Popular Science Monthly/Volume 83/December 1913/The Place of Study in the College Curriculum
|THE PLACE OF STUDY IN THE COLLEGE CURRICULUM|
IF some acute and unconventional enquirer should raise the question whether the governing ideal of the American college is and ought to be severely intellectual, the man who takes things at their face value would experience a shock. He has never supposed that any other sort of ideal was conceivable. Look at the catalogues; do they not give sufficient evidence of a passionate interest in things intellectual by their whole-hearted devotion to courses and honors, to admission and graduation, to fellows and faculties? Such a theory may perhaps be pardoned in one who is on the outside, but a bowing acquaintance with the realities would suffice to show that this opinion held by our trustful friend simply proves that he has not investigated the facts; for, if he cared to take up such an investigation, scores of college teachers could provide him with interesting evidence indicating what many students, alumni and parents, and even some faculty members, really think about this matter. As the first exhibit in their case against the great academic illusion, critics might present a vigorous article on the subject of college "cutting," recently published in the Harvard Graduates' Magazine by Dean Hurl hurt, for therein the writer incidentally pays his respects to the intellectual ambitions of some students and parents whom it has been his rare good fortune to know. He cites one especially interesting case—that of a father whose son, in spite of notable success in athletics, had been dropped from college. This father was a college graduate, but the educational conception of the college does not seem to have troubled him greatly, and he appears to have been perfectly satisfied to have his son ignore it also. "My son's college life," said he to the dean, "has been just what I wanted it to be; of course," he conceded as an afterthought, "I wish that he had won his promotion." One case of that kind may not be conclusive, but some who know the college world are convinced that the instance is typical—that the conception of college life which subordinates study to athletics or to social success (or else ignores it altogether) is limited to no single group of individuals and to no one institution, that it seems to be the honest ambition of an appalling proportion of fathers and mothers who are sending their sons to fashionable colleges, in the same spirit that accompanies their daughters to fashionable finishing schools.
After hearing the testimony of parents, our investigator may do well to learn also how some alumni feel about college work. Let him listen, for instance, to an intelligent young physician.who received the bachelor's degree from Princeton seventeen years ago, and who puts his ideal of a college career in somewhat this fashion: "Don't talk to me about making students work harder; work in itself is not only useless, it is degrading. There is but one thing of value to be got from college courses, and that is the ability to cram hastily into one's head a few essential facts, which comes from the passing of examinations. No man ought to be compelled to work hard and steadily at anything that does not Intel est him. You remember X; he was a grind in college and graduated near the head of the class but missed a lot of fun; Y, on the other hand, finished about as near the bottom of the class, but had a royal good time. Did it do the grind any good to work so hard? Both men are in medicine; is the loafer any the worse for his loafing?" We do not stop now to question data nor to analyze fallacies; we merely note in passing that this feeling appears to be shared—though, perhaps, in less radical form—by hundreds of graduates who are men of reputable standing, and some of whom may be sending sons of their own to college. Talk to such graduates of loyalty to alma mater, and it will express itself in terms of getting money, recruiting students (especially athletes), coming back to reunions, putting up buildings and supporting the team; the educational aspect of the college is a negligible aspect—a subsidiary nuisance. In a gathering of "loyal alumni of this stripe the man who would argue for even an approximation to the scholarly ideal is actually put upon the defensive—if he is not an object of derision.
If it be true that a great deal of parental and graduate opinion is openly hostile to the strenuous view of college work, no surprise should be excited by the discovery that the undergraduate atmosphere also is polluted; nor that the school-boy has either already caught the disease before leaving school, or soon contracts it in the unhealthy atmosphere of the college. Hence, unless one be wholly in error in one's pessimistic verdict upon present conditions, it turns out to be less ridiculous than it may have seemed at first blush to ask whether the highest place in college is being given to severe intellectual discipline; the mere possibility that the situation is grave should arouse all serious educators, and the veriest honesty demands a frank answer to the enquiry from all responsible for the conditions.
