Popular Science Monthly/Volume 31/August 1887/Educational Endowments
THERE is so much sound philosophy on the present subject in a story related by that genial publication, the "Arkansaw Traveler," that we may be excused in departing from the severe dignity proper to a sociological essay in repeating it. It seems that down in Arkansaw there lives an old man named Billson, together with his son Dan, who is a close student. Billson was naturally proud of his son, and allowed the young man to remain in his room, deeply covered with the grand rubbish of ancient wisdom. During the busy season, when every hoe in the garden-patch was worth its weight in silver, Billson's neighbors would ask:
"Why don't you make Dan help you with your cotton?"
"He can't spare the time from his studies."
"Studying is all well enough; but, do you think it would hurt him much to drop his books for a day or two, and take up a hoe? The grass is gaining on you."
The old man sighed and seriously reflected for many days. One morning he reverentially entered his son's room. Pointing to an open volume that lay on the young man's desk, he asked:
"What book is that?"
"Full of interestin' readin', I reckon."
"As grand thought as was ever expressed."
"Ain't law, is it?"
"Oh, no, it's philosophy."
"Yes, but what is philosophy?"
"O—er—well, it's er—it's the—soul of great men shaped into words."
"Ah, hah! What does this here fellow Plato propose to larn you?"
"To be great, to look high."
"Yes, but does he tell you what to look at?"
"O—er—yes, he—that is, he tells you to purify your soul."
"Ah, hah! But what does he tell you to do with the body?"
"The body! Why, he scorns the body."
"Ah! Don't appear to have much use for it, eh?"
"He is higher than all things physical."
"Sorter silent on cotton, too, I reckon?"
"Why, father, what can you mean?"
"Wal, I'll tell you. Ain't got nothin' agin Ponto—"
"Yes. I ain't got nothin' agin him, you understand, and reckon he may be a pretty clever fellow; but I'll tell you what's a fact. He ain't worth his salt when the grass is in the cotton; so, Dan, jus' grab that hoe hangin' in the tree out there, and scorn the grass, and larn the cotton to look up."
"Great goodness! "the affrighted young man exclaimed,"I can't stand it out there!"
"Oh, but you mustn't pay no attention to the body. The sun won't hurt your soul. Come on, or your grub stops."
The young man sighed, and like the scriptural personage, arose and followed his father. Two hours later a panting and perspiring Platonist wielding a heavy hoe was seen striking at the fox-tail grass.
This story illustrates the superstition and ignorance which have characterized the great mass of mankind regarding educational matters. It is a fact at this day that the vast majority of pupils in attendance at our colleges do not know what they want. It is also a fact that the parents who send them do not know what value their children are to get for the sacrifice made. They have a vague idea that their children are to be "educated," and are accordingly to take their place among the first of the land. This simple conception is carefully coddled at commencements, where the public are congratulated on the fact that they are to be taken under the protecting wing of the "educated" (i. e., the college-bred) man. The common people are elegantly assured that they will be supremely blessed, in some mysterious and unspecified manner, by the presence of "educated" men among them; while at the same time it appears that the "educated" man will have a very nice and agreeable job in taking care of the public. And the amazing superstition that a study of books (and those, too, almost irrespective of the wants of either pupil or public) is education, persists in defiance of all sense and experience.
The same simple faith appears in the making of charitable bequests. No statistics regarding educational endowments are afforded by the census, nor are any at hand, hence the subject can not be presented in its full aspect. But we know that endowments are daily announced in the newspapers. Young men and women are to be hired to study theology by means of fellowships, to look at the stars, to study the languages, and the sciences, or whatever the whim of the "benefactor" happens to be. The climax is reached when, as was lately announced in the London "Times," an immense sum is set aside from the ordinary course of business to aid young men in becoming civil engineers. That education, if valuable, should be paid for like everything else of value; that it should stand on the same footing as all other things, and that its value is best secured by its ability to appeal to the spontaneous desires of the public, and to win its financial support precisely as Booth or Patti or Theodore Thomas win their support—that is to say, by receiving value for value given—seems to be a conception which, though it has reached many people in a confused way, has not yet penetrated educational circles. These, like the clergy in former times, imagine themselves independent of the rules governing other men in the struggle for existence, and demand support as a caste, independently of the quality of the individual service rendered, or the amount of demand for it. This is the attitude of college men as a body. They have not yet accommodated themselves to the new age, which recognizes no privilege. And this feeling likewise governs the law, which still permits men to set up perpetuities, and control the administration of wealth years after they are in their graves, and after a society of which they had no idea has arisen.
