Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/587

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581
FUNCTION OF THE AMERICAN COLLEGE

apt to look out for himself. He will thrive probably in spite of our attempts to educate him quite as much as because of them. The most that society can do is to have plenty of opportunities ready to his hand, and see to it that unnecessary and artificial restrictions do not prevent his free expansion. Naturally the college will receive all alike, the exceptional and the mediocre; and one part, though a secondary part, of its function will doubtless be to bring to light the man of brilliant parts. But its machinery will be wasted if it sets itself to this as its main task. To what extent the university with its specialized training is likely to cooperate to the same end, it is not easy to say. Certainly it has not done a great deal in the past, and its specialized and academic character is against it. There is a well-founded distrust of the capacity of the academic mind to set the standards of society. Even its good points are against it. There is such a thing as being too reasonable, if reliance on reason makes us, as it tends to do, over-critical and afraid of action such as anticipates grounded theory. The specialized university can produce the economist and the legal expert; beyond this it is not so clear. What distinguishes the real leader from the expert is precisely that broad outlook and human sympathy which constitutes culture. And specialized training, uncorrected, tends also to obscure that feeling of the need for submitting scientific reasoning in state matters to the test of popular agreement, which alone is consistent with the democratic ideal. Upon the college, then—when nature does not ignore the school and the schoolmaster altogether—most of the task seems likely to fall. If it can devise some plan to meet the special needs of the exceptional man, that he may not be encouraged merely to keep pace with the mass, so much the better; if not, he will probably make his own opportunities. Meanwhile nothing in the attempt should jeopardize the main end of the college, or induce it to give way to that seductive tendency to exalt overmuch the claims of cleverness, which is the peculiar temptation of higher education.