Re: James Carson Breckinridge on Military Education
This is a fascinating read! So the importance of thinking critically and creatively is not a new discovery? Breckinridge stresses that war cannot be understood through principles and rule sets and it is therefore essential for PME to focus on cultivating the mind rather than teaching to school solutions. Clausewitz and Boyd would certainly agree. It is interesting that Breckinridge wrote this just 8 years after the War Department first encoded the principles of war into U.S. Army doctrine. Is Breckinridge reacting to this? Is that why he, a 1923 graduate of the Army War College, was looking to the University of Wisconsin to inspire the Marine Corps Schools?
Breckinridge also describes the tension between specialization and generalization, though he seems to be arguing for a general military education beyond an officer's proficiency in his MOS, and today we talk about needing to appreciate the wider diplomatic, informational, economic, and social context rather than just focusing on the military profession. The common feature, I think, is that PME cannot be a closed system which, in Breckinridge's words, promotes "suicidal specialization" .
What would Breckinridge think of the Marine Corps schools today, 89 years after he founded them and wrote this article? I suspect he would be happy to see the broad nature of the issues students study, and the lack of school solutions. When Colonel Mike Wyly returned to TBS in retirement in 2015 he observed genuine discussion and praise of original thought. He considered this the most rewarding long-term result of the maneuver warfare movement. I also think Breckinridge would be happy to see that the focus of today's planning exercises is on the base order rather than on the annexes.
I do think Breckinridge might worry a little that broadening our curricula so much might be skirting "suicide by smattering."
Finally, I think every PME instructor should ask himself or herself whether they are fulfilling this vision: "The teachers will not consider the authoritative handing down of knowledge to the students as their primary function; they will look upon themselves as provokers and guides in the learning process. It will be a case of a group of intelligent men, each with a fund of specialized knowledge, joining with a group of
students in a common effort to understand the problems of living and of learning (of solving military problems)... ...the teacher must jolt a student out of his rut of thought, in which he complaisantly accepts what he is told, or what he reads." If you were charged with this "crime," would there be enough evidence to convict?