The explanation is not as simple as the fact is plain. It is that with the advance of the United States to the position of the wealthiest nation of the earth, the wealthy and fashionable classes have naturally reverted to European standards in education and fashion, and thus a collegiate system which once fulfilled a real need in Europe, has been transplanted into our own uncongenial soil. For it is true that even the churning of Latin and Greek into unwilling minds once had its use; as is also true of slavery, of the feudal system, of church establishments, and of all other things. That use consisted in the social discipline involved in the creation of a class united by common interests and ideas which could assist the ecclesiastics and the police in restraining the barbaric vulgar. When modern educational institutions were founded the great necessity of society was the repression of lawlessness, of private war, and of all the elements making for social disorganization. Under the supreme instinct of self-preservation every nation in Europe put forth vast institutions to uphold order and some semblance of law. The feudal system, ecclesiastical power, monarchy, and education, were the chief engines evolved for this purpose. In turn, or at the same time, they fulfilled the need which produced them; and since then they have each slowly declined and are rapidly being forced to adapt themselves to the changed condition of mankind. But every institution retains the instincts which gave it birth; the tendency of every structure is to persist in that mode of activity with which it starts. So we find the aristocracy of England still "willin'," like Barkis, to take care of the people, in spite of the ungrateful and altogether improper ridicule of men like Mr. Labouchere; and the late book of Mr. Mallock, "The Old Order changes," is extremely interesting and instructive, both as the latest expression of this pleasing willingness and in the ferocity with which it treats those who object to being taken care of. So with ecclesiastical systems, in their decline as an autocratic caste, the same mediæval instincts show themselves; and the same resistance to changed conditions appear. In Escott's "England" is an idealized picture of the typical rector, in which the good man's heroic labors are pathetically set forth in such strains that one is reduced to absolute wonder that men like John Bright can be so perverse as to advocate disestablishment; though indeed he might be excused on the ground that the clergy must be prevented from altogether sacrificing themselves on the altar of their country. And in America a like fact appears in the military and naval service. If the naval officers could have their way, we would at once begin to discount the nations of Europe in building ruinous engines for killing our fellow-Christians; and the soldiers would likewise have an enormous standing army perpetually fighting the air on dress-parade. And now, to come to the immediate subject in hand, the same truth holds with regard to education. The European system was introduced into this country, and, though it has been forced to change very extensively, it has held its ground with wonderful tenacity. The primal distinction from one which would naturally grow up here is not in the subjects offered for study but in the method of maintenance. The European system assumes that people do not know what they need, and that it must be offered to them gratis. In America we recognize the contrary to be true in nearly all the concerns of life—in religious establishments, in the militia, and latterly in most college curricula.
In this paper I propose to pass in review the operation of educational endowments both past and present. Having admitted that the artificial support of education had at one time its social justification, we shall confine ourselves to the inquiry, Have endowments been productive of the progress of knowledge and sound education from the individual standpoint? For it will scarcely be pretended that in these days this mode of education is a necessary means of preserving order. That end is now subserved by commerce and the vast interdependence which complicated and specialized systems of production and exchange involve. The province of education in our day has become narrowed like all others, and—speaking, of course, of higher education—is now simply the bestowal of needed knowledge. We shall address ourselves to the inquiry as to whether endowments are a suitable means for the diffusion of knowledge by a brief examination of the history of the English schools and universities, and by a short study of their present operation in this country.
The history of Oxford is deeply involved with that of the general mass of British society. It is first known as poor and democratic. In the early part of the fourteenth century it is said that as many as thirty thousand students were in attendance; and Huber, the learned historian of the universities, says that "the intellectual importance of Oxford at that period is universally acknowledged." At this time the university had none but rented buildings, and little or no land. Endowments did not exist, and every teacher was left to find his own level. The Church and the government now attained a more efficient organization, however, and laid hands upon the universities. The means by which the university became a stepping-stone to the Church and an appendage to the government are not very clear. Monasteries and endowments encouraged the cultivation of such learning as the ecclesiastics considered genuine. The Church and the government gradually acquired intimate and stable relations; and the end of the process was that Oxford, and Cambridge as well, became aristocratic institutions, whose aims and ideas were those of the ruling classes, and whose characters became sociological or political rather than educational. Huber has the following remarkable passage on this point:
"After attaining its greatest external privileges a new process commenced in the university. The number of students diminished but endowments kept increasing, and of course democracy waned rapidly. ... The university became gradually more dependent on fixed possessions and assumed a new impress. It was of course more aristocratic; and did not wholly escape the deadening influence of worldly goods."