The answer to be expected from some parents and alumni, as we have seen, would be that intellectual considerations are altogether secondary, and that the important business of the college is not study. Probably very few college professors and presidents would care to take their stand with these enemies of the intellectual; but certainly many such academic gentlemen would have to be ranked, with or without their own consent, among the compromisers. They may not explicitly condone loafing, but they preach that
'Tis better to have come and loafed
Than never to have come at all;
they may not disparage intellectual attainment, but they are unwilling to demand it of all of their students. The attractive creed of such educators might be formulated somewhat as follows: "College is a place of large opportunities, among which the purely intellectual are not necessarily the greatest. "We should, of course, aim to develop and instruct the minds of our students, but we must not forget that one of the greatest educational forces in college is the life itself, and it is by no means incumbent upon us to insist that all of those in residence shall be real students." This is the view which—possibly unjustly—we are apt to associate with the typical Oxonian frame of mind; and it is by no means wholly indefensible, especially when contrasted with its Continental opposite of young pedants who, in spite of much learning, may be arrant fools.
It is to be feared, however, that some of the commonest reasons for loose dealing with idle students are not particularly creditable. The least deplorable, perhaps, is an uncritical good nature, weakly consenting to allow the deficient student to continue his life of delightful indolence, and cheerfully indifferent to the effect of leniency upon the delinquent and his fellows. Perhaps, too, this attitude is not always easy to distinguish from lack of courage in those for whom popularity is the first great test of professional success. Now popularity, honestly won, is among the most precious things in the world. When coupled with just severity it is an ideal attribute in the college professor. But popularity in the man who is also notorious for "snap" courses, or who is always "on the side of the students" in matters disciplinary and scholastic—on the side of the undesirable students, that is to say—this sort of popularity will bear a deal of scrutiny.
Toleration of poor work is sometimes due, furthermore, to a desire to keep up numbers; we must retain enough students to pay our bills, and we must not let our "competitors" get ahead of us in size. Either of these motives is unworthy of gentlemen, and scholars. To be sure, financial habits of mind may be strong in boards of trustees, but the merest business sense should teach us that the last place to economize is in the quality of our finished product. If we can not save or otherwise secure enough money to make us independent of the tuition fees of those who ought to be dropped, then let us by all means redeem our credit (monetary and moral) by a small increase in the per capita charge: a very little arithmetic will prove that a ten per cent, addition to the fee charged each student will enable us to dispense (if need be) with nearly one tenth of the student body, without reduction of income. The "competition" argument is one that it is difficult to discuss politely. Upon what basis, forsooth, are we "competing" in this business of education—upon the number of men that we manage to keep enrolled, or upon the quality of the education acquired by those honestly entitled to attend our courses? Can a self-respecting college aspire to a "success" that is measured by an increase in numbers, which, in its turn, may be due chiefly to a low standard? Is there anything more honorable in educational "competition" than wholesome and courageous pruning?
None the less discreditable is a sympathy with idle students arising from a similar spirit of idleness in the professor—and yet one is tempted to believe that the real cause of such sympathy is often a kind of unconscious fellow feeling. In few other professions is it easier for the strenuous man to be overworked or for the opposite kind of man to appear to fill his post; so much of the teacher's labor is elusive and impossible to fit into an exact schedule of hours that practically nothing but conscience or ambition can call him to account for loafing, and nothing but his nerves warn him when to rest. Hence arises the fatal risk that—given fallible humanity—this liberty may be abused, and that bridge, golf or literary browsing may take the place of real work; hence, too, the danger that the instructor who is living this delightful life of ease in Zion may not hold before his student the ideal of tireless effort, particularly when he finds that the only sure road to the goal lies through the horrid drudgery of frequent conferences or written papers.
