Southern Colleges and Schools
“There has been no great advance, if any, in college work in the South since the war, and in preparation for college there has been a positive decline in most of the States.”
There is a great awakening in the South with regard to public schools; but in the higher education our policy, or rather tendency, has always been wrong. We have too many so-called colleges and universities, and too few preparatory schools. There has been no great advance, if any, in college work in the South since the war, and in preparation for college there has been a positive decline in most of the States. I am led to this view partly by my own experience; for in six years of college work in the South I have found few men whom I considered fully prepared, both in quantity and quality of work, for a good Freshman class. Besides, I have consulted by letter leading educators in most of the Southern States: of twenty professors, ten, whose experience covers both periods, say that preparation before 1860 was better than it has been since; six, who began to teach after the war, make no comparison, but deplore in the strongest terms the present low state of preparation; four think we have improved somewhat in this respect. For other proof of the decline in preparatory work, it would only be necessary to remind Southern educators of the fact that most of our ante-bellum academies, or preparatory schools, — schools which, upon the whole, did better work than our Southern colleges did, — no longer exist. This fact is almost universally admitted by my correspondents. In Louisiana, out of twenty-four, or more, academies fostered by the State before the war, not one survives. Louisiana is by no means alone in this respect.
What, then, are the causes of this decline in secondary education? The war had its effect. Many fine old academies went down in the general ruin. But too much stress must not be laid upon this; for why was the mortality so much greater among the schools than among the colleges? Besides, most of the academies in Louisiana, referred to above, had ceased to exist before the war. Again, business has taken the place of otium cum dignitate; the result has been eagerness, impatience, haste to get into active employment. Young men will not take the time to get ready for college, nor stay in college when they get there. Naturally there has been a reflex action on the part of the colleges, which have adapted their requirements to the new conditions. As to the effect of the public schools on college work, an eminent Georgia professor writes me, “The bastard ‘common-school system’ has broken up the large neighborhood schools that used to exist in Georgia, and the fragments are generally in the hands of young women and others, who are incompetent to prepare young men for college.” In the same strain writes a professor from Virginia: “Our public schools have as yet done nothing towards making themselves preparatory schools to the colleges. They have, however, succeeded in totally destroying the ‘old field schools,’ that used to do that work before the war.” There is at present serious trouble just here. We look forward to a better day, but the transition stage is very disheartening. A leading member of the school board in Nashville said recently, “It is a serious matter to know how to get a boy fitted for college. The public high school does not do it, and yet no private preparatory school can exist beside it.” There are in Tennessee only four public high schools, but in none of these is Greek taught, and in only one sufficient Latin for the Freshman class of a good college; other branches are little ahead of the Latin. There is usually in the South a gulf of one or two years between the public high school and the college. It would seem easy enough to put on extra classes at the top, and charge extra fees for the instruction, but it has not been done. It will be done, no doubt, as soon as the colleges make their terms of admission such as to require it. When we shall begin to approach the Massachusetts idea, where “in every town containing four thousand inhabitants and over a high school is required to be kept, in which the pupils are all offered the advantages of a preparation for any of our colleges,” and where the high schools are so popular that “about eighty towns are now maintaining such schools, though not required to do so by law,” and where the whole number of these public high schools is 226, certainly we in the South shall have no fault to find with the public schools. This state of affairs in Massachusetts is but the legitimate result of the policy inaugurated in 1647 by the law of the colony, which required “that every town of one hundred families should maintain a school, the teacher of which should be able to instruct youth so far as they may be fitted for the university.”
But the greatest cause of the decline of preparatory schools is, I believe, none of these. The great fault is with the colleges themselves. Preparation for college regulates itself by the law of supply and demand. All the colleges publish requirements for admission; very few enforce them. Since the boy is not required to prepare for college, he comes to college without preparation. What little there was in the way of college endowments in the South was swept away by the war; the colleges must live, however, and no resource was left but to live on tuition fees, — what no good college could live on. Hence arose an unseemly competition for numbers; and this has gone on, — as was natural, since there are among us at least three times as many colleges as the country can legitimately support, — until the colleges and universities have entered into competition with the very preparatory schools, and left them nothing to do. “The university,” writes a professor in one of the oldest colleges in Virginia, “takes students whom we ought to have; we take boys who should be in our preparatory school; and it, again, takes infants (so to say) who ought to be taught at home.”