Surprising as it may seem, Oxford seems never since to have attained any considerable importance intellectually. From the writings of a contemporary, we learn that the gownsmen became "swollen in mind" and indifferent to learning. Gradually the university became filled with the younger sons of the gentry, who went to the university as the means of ecclesiastical preferment. It is unnecessary to rehearse the facts here summed up; I do not know that they are seriously disputed. Politically, it is well known that the universities have been millstones on the necks of the English people. No progress has been made that they could prevent. Ever fawning on power, they have made it their principal business to obtain pecuniary favors from the government. In this they have been very successful. They early acquired the sole right of presentation to ecclesiastical livings by the bishops and others, and, according to Professor Thorold Rogers, "there would not remain one fifth of the present number of students " without this stimulus. Professor Newman, the translator of Huber, states the effect of all this on Oxford in our own century." An artificial monopoly," he says, "is given to a few accomplishments. ... And here I speak not of the (neglect of the) physical sciences and mathematics—the taste for all which in the University of Oxford has in very recent years actually declined—but, confining our view to the circle of studies which constituted the original basis of the universities, it is extraordinary to see the neglect and decay into which the majority of them have fallen. ... I appeal to any Oxonian whether—with the exception of the Latin and Greek languages and a fair proportion of the corresponding history—there is any one of these subjects for which Oxford is even a third-rate school." He goes on to relate that, when he himself was in Oxford, the candidate for the degree of Doctor of Divinity implied no theological learning whatever; "a candidate had simply to read aloud an old composition lent him by the clerk—it mattered not what, so that it lasted an hour—and this was his sufficient scientific qualification." Parliament has made various imbecile attempts to improve the vast corruption which is in the universities the fountain-head of the English Church, and the Salisbury government have announced another. None of them has reached the seat of the disease, which is the arbitrary bestowal of rewards and positions without service rendered. Class interest has hitherto been too strong for reform, just as it long was in upholding the practice of purchasing commissions in the army; and Oxford, with ludicrous pageant and solemnity, continues to spend its income of above two million dollars in repressing the progress and intellect of England.
It might be expected that the great schools of England—Eton, Rugby, Harrow, Westminster, and others of that class—would display like characteristics; and, indeed, evidence on this point is sufficiently abundant. In 1861 public clamor induced Parliament to appoint a commission to investigate these institutions, and it unearthed a mass of corruption and absurd practices such as staggers belief. Here the facts can only be briefly summarized. It was found that the revenues of the institution were absorbed by those in control. Head-masters received from twenty to thirty-five thousand dollars annually, besides the right of presentation to numerous church livings, and the Fellows contrived to appropriate most of what the head-masters left. There was found to be an astonishing dearth of general culture among the students: few newspapers were read, Shakespeare and Milton were hardly known, and even Scott and Thackeray were too heavy for the "disciplined" brains of most of the students. Science was an unknown field. Music, geography, history, and drawing were likewise conspicuous by their absence. One of the schools introduced mathematics as late as 1845, and one graduate was found who did not know that there was such a thing as the multiplication-table! The same thing appears everywhere.
The quality of beer and mutton which supported the students in their arduous intellectual labors was found to have been uniformly bad through several generations; the practice of giving bad beer and bad mutton had ingrained itself into the noble British constitution, and could not be changed. One of the provosts testified before the committee that he objected to the teaching of science, "because it is scarcely seventy years old." English literature and composition were absolutely neglected. And, to crown all, it was found that even in the classics no satisfactory work was done. Few of the pupils could read even Latin with any ease, and none were ever asked to do so at sight. It would have been useless.
