Should Students Study?/Chapter III

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Should Students Study? by William Trufant Foster
Chapter III College Life and College Studies
The students have given us their own word for it that College Life is more important that college studies; but Professor Gayley of the University of California calls this worshiping the idol of Incidental Issues. "As if character were worth anything without mind, and were any other, as President Wilson has wisely said, than the by-product of duty performed; or that the duty of a student were any other than to study. They accept the fallacy that the gauge of studentship is popularity, and that popularity during academic years is to be won by hasty achievement and the babbling strenuous life, by allegiance to a perverted image of the Alma Mater, by gregariousness, by playing at citizenship. Of this popularity the outward and visible index is mundane prominence and the lightly proffered laurel of the campus."
President Hyde further expressed the common idea of college teachers when he said, in an address to freshmen: "Put your studies first; and that for three reasons: first, you will have a better time in college. Hard work is a necessary background for the enjoyment of everything else. Second, after the first three months you will stand better with your fellows. At first there will appear to be cheaper roads to distinction, but their cheapness is soon found out. Scholarship alone will not give you the highest standing with your fellows; but you will not get the highest respect without showing that you can do well something that is intellectually difficult. Third, your future career depends upon it."
But how does your future career really depend upon it? That question may well be answered by college faculties with something more than their opinions. On this subject teachers are regarded as prejudices authorities. They are supposed to believe in the importance of their own jobs. They may exhort students to study on the ground that success in undergraduate studentship leads to the kind of achievement that men desire in the life beyond Commencement. But boys think they know better.
Is high scholarship worth the effort? In other words, have colleges devised courses of study which bear any relation to the probable careers of students? Is there any evidence that a man who attains high marks is more likely to achieve success after graduation than a man who is content with passing marks?
If there is any such connection between success in studies and success in life, it should be possible to measure it by approved statistical methods, and thus arrive at conclusions of more value as guidance to the undergraduate than the opinion of any man. Both the professor and the sport are in danger of arguing from exceptional instances — each is likely to find striking cases in proof of his preconceived notions; each is inclined to scorn the opinion of the other.
But conclusions drawn from large numbers of cases, not subject to invalidating processes of selection, and employing terms that are adequately defined for the purpose at hand, must command the respect of all men. If such conclusions do not support the contention that it pays to study, there is something radically wrong with the professor's part of college affairs; different kinds of academic achievement should receive different academic distinction and new tests should be devised. If, on the other hand, present standards for rating students predict their future success with any degree of accuracy, the facts should be discovered and used everywhere to combat the prevalent undergraduate opinion. Whatever the outcome of such studies, we should have them in larger numbers, in many places, protected by every safeguard of scientific method. We may well ask, first, whether promise in the studies of one period becomes performance in the studies of a later period.