Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/176

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170
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
CONCERNING THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY.[1]
By Professor J. McKEEN CATTELL,
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY.

POLITICAL, social and educational institutions rise and decline, as species and genera have come and gone in the history of organic life. Evolution has been on the whole progressive, leading to greater differentiation and more complex interdependence. But there have been strange creatures — suited perhaps to their environment, but monsters from our point of view — brutes encased in impenetrable armor and dragons undecided as to whether they should crawl or fly. Our universities have developed in the main by the crude and wasteful methods of natural selection; but a new factor in evolution has in these latter days become possible and perhaps even potent. The struggle for existence, prodigal of time and careless of the individual, resulted in the production of animals that could learn by experience, and finally in such as can consciously look before and after and plan for what is not. Hitherto human foresight and reason have had but little to do in the selection and direction of educational methods, but the time has come when we can at least form opinions and judgments. We realize that certain surviving dinosaurs should be exterminated, that certain fads spread like weeds, that the ' fittest' is not always the best. Our reason is as yet only a toy in the hands of a child, but as the child grows the toy may become an engine competent to direct our civilization. We have not at present a science of education or an art of education based on science, but we are beginning to have ideas. However vague and immature these may be, it is well that they begin to exist, for thanks to the contagion and possible immortality of ideas, natural selection can here work more rapidly than in the case of organisms. It may take a million years to mold a new whorl on a shell, whereas the entire system of higher education in America has developed since the Johns Hopkins University opened its doors twenty-five years ago.

 

The outline history of the American university is a familiar story. We had the English college, beginning with Harvard in 1636, for the training of the clergy and as a denominational school. With many

  1. An address read before the members of Phi Beta Kappa of the Johns Hopkins University on May 2, 1902.