Certainly no such state of affairs can be found in any American institution. But there are facts in plenty with the same bearing. Dissociate a body of men from their fellow-citizens, set up an independent caste by endowing it financially, and the consequences appear even in a country where public opinion is as omnipotent as here. The difficulty of forcing progressive action on our colleges is a sufficient illustration. We live in an age of unparalleled "passion, pulse, and power"—an age with gigantic problems suddenly laid on it; our civilization is chiefly industrial, and the railway, the factory, and labor organizations are the largest elements of our social life. Would any one believe a priori that under these circumstances our colleges "would be still haggling over the Greek and Latin question, and that only one of them in the entire country should give instruction on railway transportation, the most important subject now before the public, and the one also on which there is such vast ignorance? This, however, is only one instance of the disgusting narrowness of the professorial intellect as "stimulated" by endowments. Everywhere we find a total want of connection between the colleges—especially those old and rich—and the life of the people. Go into a university library, and, after listening to the complaints of the librarian about the paltry sums at his disposal, you will find splendid and expensive editions of Percy's "Reliques," Scott's "Dryden," hundreds of volumes of pedantic discussion about Shakespeare, and you will look in vain probably for the great newspapers which so faithfully reflect the nation's life; and "Bradstreets," "The Railroad Gazette," and frequently even "The Century," "Harper's," "The Forum," and "The Popular Science Monthly" will also be wanting. Recent American literature is treated with similar disdain. The want of direct responsibility to the public is felt in all directions. When a railway corporation discovers that a man is incompetent, it discharges him; a newspaper takes care not to retain poor writers. But no incapacity is so great that a college position, once gained, need be lost. Go through any of our great institutions, and you will find that year after year the same complaints have been made by students regarding their instructors. These have produced no effect, because the stimulus of duty not re-enforced by interest is not sufficient. It is a disagreeable thing to discharge a man, and it is not done when the authorities have no personal interest in the matter. Thus college professorships in this country come to a pass shown frequently in the "livings" of the English Church—mere sinecures, involving little labor, much reward, and great security for dullness and incapacity. Relieved from the necessity of rendering service which will be spontaneously recognized, the irresistible tendency of weak human nature is to desist from the hard toil which such service demands, and to take refuge, gradually and unconsciously, in doing what will satisfy the powers that be; in high pretense instead of actual performance, and in pedantry instead of sound learning.
And testimony is not wanting to show that the vast success of Oxford and the aristocratic schools of England in producing ignorant dunces is paralleled, fortunately on a milder scale, in this country. In a recent paper in "The Forum," President Robinson speaks of various disadvantages suffered by himself when in college:
"To add to my misfortune, the most intimate of my friends, though pure in their lives, and morally wholesome as associates, were low in their aims as scholars, satisfied with very little and very superficial work. They had been sent to college to prepare for the ministry, and were fair specimens of the average of a class of men not yet wholly extinct. Selected and aided by beneficiary funds as 'candidates for the ministry,' they seemed to regard themselves as absolved from the duty of high aims as scholars, and dropped into the wretched cant of 'laying aside ambition as unworthy the servants of the Lord.'" "The Nation" comments on this by saying that the same thing " is true of a larger part of the men who go to many of our colleges to-day under similar conditions"—that is, on a charitable basis. And it further observes that, "if he had followed these men out into life, he would have had little difficulty in showing that their effect upon the moral and political influence of the pulpit had also been a misfortune." There is nothing strange in this. Mendicancy is equally bad in its effects on the beneficiary and on the public.
A glance through the catalogues of the leading American institutions will justify the opinion expressed as to the total irrelation bred by endowments between public demand and educational supply. In Harvard, the leading university of the country, we find courses of study on the following languages among others: Hebrew, Aramaic, Assyrian, Arabic, Ethiopic, Sanskrit, Old Iranian, Pali. This in a university which offers little instruction on the greatest problems confronting the people of the present age. And in the University of Michigan, at which I took a degree, the same general facts appear, notwithstanding a closer responsibility to public opinion than Harvard is subjected to. A short time ago I visited the university, going to hear a classmate of mine instruct a class in Lysias. He is an excellent instructor, but no art can infuse life into the subject. It was perfectly easy to see that the class was deriving no mental pabulum from Lysias, and that their minds were chiefly occupied with their chances of escaping a "flunk." There may be considerable literary merit in Lysias, but the class did not see it or care to look for it. They were exclusively occupied with the difficulty of translation and grammatical construction, and the whole process, as compared with real education, struck me as very like gum-chewing as compared with eating. The empty form is gone through with, but there is no nutrition. And even in the most popular courses, like the "seminary" in English literature, the same fact stands out in bold relief. The class study More's "Utopia," Spenser's "Faerie Queen," and the like, Tennyson's "Princess" being the only masterpiece in the course, except "Silas Marner," which has been written in any recent time. When I visited the class, it was striving, with very little success, to seem interested in Wordsworth's "Excursion." There may have been one member of the class who really had a spontaneous appreciation of the poem, but I do not believe there were more. After visiting even the best institutions artificially supported on the European plan, we are forced to think of the profound remark of Bagehot, that "academies are asylums of the ideas and tastes of the last age."
