Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/155

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By Professor A. B. WOLFE


FEW aspects of present educational thought are more striking than the persistent and telling criticism it is bringing to bear on the American College. The universal demand for efficiency in our national life has put the college on trial—and has caught it in a state, of unpreparedness to make a consistent defense in its own behalf. Presidents and professors differ among themselves not only in holding widely diverse ideas on the difficult questions of college administration, but also with regard to the fundamental purpose of the college, but until this question is settled, and settled correctly, it is hopeless to look for well-founded and certain improvement in college efficiency. A wrong conception of the function of the college—an erroneous aim—may rob otherwise most ideal educational processes of their value and adaptation to our real needs.

The aim of the college must change with changing social needs. Failure to recognize this fact and to act upon it with sufficient decision and promptitude is precisely the reason why the American colleges have been caught napping. They have not kept pace with the needs of a nation undergoing an unprecedentedly rapid evolution.

A glance back at the motives and conditions which led to the establishment of most American colleges will make this clear. Most of the colleges—those not integral parts of great universities, at any rate—were established from religious motives by religious institutions. In the great middle west, where the greater portion of the colleges are situated, and where religious conviction and moral decency have been for decade after decade considered inseparable, the great bulk of the people have considered religious education an indispensable foundation for "character," and character as the be-all and end-all of education. "Character" has thus been announced everywhere and always the end of education, and the task of the college, "character-building." College faculties have gone to work at character as if it were an edifice to be built up brick by brick, stone by stone, very much in accordance with the flowery formulas so often, in the olden days, sounded forth from the college oratorical platforms. We now distrust the character and character-building formulæ a little. The terms have had too narrow a meaning, have too commonly lacked a rich and concretely significant content, to serve as really effective watchwords for the twentieth-century college. They have become, long since, catch phrases, to save us the need of reconstruction in educational thought. We need to set up