Some of the causes of unwise leniency toward inefficient students which we have been discussing are administrative rather than pedagogical; such are not always conspicuously operative in the creation of "snap" courses. But ignorance of bad conditions—be it perverse or innocent—is harmful in both directions at once; it militates against the toning up of weak courses as well as against honest dealing with obviously worthless students. Take for instance the amiable or uncourageous pedagogue who conducts a "popular" course year after year without making the slightest effort to discover why it is so popular—to determine, that is to say, whether he is exacting a decent amount of collateral work week by week, or whether he is simply delivering an innocuous series of lectures followed by an examination which practically any student can pass after four or five hours over a printed syllabus; and who, if some base traitor hints at inefficiency, is eloquent with denials in regard to conditions which he has never taken the trouble to investigate. And yet it would seem a quite easy matter to discover why our courses appeal to the student body. For instance, we might enquire of graduates (for they are beyond fear or favor)
whether, in the course which is on our conscience, they ever did any reading before examination time, and how much they found it necessary to do then. Another interesting test would be to compute and compare the average standing of the men who take the different courses year after year, not forgetting to calculate also the average of passes (or perhaps of all the marks) in the various courses. It would not cause great surprise to some observers if such a scrutiny of the facts should indicate that birds of the D feather flock together under those generous trees from which the fruit (the passes, not the intellectual profit) falls with the least coaxing. But it would seem that we are in for a long wait before some administrators and instructors will care to collect facts in regard to scholastic conditions. The snap course goes on, the lazy student stays in college, and the snap professor flourishes like the green bay tree. Evidently this complacent faith of the academic stand-patter in the utter loveliness of the local landscape is a greater breeder of popularity than is the restless spirit of doubt, criticism and reform.
Almost imperceptibly we have been led, in this discussion of academic toleration, from a consideration of its causes to an analysis of its fallacies and its harmful effects. It may have been noticed, also, that, in some important particulars, the influence of the educator who has been characterized herein as a compromiser is in harmony with that of the alumnus or the undergraduate who is altogether hostile to the severely intellectual ideal; for the objection—if any there be—to the comfortable creed of compromise lies not in its toleration of scholarship, but in its friendly feeling for ignorance and sloth, in which gracious capacity it is in complete sympathy with the out-and-out negative. For this reason we may treat these two types together in our further attempt to point out others of their common weaknesses.
In the first place it is quite justifiable to note a little inconsistency. What shall we say of men who despise the intellectual in its practical application to their own college experiences, but who reject with indignation the accusation of laxity in scholastic conditions in the alma mater? Is it consistent and honest to boast before strangers of the distinction of scholars whom at home we scorn as students or hamper as administrators? It is said that the late Professor Child, a scholar of whom any university in the world might have been proud, was a butt in the class-room for ill-bred students who took his courses with no desire to learn; it would be interesting to discover whether or not some of these "students" are to-day boasting of the distinction which Professor Child brought to Harvard. And if an officer in a college deliberately takes a stand for a policy of compromise with idle students, what just cause has he to grow angry with critics whose arraignment of his easy-going methods is simply a bald statement of the truth? Is there no danger that some of our students and faculties may desire to bear the reputation of scholarliness without paying its honest price in hard work or in unpopular justice? One is tempted to point out in this connection the grave injustice that may be done by over-tolerant college authorities to teachers of the strenuous type in their employ. Sometimes it would almost seem to be the explicit belief of these easy-going presidents and heads of departments that the function of the instructor, be he never so promising a scholar or so skilful a teacher, is to spend his time and energies in a vain attempt to cajole illiterate and contemptuous "gentlemen" into the absorption of microscopic doses of learning. To be sure, small wonder should be aroused by the fact that bloodless pedantry and academic priggishness meet with ill success in their contact with lively undergraduates; but, in some institutions, men who are neither prigs nor pedants must either descend to the "popular" level or else court disaster. Some of these mistaken idealists may begin their teaching with a fine ambition to make their courses count, perhaps even with the knowledge that trifling was rampant in their own student days and the determination that it shall not disgrace any of the classes for which they are responsible. And yet their training, their enthusiasm and their ideals are likely to be unappreciated even if they are not positively unpopular; they must either forget these things and drift with the genial majority, or fight a discouraging battle on the side of a minority disliked by colleagues and students. Perhaps it may not often occur to candidates for college positions, nor to heads of departments seeking instructors, to determine whether this lack of harmony exists; but it is quite possible that an honest agreement in regard to the question whether one is expected to teach or to amuse might prevent a certain number of misfits.