If the harm done by endowments consisted simply in a support of old-fashioned methods and subjects in education, it would be bad enough. But the trouble does not end there. There is a morbid, or what President Cleveland would call a pernicious, activity about them. What energy they have they use in actively obstructing the march of ideas and of political freedom. Oxford's history in this respect is too notorious to admit of further mention. Harvard, too, can tell her story. She has her Memorial Hall now for her sons who fell in the war of the rebellion; but time was when Senator Sumner was conspicuously slighted by her, and when Wendell Phillips was tabooed. Narrow sympathies, extending only to the prevailing power, have characterized "fair Harvard," as well as Oxford and the established Church in England. This is not due to the individual characteristics of the men who are for the time being in these institutions, but to a general law obtaining among privileged castes and corporations. And at this day, among the most prominent professors, we may find illustrations of this truth. It is not Oxford bishops alone who, from a class instinct, are the perpetual barriers of progress and the ardent champions of all that we have nearly outgrown, whether in education, political economy, barbaric criminal codes, and indefensible wars; in all of which the records of Parliament throw a singularly unfavorable light upon the English successors of the apostles, as may be seen in their adherence to the old education, in their resistance to the reform of the savage criminal code of England in the early part of this century, in their well-nigh unanimous support of the corn laws, and in their equally united support of such wretched acts as the war on Egypt and that in the Soudan. In our own country our endowed fellow-citizens, the professorial socialists, are a corresponding class. It is the instinct of self-preservation in privileged classes to cringe to power, and to express its sentiments; and when, as in our own day, powerful organizations rise, and, exhibiting a great revulsion toward an ancient form of social organization, seem likely to be in the ascendant, these classes hasten to pay court to the brute force of ignorance and numbers, as in other countries they pay court to the majority of bayonets. It matters not to them that social evolution is a continuous progress toward individual property and rights. It matters not that the English race in England and America have, after centuries of struggle and the sacrifice of countless heroic lives, secured individual immunity from official tyranny. The unprecedented rapidity of our recent advance has favored a reaction, and those last to follow in the wake of progress are the swiftest in retreat. But particular illustrations of this fact are necessary. We might cite the astonishing article of President Seelye in "The Forum," advocating in America the establishment of a national church! But we prefer to select the most prominent of the professorial socialists, whose recent utterances on economic topics are extremely interesting from our present point of view.
Mr. Richard T. Ely's "Introduction to the Labor Problem" is apparently a hastily written paper, and it might be unfair to subject it to any close scrutiny, were it not for the confidence with which the most startling statements are made, and the like carelessness exhibited in his other writings. The following is one of the gems of thought found in the place referred to: "The idea of free governments is to stimulate individual initiative and individual industry, but the consequence is that a few clever or fortunate people—often successful because more unscrupulous than others—restrict the activity of their fellows, and effectually repress the freest expansion of the energies of the people."
In the first place, the idea of free governments is not to "stimulate" anybody or anything, but simply the removal of obstacles in the way of activity, and the use of the word shows a fundamental misconception. Passing this point, however, one might suppose from the above that Russia and China, where Mr. Ely's sociological ideas have full sway, are better situated for a free "expansion of the energies of the people," whereas it need hardly be said that individual initiative is freest and individual industry is most successful where governments interfere least.
"The ethical duties and the holy privileges of a citizen of the republic must be enforced in season and out of season," further remarks Mr. Ely. This luminous dictum is delivered without explanation; and perhaps it is just as well that none was attempted, for it is greatly to be feared that none is possible. It is worth instancing, however, as exhibiting the sanctimonious pomp and official carelessness of the author's style of writing and thinking.
But our next quotation is more interesting still: "Take compulsory education. The compulsion is a power which gradually lifts [a] people above its own ethical plain "(sic).
