Einstein’s Moral Imperative on “The Common Language of Science”
By Max Eternity
The more I learn about Albert Einstein, the more I see how terribly represented he has been throughout history. The general impression I’ve been given about Einstein, whether in the classroom or casual conversation, usually falls into two camps: that he was an intellectual genius living in a cold, uncompromising world of super-elite academia, or that he was an absent-minded weird scientist who just happened to stumble across a few incredibly brilliant ideas.
In either scenario, it seems I was taught over and over again, that Einstein was nothing like me or anyone I might know.
This began to change about 15 years ago when I began to learn about the history of Black Mountain College (BMC). Among other things, I found out that Einstein was on the BMC Board of Directors, and that he was one of the many distinguished guest lecturers appearing there.
My interest in pedagogy began 30 years ago when I first recall being introduced to the Bauhaus. Growing up I had the good fortune of going to well-funded public schools, and even though my test scores were high, school did not excite me.
Year after year I became less challenged and less interested. By the 9th grade I felt the majority of what I was learning was a waste of my time and public funds, and by the 12th grade I was so depressed and unhappy that I was barely able to graduate.
I’ve since learned that independent critical thinking is vital to my developmental experience, as is unhinged creative exploration. While learning, I must perceive tangible applications for my intellectual and artistic gains. And for someone who comes from a people who have been historically disposed, the ability to use my learning toward socioeconomic justice adds greater appeal.
All of this was very much a part of the Bauhaus and BMC pedagogic experience, which is why both schools hold such great interest for me, and why it came as no great surprise to me when I learned that many of the people at the Bauhaus in Germany emigrated to the US and taught at BMC.
As far as I know, Einstein was not directly involved in any aspect of the Bauhaus, but like many Jews in the arts and sciences, he did migrate to the US in the 1930’s, and his interactions at BMC did put him in direct contact with like-minded alumni of the Bauhaus.
The Bauhaus, which was considered a school of degenerates, was closed by the Nazi Party in 1933, the same year that Einstein came to America. And once in the US, his activities went far beyond the walls of academia. He became a civil rights activist and a champion of education and economic justice. His intellectual approach to life became interdisciplinary, and he often spoke about cultural relationships, morality and the interconnectedness of all things.
What follows is a recording of a 1941 essay called “The Common Language of Science.” Einstein made this recording as a radio presentation to the British Association for the Advancement of Science. A good written critique of this essay can be found at the Open Culture website.