Secondly, if the ideal of a college is to be anti-intellectual, or even a policy of compromise, it is only fair that the fact shall be squarely and publicly admitted, so that ambitious parents and conscientious students shall not be deluded. It is merely honest to define our position; if we are conducting a country club with practically optional opportunities for intellectual development, the public should know it. Such institutions should advertise along these lines: "Blank University offers to young men of good disposition four years of pleasant life, combined with social and athletic advantages. Any who are so inclined may attend some of our large assortment of easy and attractive courses; and, if, in addition, they will do a small amount of work, the bachelor's degree will be conferred upon them." With the ideal thus frankly defined, the situation would become clearer, and we could leave institutions of that sort to conclude for themselves whether the social byproducts of an unintellectual college life really warrant the four precious years squandered. If no existing college dares to take quite that stand, then let some benefactor found the University of Dolce Far Niente. Such a venture would not demand much money for libraries and laboratories; and the salary account could be kept very low, since the faculty would not need to be either large or distinguished. A few "interesting" lectures—to keep up the "college degree" illusion and to provide relief from the monotony of serious occupations—would be the only necessary equipment. But this university would be provided with all the attractive decorations of "college life," free from the incubus of work; there would be clubs and "frats," dances and dramatics, beer nights and bonfires—even athletic teams, if the discipline of training and practise could be tolerated. Such an institution would be doubly beneficial; it would provide the ideal place for the idle to prolong their boyhood amid pleasant surroundings, and it would rid educational colleges of material that is now clogging the wheels of progress. Seriously, why not? "Why do even the enemies of study prefer universities of distinction to the mere companionship of the club? We may admit that age and tradition often play a large part in this preference, but is it not also true that many idlers find their way into colleges that are by no means old? What then would the University of Dolce Far Niente lack? What but that noble prestige which quickly develops in an atmosphere permeated by the serious ideals of men who, however much they may have delighted in the diversions of the college, have regarded work as its first business? What right, therefore, in such an institution has any man who will not play the game, who will not contribute his share to the maintenance of that tradition, who acts the part of parasite upon the body intellectual?
Life's choices are relative, not absolute; play will be welcomed in the University of Work, and the University of Play will perhaps continue to work between busy days. It is, therefore, largely a question of emphasis, but it is an emphasis which sets off species from species. Hence we can not insist too strongly upon the necessity for frankness in the declaration of our ideal, whatever may be the ultimate merit of the debate over the business of the college. This is vital, for by a confusion of ideals wrong may be done to men of parts eager for an education, but who discover too late that the easy-going institution is not the place to get it. As an illustration of this danger we may quote the remark of a man who was graduated with highest honors from one of the most charming old universities in this country, and who has begun to win more dearly bought success in surgery; his regretful comment upon his college "training" was something like this: "The first thing I had to learn when I got to the medical school was that trifling does not win honors in a serious institution." What that man looked upon as trifling was accepted by his college instructors as honor work; how much more justifiable are the regret and resentment of the graduate who looks back upon college years that he was allowed utterly and obviously to waste.
In this connection, it may be legitimate at least to raise the question whether a courageous insistence upon real attainment in scholarship would result in the exclusion from college of a substantially larger number of men than the present weaker method does, or whether the result might not be simply to spur to greater effort large groups of gifted fellows who are now floating along the line of least resistance. Would such a policy exclude any men really worth keeping? The belief that college is a place primarily for study implies no contempt for the unscholarly type of man, who is frequently more attractive and occasionally a bit more able (along some lines) than the good student is. But that concession does not alter the obvious fact that only the man who can and will study has any right to be in an educational institution; an ignoramus or an idler is no more in place there than a poet in the supreme court or a college professor in the steel trust.
Finally, this great question of the college ideal is not solely an individual matter; it is altogether pertinent to look at it from the national point of view. So we may solemnly ask the exponent of the country-club ideal whether or not he believes that the American nation should expect her institutions of higher learning to demand hearty devotion to work from absolutely all of those who are preparing for life within their walls and who are supposed to be the material from which her leaders will come in the future. Perhaps we may even go so far as to suggest that a toning up of the intellectual life is one of the great needs of America to-day, and to ask whence this intellectual salvation is to come if not from our centers of education.