I confess that this last sentence reminded me of certain Canadian rustics who were gulled into believing that a man could lift himself into the air by pulling at his boot-straps. The parallelism is perfect, and in each case the implied denial of the persistence of force seems altogether naïve and unconscious. This passage is especially worth instancing, because it shows the weak point in all Mr. Ely's socialistic ideas. His constant assumption is, that governments can coerce the people—can expend force upon them—without itself being supplied with force by the people. The Government (if written with a capital letter) can support the people," whether the people "support the Government" or not. Now, everybody knows the fact to be, that no machine requires so much "pressure" to keep it going as a government agency. Public clamor has to reach a very high key before great measures are passed; endless log-rolling has to be resorted to before the best claim can be passed upon, or the bill most obviously good be enacted. And probably it is fortunate that this is so, for otherwise we should be even more inundated than at present with foolish legislation. But the point for our present notice is, that our Legislatures and executive agencies are inefficient machines requiring a vast amount of power for a given product, and that, too, of poor quality. This is not an accident, but is necessarily so. Legislative and executive bodies are unevolved in character, unspecialized by long discipline for the work they have to do; and this must continue to be so. And Mr. Ely ignores the commonest facts of daily experience as well as the highest generalization of science in the above quotation and in his whole theory of society, so far as he can be said to have one.
Were it worth while, we might continue quotations of this character ad nauseam." Let us remember," he says, in the same Introduction, "that every hope of a permanent reform in industrial and social life must be illusory unless it has a firm foundation in a lasting state reformation." Let the reader observe the connotation of the terms "industrial and social." Does this mean that Congress is to give a "foundation" (whatever that may signify) for every social and industrial improvement? Congress, which can not even manage the tariff or the currency? In Mr. Ely's papers on railroads lately published in "Harper's," it appears that the State (with the big S) is to "reform" that branch of industry. But discussion is useless. Mr. Ely's expressions are so loose, and his papers ignore the commonest facts to such an extent, that argument is impossible.
"We are, however, concerned with the sense or nonsense of the ideas of President Seelye, Mr. Ely, and their coterie of professorial socialists, only in a secondary degree. Our purpose is to show that the old Oxford spirit is being bred again in this country through the agency of highly-endowed educational institutions. Here, as always, where artificial protection is afforded to incapacity and mediævalism, we find the old neglect of facts, the old servility to prejudice and power, the same proneness toward the past, the same complacent carelessness and assurance of statement. Here, as ever, we find the old protective tone, the old ecclesiastical air—the old air of taking the public under the writer's wing. Had we space, numerous passages might be cited showing the patronizing and wholly foreign way in which the laboring-classes are regarded. And, of course, the same class-spirit is shown, as it always has been, in the bearing toward classes who are rising by their own unaided exertions to predominance (not, of course, of the political kind—else malign complexions would grow smiling) in the country. And the resistance of the Oxford bishops to Cobden and to Gladstone is singularly well paralleled by the jealousy shown by our endowed professors toward the great railroad managers, the great bankers and merchants and manufacturers, who are doing more for the comfort and happiness of mankind than any equal number of individuals in the world. And "The Nation's" remark (No. 1110), at the close of a review of one of Professor Ely's books, that "Dr. Ely seems to us to be seriously out of place in a university chair," was, while conceived in the right spirit, not literally true; for such men inevitably gravitate toward such positions.
Now, what is the rationale of the matter? Why is it that specially protected classes acquire such a pronounced class instinct as is found in English clergy, in state officials, and in endowed professors? In the first place, every agency has a tendency to persist in those activities and modes of thought in which it set out; and when new agencies spring out of old ones, the result is the same. Thus, through educational institutions, the eighteenth century forces its ideas on the nineteenth, Europe on America, and Harvard on California and Michigan. Then there is the natural class jealousy, exhibited by all organisms; by France as against Germany, America as against England, labor against capital, spiritualist against materialist, by every man against a rival. And when endowments or state support render a class totally distinct and altogether independent of those influences which govern the rest of mankind, both causes work great effects. The result is similar to the coagulation of the blood caused by tying up a limb and preventing a free circulation within it. First there is annoyance, and then the isolated part becomes the seat of a disturbance which may threaten the life of the organism. I believe that any person who observes the air, the social temper, which surrounds educational institutions, especially those richly endowed, will find the effect spoken of not only in the government and the corporate character of the institution, but in the personal character of most of its officers. Many, very many exceptions must be made to such a statement; but, in the end it must be acknowledged that that stamp of action known as officialism leaves its mark upon the official; and that the individual as well as corporate influence of institutions thus artificially maintained, and animated by a different spirit and principle from that elsewhere prevailing in the body social, is hostile to the free movement, and an obstacle to a continuous healthful readjustment of ideas in our country.
