regarding the extent of damage and destruction and the resultant needs. Assumptions had to be made in order for progress to be achieved. Many leaned toward worst-case scenarios, assuming “that all institutions would be destroyed.”23 The Science Commission, for example:e

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