It is reasonable to believe that most college teachers do not subscribe to the anti-intellectual creed held by so many parents, alumni and undergraduates; nor do they all, by any means, approve of the policy of compromise of which some of their colleagues are guilty—though it may be that not all of those who believe in the severer standard are sufficiently honest and strong to fight for it. Moreover, it is not unduly optimistic to hold that there has been, speaking broadly, a general toning up of our educational standards in the last ten or twenty years. A great deal of the credit for this improvement may be due to some of our younger and less distinguished institutions, in which a desire for real mental training and for a large acquisition of knowledge is taken for granted, and where creditable intellectual attainments are demanded of every student, either by the spirit of the institution or by the courage of the administration. One can not but wonder whether these modest colleges will not train the Lincolns of the future—in spite of their lack of Oxfordian prestige. But the importance of the non-intellectual influences that have contributed to the formation of that most attractive and valuable type called the "college-bred man" should never be overlooked even by the most earnest advocate of scholarliness. The traditions of the English university and of more than one fine old college in this country, the atmosphere of ancient culture and public service, the social and even the athletic interests, are of inestimable worth. Hence it is a mistake to maintain that the activities of the man who does not study are always altogether futile. In his favor it is argued—and with great justice—that he may be learning to know life better than he would by close attention to books; and it does not take great faith to believe that some men are actually benefited by an almost wholly unintellectual college life. They play on the field, they manage the team and the fraternity, they sing with the glee club, they write editorials for the daily and stories for the monthly, they sit and chat with their smoking chums, perhaps they even read an occasional book that is not in the curriculum. Still the admission that all is not hopeless does not involve the belief that all is well; the meliorist still stands half way between the pessimist and the optimist. Some incorrigibly cheerful observers who have discovered likable traits in the American undergraduate treat with airy scorn the insinuation that he is unscholarly. This is the attitude of a contemporary magazine writer who, having learned that two mere college presidents (A. Lawrence Lowell and Woodrow "Wilson) deplore the low estate of scholarship in our college world, proceeds to show that he knows better. He finds that our undergraduates are enthusiastic (especially in sport), energetic (in non-scholastic activities), honorable, and bent upon reality—orgo everything is lovely. "We admit these qualities and rejoice in them; c'est magnifique—but it is not the point. Likable qualities doubtless abound in a tribe of American Indians or in a drove of blooded horses; possibly they are more plentiful there than among scholars or artists or successful business men. But it would be as reasonable to pretend that such children of nature could paint a Velázquez or finance a railroad as to imagine that merely likable qualities can take the place of intellectual education. The point is not the charm that groups of clean young men of cultured families are almost bound to possess, but whether these men are developing in college in that domain which is preeminently the business of the college. And this, in spite of all the charming avocations, is primarily intellectual, both by reason of its profession before the world and by its high duty toward these young men; even though it should sacrifice social and athletic activities it must be true to its profession and its calling. But there is no need that it should sacrifice them; it should retain them and vitalize them intellectually. Six hours a day for stud)' and classes is not a schedule likely to lead to nervous dyspepsia; but six hours a day for six days a week would mean that each lecture and class of a fourteen-hour-per-week schedule would be accompanied by one hour and a half of preparation; college teaching would be paradise if two thirds of that time were regularly given to study by every student. Should we not, then, ponder a little before we glibly sacrifice to "college life" this wonderful, but really easy, opportunity to introduce young men to the world's wisdom, to create a habit of thoughtfulness, and to teach the secret of work? A moment ago we were admitting the possibility of benefit from the better sort of non-intellectual college activities, but the unvarnished truth is that a large proportion of our college shirks do not spend their time in such commendable ways; most of them devote it to aimless idleness and not a few to downright vice. One of the greatest reasons, therefore, why these young fellows should be kept steadily at their studies, regardless of the nature of the knowledge acquired, is that those four precious years between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two are, for many, life's last obvious opportunity to conquer the demon of laziness. And it may be true, too, that a little more study will act as a deterrent to other vices.
The pity of it all is that the delightful accessories should crowd out what was once thought the chief business of educational institutions. But a renaissance of the old belief in the worth of intellectual endeavor and in the power of wisdom seems to be coming; there would appear to be a revival of the antiquated tendency to admire the collegewhich declares roundly that the young man who has no taste for knowledge and no desire for intellectual power will not be allowed to waste four years of their time and his—a recrudescence of the old doubt about the wisdom of retaining in college those who will not respond to the demands of a severe intellectual standard, since it is quite uncertain whether such an experience does the trifler a world of good, and altogether likely that his presence does his comrades considerable harm.
