The push for structural change in the East bloc - for free elections, for a shift to a more open market system - will soon create a demand for reform in other social structures in these nations. One of the most important is education. As the rigid mental framework of Stalinism-Leninism comes under attack, so the whole idea of Marxist education should be thrown open, and new values, beliefs, debates, world-views, and information be considered.
Such changes are already happening in Czechoslovakia. Czech students quoting Thomas Jefferson in the streets last week (something they didn't learn in official courses) have earned a major concession from the Prague regime: The requirement that education ``be in the spirit of Marxism-Leninism'' will be lifted. No longer must they sit four hours a week in classes on scientific communism, and read tortured prose on the theory of Marxist history, such as this model of obfuscation, from one Czech textbook: ``The basic subdivision of the development of human history is the periodization of history.'' Tell us about it.
The students aren't fooled. They've learned more about history in the streets than in class.
What will replace Marxism is education based on ``scientific knowledge and principles of humanitarianism.'' That doesn't yet sound like something the faculty senate at Stanford University would delight over. But it's a start.
The act of ``creating democracy,'' if successful, will require new kinds of education. The need for formal education reform - at all levels of schooling - is obvious. Such reform will be indigenous. But the kinds of ideas and open learning that only a few in the universities are now privy to must be available to all - in East Germany, Hungary, and Poland, as well as Czechoslovakia.
The history of democracy should be taught honestly, beginning in early grades. Students should learn about the Magna Charta, the Reformation, the American Revolution, the tension points between concepts of freedom and equality - and so forth.
New textbooks will be needed. New teacher training. New exchanges with scholars in the West. This could be one of education's most exciting hours.