Any general objection to the existing order of things inevitably meets the query, "What will you put in its place?" It is frequently assumed, so strong is the conservative instinct in mankind, that the objector, if he discovers or points out a disease, should also cure it. This hardly seems just. Nature puts forward one set of agencies for right criticism and another for right construction. Critics are seldom artists, and artists are seldom critics. Still, it is not difficult, in the present case, to give a more satisfactory answer. In the first place, it may be said that the objections brought against the foregoing are generally based on an overestimation of the function of academic education, both in individual and national life. The learned Huber remarks that the revival of learning in the fifteenth century, like the speculative movement of the twelfth century," was sustained by the co-operation, not of institutions, but of individuals"; and this is also true, he says, "without a doubt, of every intellectual impulse which is animated by an independent principle of life." This fact is evident enough both historically and from the rationale of all progress. I can not think of a single forward movement of society which has not been obliged to overcome the opposition of great educational centers; and hardly an eminent name occurs to me as having been assisted in its high destiny by academic education. Whether in business, politics, or letters, the world's leaders have not been sent forth panoplied to conquer by their alma maters. It is with intellectual as with other progress. New developments arise, not from fixed types and structures, but by fresh movements from beneath; and the surface crust has always to be broken through before the new experience can displace the old in consciousness, and the new force has to break or bend the old structure in society before it can assume its rightful place. This is so obviously and so universally and necessarily true, that one may be surprised at the wide prevalence of the opposite superstition. The surprise, however, will disappear on reflection. It has its origin just where reverence for kings, priests, and popes has its source—in the supreme need of mankind in early times for agencies maintaining social order and coherence.
This, however, is not a complete answer to the question, What is the substitute for endowed schools? But it renders the objection much less forcible than it might otherwise be. But if, notwithstanding the small share that institutions of learning really have in our national life, it still be thought that greater provision for them is necessary than commercial motives would lead to, it should probably be said that the best method of support is by direct annual grant from the state governments. Rough as is the relation thus established between a social structure and its function, it is clearly better than complete irresponsibility. Observation of institutions where this system of support is in vogue—as, for example, the University of Michigan—will, I think, strengthen this view. But I do not think there is any evidence whatever that education needs or can profit by artificial aid. Our colleges can be supported as our churches are supported; and, under a free and active business competition, there is quite as much reason to expect educational improvement as there is certainty of the superiority of our free churches over state establishments. But colleges are really an insignificant factor in education. Commerce, travel, newspapers, and books, spontaneously chosen, are the real educators. Whether in general literature or special science, the public is being served by periodicals printed for profit, and by voluntary societies of vast efficiency; and I think both newspapers and magazines might be named as exerting a greater educational influence, both from a public and from a personal point of view, than all the colleges in the country put together. Still further, schools are everywhere springing up on a business basis, because the most efficient men find they can make more money in this way than by bending to the dead level of existing institutions. And, surprising as it may seem at first sight, some of these schools might be named as not only giving better instruction, but as giving it at a smaller cost to the pupil, than endowed colleges, or those maintained by legislative grants. Business-colleges, lecture-bureaus, circulating libraries, magnificent art-stores, are fast supplying public wants, and would do so much more rapidly but for the prestige of the established system. And the genius of commerce, which fills our land with wonders despite foolish legislation and adverse public opinion, will surely triumph, like the Cinderella of our childhood, over her haughty sisters, who are vain rather of their age and status than of their works.
With the instinct of self-preservation, colleges have lately been adopting the elective system. The practical result of the elective system is that only those studies are chosen which fill some want, real or imaginary, and are offered by an agreeable professor. The final upshot is, then, that the students are made the supreme judges instead of the faculty; and that the professors are put on the natural competitive basis. And though their salaries are still paid by the corporation, the commercial principle is really in vogue, and its nominally becoming so is only a question of time. I remember a significant incident which took place during the last year of my attendance at the University of Michigan. It happened, accidentally, that two students published somewhat severe criticisms on the teaching of the professors in political economy and philosophy. Immediately afterward one of the professors, a very agreeable gentleman of the old school, educated in Germany, and a philosophical imperialist and absolutist to the core, delivered his sentiments on the subject. Amid the mingled cheers and hisses of his pupils, he attacked the presumption of the critical students. It was evident that in his mind things were going very badly. To him there was something wrong about a universe in which young men were permitted to have different opinions from their elders; and it is hardly too much to say that he was enraged. I could not help sympathizing with the vain struggles of an order which is rapidly passing away under the inevitable law of competition, and which, indeed, ought to pass away. And the resistance of President McCosh to any concessions to liberalism is an instinctive recognition of the fact that when they are once begun there is no ending. There is no stopping-place, no compromise, between the ancient system and that wherein every student chooses his studies and his teachers, and pays therefor. The small wedge of option being once introduced, there are incessant change and disturbance till this natural equilibrium is reached. If any one institution possessed an overpowering influence, its authority might check the advance for a time, but the competition for public favor between the five or six leading universities is so keen that each one is forced onward; and individuals, however conservative, and however many the degrees and titles that trail after their names, are unable to prevent the rapid adaptation of educational establishments to the demands of the public.