At any rate, those who take the honest view of the intellectual life of a college need hardly worry at present about the defense of their position; they need only to proclaim their faith and await results. If they are not rewarded by a distinct increase in the respect felt for them by the community, they may then begin to doubt the wisdom of their choice. Meantime it is important for them to seek to impress more clearly upon their students the value and charm of hard mental labor. Some youngsters may have to take this value on faith for a time; but, even so, we need not wait for these lofty young gentlemen to begin hard work of their own spontaneous choice. Diligence and interest, however, are likely to come hand in hand; where there is a high standard set there is apt to be developed sufficient comprehension of the subject to make it interesting, and interest spurs to effort. After all, why should there not be a real pleasure, even for a normal American boy, in the growth of the mental powers and in the acquisition of interesting and useful knowledge? Is it preposterous to assume that a healthy-minded undergraduate should be interested in the great thoughts of the ancients and of the moderns, in the mysteries of biology and of physics, in the great creations of art and of literature? If your college student be wholly unresponsive to these stimuli, is it not more or less questionable whether he deserves a place in an educational institution, no matter how delightful he may be as a club mate? To be sure, real attainment of any kind—even in athletics—involves drudgery and discipline; but this condition does not preclude the possibility of a large amount of enthusiasm in the class-room as well as on the field, when once the business of the former shall be taken seriously. And when we remember the microscopic amount of work that now meets requirements in some of our most distinguished colleges, it would not seem to indicate abnormal cruelty on the part of the faculties if they should take a stand for a distinctly more strenuous working day and the benefits to be derived therefrom.
There are, of course, two obvious ways of keeping up our standard—inspiration and compulsion. A few students will respond to the former alone, but for far too many it is—at present, at least—a mere question of "the amount of neglect of his studies permitted an undergraduate without interruption of the privilege of residence." As Dean Pine said to the Princeton alumni a short time ago:
Like the preceptorial inspiration, this compulsion—to be genuinely valuable—should be exerted continuously and not semi-annually. For the ordinary college course no sort of examination has yet been invented which an intelligent crammer can not circumvent by midnight diligence at the end of the team. The reward of this diligence is not always a mere pass; frequently it is an honor mark. Classmates of a brainy Princeton man will recall his "first group" in psychology after a two hours' session with some printed notes; others will point to the Harvard tutor who secured an idler a B in zoology as a result of five hours' coaching. To be sure, examinations and even the right sort of cramming may have their uses; but the essential thing is the gradual growth of intellectual power that comes from steady effort distributed over a long period and from frequent discussions with other alert and informed minds. A course which is satisfied by mere attendance through the term is a sorry affair, no matter how much cramming may be needed to pass the examination. Monthly tests go part way towards decency. But ideal conditions are approached only when some test of regular work may be imposed without warning at any moment and when such tests actually do occur frequently.
In addition to preceptorial encouragement and to compulsion born of administrative courage, it would seem altogether wise and possible to spur to greater scholastic activity by the introduction of flexibility into the time factor in education, demanding of those whose work is below par more frequent class meetings or conferences, and consequently lengthening, if need be, their time in residence by a term or two—in other words by establishing a kind of sliding scale in college requirements, adapted to variations in industry and ability. This is a novel idea but a valid one. Any human attainment is the result of intelligence and effort; diminish either and you diminish the result. Unless we are wholly indifferent to the quality of our result, and are content to
graduate side by side men who are years apart in mental attainment, why do we not endeavor to lessen the gap? "Why do we not administer to weaker students smaller and more frequent doses of each subject even though we should thus lengthen their time of residence? If this were done we should have something like a standard, and men would know that they will be kept in the mill until their grist is ground. Then professorial inspiration and compulsion would assume a totally different significance; for, in the last analysis, they would be but spurs. The ultimate cause of prompt success in winning the degree would be the student's own quality.
- If any reader should feel that the position of this article is extreme, he is invited to read President William T. Foster's able book on "The Administration of the College Curriculum" (Houghton, Mifflin, 1911), Part II., passim. There he will find views no less radical—to say the least—than those defended in these pages, and he will also be supplied with a detail of argument and some scientifically marshalled evidence that are impossible in a brief article. President Foster's conclusions frequently agree strikingly with those of the present writer, but the fact that his book was not read until after this article was practically completed is sufficient proof that most of these coincidences are undesigned. Some of my contentions, however, have been considerably revised after reading his book, which, for this reason, and for the purpose of presenting the other accidental confirmations of my arguments, has been freely quoted in the notes.
