Popular Science Monthly/Volume 19/September 1881/Correspondence
SELF-GOVERNMENT IN COLLEGES.
YOUR editorial on "Self-Government in Education," in which you give an account of the interesting experiment that has proved so satisfactory at Amherst College, suggests to me that Amherst is by no means a leader in applying the principle of self-government among students. In saying this I imply no detraction from the credit due to Amherst; on the contrary, it is rather a subject of congratulation that this college has been so conspicuously successful in carrying out a policy the importance of which has been long recognized, but which could not always be carried into effect.
A little over fifty years ago, the University of Virginia was founded as a group of independent schools in which students were permitted perfect freedom in the election of courses of study; and in their relations with the faculty the system of espionage, so universal in other educational institutions, was entirely discarded. The chairman of the faculty was of course brought into contact with students who abused their freedom, but the student's responsibility as a man was always recognized, and no trammels were imposed upon him beyond the obligation to respect the rights of others. It was assumed that he knew thoroughly the object to be attained by his attendance at the university, and the obligations implied in association with polite society. If he should fail to exercise enough diligence to win success in the final examinations, he himself was the only loser, and the opportunity was afforded him to try the same course another year. But if his example was deemed bad, or any disturbance was traced to him by ordinary methods without espionage, private admonition was bestowed by the chairman, or he was advised to leave. This advice, thus quietly given, was adopted, and the publicity of expulsion usually avoided. From personal experience in this institution ten years ago and again five years ago, the writer does not hesitate to say that as a student he enjoyed all the liberty that is afforded him in New York City as a member of society.
In 1866 the University of South Carolina was organized upon the same general plan that had been long carried into effect in Virginia, and with similar results. Owing to political complications in that State, the University was disbanded in 1870, but during its existence the principle of self-government among students was carried out in full. A students' court was occasionally held, and on no occasion did conflict arise with the faculty.
In 1870 a system of local self-government for the students was adopted in the State University of Indiana. The experiment has been on the whole successful, and a description of many of the details has lately appeared in print. There were at times difficulties which seemed to necessitate total abandonment of the plan; but each year's experience has given strength, and no return to the old system is now considered advisable.
The late report of the President of Harvard affords much that is interesting in relation to methods of college instruction and discipline. The growth of individual freedom for the student has been as noticeable as the increase of breadth in the scope of the university. The same remark applies to Columbia College, as shown by the last annual report of President Barnard. Indeed, in all of our best institutions of learning the day of espionage is past, recitation-marks are to a large extent abandoned, and students are regarded as agents that are not only free, but also self-respecting, responsible, and possessed of enough common-sense to appreciate the objects to be attained by entering upon a course of college study.
But the appreciation of self-government is not wholly confined to those who take part in the work of our higher institutions. In the columns of the New York "Evening Post," last December, appeared a series of articles on "Self-Government in Schools," in which the writer, one of the most successful teachers of our city, gave an exceedingly instructive recital of experiments which he has been cautiously conducting for a number of years past, to test the advisability of substituting the freedom of the republic for the centralized power of an autocracy in the schoolroom. He has found that a large measure of self-government is quite admissible, even where pupils are far below the age at which admission to college is possible. The president of the school republic subjected himself to the same laws by which juvenile voters were bound, and in the end found he had nothing to regret.
Indeed, every intelligent teacher in an intelligent community to-day, whether his sphere of duty be in the lecture-room, the class-room, or the schoolroom, has been obliged to adapt himself to the evolution of society. If he fails to respect that freedom of thought, of belief, of action, which our civilization makes necessary in all social relations, he finds it necessary to seek other fields where social evolution is not sufficiently advanced to make him an interloper. The same spirit in society which has caused the abolition of the birch rod in school, except in cases of peculiarly low personal organization, has caused the abolition of espionage in colleges and universities. In calling the attention of your readers to the methods by which success is attained in institutions like Amherst, where not only the right but the duty of self-government among students is insisted upon, you are aiding the work of educational reform, and all such efforts are entitled to the acknowledgment of those whose work is education.
Will you permit me through the columns of your journal to ask for a scrap of information that I have been unable to obtain from any books at my command, or from any other source. Infesting the islands of Lake Erie is an insect which from all accounts plagues human beings in much the same manner that the chigoe or chigre—commonly called jigger—of the South is said to. The islanders call this insect a "midget," also a "jigger," and say that it is most numerous in bushes or the under-growth of the woods; that it is almost invisible to the naked eye; and that when it effects a lodging on the human body it bores through, and lies under, the skin, causing the very annoying and sometimes painful "bites" that are experienced by visitors to the islands. I have frequently suffered from these "bites," which are far more distressing than the most aggravated mosquito-bites, but have never been able to find anything of the little pest that gives them. I am told, however, that, if a "bite" is examined as soon as it begins to itch, the "midget," an infinitesimal yellow insect, may be seen in its center. The "midget" seems to be unlike the chigoe of the West Indies and South America, judging by cyclopedic accounts of this latter insect, only in the respect that it does not, as far as I have been able to discover, rear its progeny under the skin it bores into. Perhaps you, or some of your readers, will be kind enough to inform me what the "midget" is, its true name, etc.Respectfully,