It has been the object of this paper to call attention to the facts that great endowed institutions of learning have not been efficient in the diffusion of knowledge, or as a means of intellectual progress; that, latterly, they have been useless and obstructive to the general march of society toward improvement; that the current system in America is an importation from Europe, and bears a scant relation to our requirements; that our colleges resemble, in their retrogressive characteristics and influences, their elder sisters in Europe; that their status in society is due rather to a superstition than to work performed; and that there is every reason to believe that educational facilities offered on a purely commercial basis, to which the elective system in the end inevitably comes, would be less costly to society as a whole, perhaps even less costly to students, and far more satisfactory. The policy of the law in giving individuals power to propagate their ideas for an indefinite period after death should be reversed, and their ideas should be put on the same footing as their preferences for individuals, to whom property can be limited for a few years only. In this case the monstrous egotism which leads to a large number of endowments would be cut off; and future generations would not be taxed in order that Jones or Robinson, dead fifty years since, might have the posthumous pleasure of having a college called after him. When competition and change in public sentiment have brought about this state of things, educators will have to let go of the cherished but unscientific idea that their judgment is better than the inclination and judgment combined of the students, and that it is their duty to force dull studies on unwilling minds. And the social organism will then, in this department also, carry on its processes of growth and development, waste and repair, in the same unfettered and natural manner in which the animal organism maintains and enlarges its life.
- I pause to remark that I have known many a young person who, like Dan, was studying philosophy, and whose idea of the same was about as precise and intelligent as the above definition.
- Of Japhet Snapper (a caricature of a leading radical politician) he says, "his desire to abolish the aristocracy is only a fermentation of his desire to lick their shoes." This is pleasant.
- The Archbishop of Canterbury, for example, sacrifices himself to the extent of taking a salary of $75,000 a year. Every one must feel sorry for the archbishop; especially when it is considered that he has to live in a palace rent free and to endure the terrific labor of crowning kings and the like.
- "History of the English Universities," vol. i, p. 76, English translation.
- Introduction to Huber, pp. xxv-xxvii.
- I shall be suspected of heightening this picture. I can only refer to the report itself for confirmation.
- Yale is the college referred to. Harvard has recently announced a series of lectures dealing with railways.
- So it is with endowed libraries. The Lenox and Astor Libraries of New York are good illustrations both of the high expectations with which such institutions are founded, and of subsequent disappointment. They are closed for long vacations, and are open for few hours during their season (and those are inconvenient).
- The fact that, since the absorption of the telegraph lines by the British Government, all the improvements have come from America, whereas England had before furnished her full share of them, is a striking illustration.
- Huber's "History of English Universities," vol. i, p. 216.
- A few Englishmen in several classes may be instanced as either having no connection with universities, or as deriving no profit from them. Burke, Bentham, J. S. Mill, Herbert Spencer, Davy, Faraday, Watt, the Stephensons, Lardner, Turner, Grote, Buckle, George Eliot, Thackeray, Dickens. Gladstone has been fifty years in getting Oxford out of him, and Grant Allen says that Darwin "escaped with comparatively little injury."
- Any one possessing a reasonable knowledge of the general principles of evolution will easily see that the above views as to the lines of future progress are merely corollaries to the general doctrines of social evolution. Every social activity, like every individual habit, passes from the stags where it is the act of the whole organism to that wherein it is specialized and automatic. Every function soon evolves its special structure; and this structure, under normal conditions, automatically draws its nutrition in proportion to its expenditure in the service of the organism. This process is inevitable because it results in a saving of force, and an increase of active power supporting the organism, as an act by a part is less costly than an act by the whole. Increased heterogeneity and coherence in general evolution mean, in sociology, increased individualism and free association on lines of spontaneous attraction—that is to say, social evolution consists in a change from socialism to what we call individualism. The recent noisy reaction should not blind us to the great facts of the history of civilization, which is one long record of the decline of the régime of status in favor of that of voluntary association.