- March, 1911, pp. 400 sq.
- "Only one man in twelve years whose college record fell below C has contrived to change his habits sufficiently to graduate with honor from the [Harvard] Law School. . . . The same general truth holds for students in the Medical School. . . . These facts are quite at variance with popular opinion. Returns from several hundred Harvard undergraduates express the prevailing idea that success in college scholarship furnishes little or no indication of those intellectual qualities that men desire to possess. 'College life' is said to be the thing. The notion has spread that 'sports' in college settle down in the professional schools and surpass the men who in college were 'grinds.' Pity is often expressed for the unfortunate salutatorians and valedictorians who are supposed to be doomed to failure in life. Such notions must now go the way of many others, though some men will still comfort their mediocre college work by exalting opinions above facts. There are still people who believe that the earth is flat." W. T. Foster, op. cit., pp. 230-232. See further President A. Lawrence Lowell's analysis of some interesting evidence along this line in The Educational Review of October, 1911 ("College Studies and Professional Training"). Possibly these facts will come as news to a good many of us who used to share the Harvard undergraduate's illusion in regard to the capabilities of "sports" and "grinds."
- At a recent conference of educators the following motto, which had been found hanging upon the wall of a student's room, was produced: "There is just this advantage about study, that it shows by contrast the value of those things for which we really come to college."
- "Every fall we hear that this college and that has made great gains in numbers. And yet we have no idea whether there have been gains in any vital sense until we know first, what proportion of those admitted are qualified to pursue the courses offered, and, second, whether there has been a corresponding increase in the number and efficiency of the faculty. Of late the only institutions that exhibit much loss in registration are Princeton and Harvard, yet some believe that few institutions have made greater gains in efficiency. This is not a mere coincidence. The dropping of 680 incompetents in six years at Princeton and the loss of 50 'specials' at Harvard in 1910, has a meaning in progress precisely opposite to the so-called great gains of some colleges. We must rid ourselves of the notion that there is any credit per se in gains. Any college—without exception—can increase its numbers if it is willing to pay the price; just as, on the same terms, jailbirds can be elected to political office in some American cities. Conversely, any college, without exception, can increase its efficiency if it is willing to pay the price, which under present conditions is likely to be a falling off in numbers." W. T. Foster, op. cit., 320-321.
- Suggested by President Foster, op. cit., pp. 297-303.
- "Innumerable devices to coax boys to work have failed in cases where the one thing needful was to convince them, by the evidence of enforced discipline, that they must work or leave college." W. T. Foster, op. cit., 321.
- Both of these statements have been verified by the principals. The first is literally true as it stands; the following letter gives the exact details of the second case:
"The facts of my sin in psychology are these. When I began that course, I was very much bored, . . . and yielded very easily to the temptation of taking things easily in Junior year. As you may remember, the class was very large, so I changed seats with a man who sat in the back of the room, and I used to spend my time in the lecture room reading. I never did a particle of work in the course during term time. As I remember, there were two examinations in the course, one in October and one in February. Someone in [the class of] '94 or '95 had prepared an excellent printed syllabus of the lecture course and the text-book. Having the power of quick memorizing, I worked hard with this syllabus for a few hours before each examination. Not liking the course, I had no desire for any grade, but merely wanted to pass. To my surprise and the demerit of the lecture system, I found that I had secured a first group in both examinations. I really felt more ashamed of this than if I had failed to pass the examinations, for I had learned little about the really fascinating subject, and cared less.
"If ever there is an argument in favor of Wilson's preceptorial system, it is my record in this course.
"You are perfectly welcome to make use of these facts in any way that you wish."
Sometimes it may happen that local patriots will admit the existence of these bad conditions in a remote period in the past, but such a confession would usually be a mere prelude to an airy assertion of absolute virtuousness at present. As a corrective to such optimism it might be well for the complacent to ask themselves whether they ever joined the reformer in his assault upon contemporary evils (during their period of power), and whether their inmost soul really loves progress when it involves merciless criticism of the status quo.
- This proposition is presented in detail by the author in The Educational Review, June, 1912.