Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/583

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577
FUNCTION OF THE AMERICAN COLLEGE

be wiser to turn to some more immediately practical and active work. But the situation which makes such a judgment common among college instructors is not, I am persuaded, just what it is frequently interpreted to be; it is not, that is, proof of a hard and fast demarkation between the intellectually unfit and the elect, based on distinctions of natural equipment. There are at least two other reasons for the sort of difference between students which makes it so difficult oftentimes to adjust teaching to the material it has to work upon. The first is the lack of preparation in the foundations of intellectual culture which the student brings to the college—particularly in the power of good observation, accurate thinking and clear English expression. A large share of the difficulties of the college teacher consists in overcoming the handicap with which the student starts. But theoretically this would not exist if our lower schools were what they should be. Not, of course, that it is equally easy to teach even these to all minds. But it is possible to do it for the great majority. And for the lower schools, at any rate, to fall back on the plea that they are there simply to provide the materials of knowledge, while disclaiming responsibility for the mass of those who need special encouragement and attention, is to confess the bankruptcy of our educational system.

The second great drawback to a proper level of attainment in the mass of college students is the lack of interest and ambition. But this again is a largely improvable situation. The simplest way to meet it would be undoubtedly to devise plans for the quick elimination of students who show that they have no real desire for a college training. In this I can see no injustice; it only would be well before putting it in operation, that educators should search their own hearts to make sure to what extent the fault lies in themselves. The temptation is, again, to take too readily the stand that the business of the teacher is merely to set forth his educational wares, and leave it to the student to make what use of them he will. And if our aim were merely to develop special ability, as indeed it is in the university proper, there would be nothing to be said against this. If, however, we take the stand that education is not a matter merely for selected individuals, but has a duty to perform in leavening the mass, it becomes an important point of the teacher's duty to develop interest, as well as minister to it when it is already there. For a persistent intellectual interest is not a natural taste, but an artificial one. Natural interests furnish its conditions. But these are transient for the most part and easily discouraged; to turn them into permanent habits of mind needs all the technical skill and pedagogical enthusiasm that can be brought to bear. But when our school methods, lower and higher, are revised to this end, then a rigorous process of weeding out such portions of the student body as show no genuine purpose and effort, but treat instead their studies as incidental