The greatest evil in Southern education, it seems to me, is the fact that we have so many colleges and universities. One would suppose that in America the mere number of colleges would no longer impose upon any one, but such statements as the following occur in a recent defense of Southern ante-bellum education: “In 1860 the New England States had twenty-one colleges with 3738 students, and the single State of Georgia had thirty-two colleges with 3302 students.” “This is a startling showing,” the writer adds. Indeed it is. The irresistible conclusion seems to be that the State of Georgia was then better educated than all New England. The same writer compares the eight colleges in Massachusetts with the twenty-three in Virginia, and the two colleges in New Hampshire with the fourteen in South Carolina. He seems to proceed on the assumption that a college is a college. The paragraph that went the round of the newspapers a few years ago, to the effect that there were two universities in England, four in France, ten in Prussia, and thirty-seven in the State of Ohio, seriously taken, would prove Ohio to be the most highly educated land the world ever saw. A professor in a small Southwestern college once gravely informed me that the course in Latin in his college was higher than that in the University of Virginia, and proved it by his catalogue. Emerson, or Carlyle (I forget which), writes to the other, “Nothing can lie worse than figures except facts.” Suppose we were to work out the problem of the relative superiority of New England and the South, in point of culture, in this way: in the six New England States there are only seventeen male colleges; in six Southern States, namely, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, there are sixty-seven male colleges, — just four to one. Is that the ratio of culture of the two sections? What better reductio ad absurdum could one wish? How many of our colleges would Harvard alone outweigh in any just estimate of higher education! Any one who will study the question carefully will be very likely to come to the conclusion that in the United States culture is generally in the inverse ratio to the number of colleges. Where you find the largest number of colleges you will be apt to find the fewest fitting-schools and the lowest state of what we call the higher education. In fact, great density of ignorance round about is necessary to the welfare of a certain kind of college.
It will, no doubt, be generally admitted that New England, and especially Massachusetts, approximates more nearly the proper state of the higher education than any other section of the United States; and on that assumption seine comparisons are made, with no purpose, however, of depreciating the South, but simply to ascertain just how we stand in educational matters.
In 1880 Tennessee had twenty-one male colleges and universities, and sixteen female colleges and seminaries, ten of which latter confer college degrees; but there were only two distinct preparatory schools, — though at least nineteen colleges had preparatory departments, — sixty-three secondary schools, and four public high schools. It would be safe to assume that not more than one third of the sixty-three secondary schools could fit a boy for a good college. In Massachusetts, in 1880, there were seven male colleges and universities, and two female; but there were twenty-three preparatory schools, a large number of which would anywhere in the South or West be called colleges, and 215 public high schools (now 226), with 494 teachers and 18,758 pupils, besides forty-six other schools for secondary instruction.
The income of sixteen New England colleges in 1881 was $1,024,563,1 and they had 720,187 volumes in their libraries; all the one hundred and twenty-three Southern colleges and universities had together an income of $1,089,187 and 668,667 volumes. Of the one hundred and twenty-three Southern colleges and universities, sixty-nine had each property in grounds, buildings, etc., valued at not more than $50,000; of the sixty-nine, there were thirty-five with not more than $25,000, and fourteen with not more than $10,000. Of the sixty-nine, only five report productive funds valued at $50,000; five more report $25,000; the remainder report less, or none, — mostly none. In New England, in 1881, not a college reported property valued at less than $100,000, and only two productive funds below $150,000. The forty-three New England preparatory schools reported in 1881 nearly twice as much property and productive funds as the sixty-nine weakest Southern colleges, and indeed four of these preparatory schools had as much property and as much productive funds as the sixty-nine Southern colleges.
Of the one hundred and twenty-five regular preparatory schools in the United States in 1880, there were in New England forty-six; in the six Middle Atlantic States forty-six; in the Southern States six; in the remaining (Western and Pacific) States twenty-seven. “Forty-four per cent. of the property, eighty-four per cent. of the productive funds, and sixty-three per cent. of the income from productive funds represented in the list of preparatory schools are from New England.”
Money will not of itself make a college or university, but it is equally true that college and university cannot be made without it. For universities, indeed, as President Gilman is reported to have said, “it is no longer a question of tens, or even of hundreds, of thousands of dollars; it is a question of millions;” and for a good college at the present day it is hardly a question of less than hundreds of thousands of dollars. We cripple our college work all over the country, and especially in the South and West, by spreading our resources too much. The money that would run a reasonable number of colleges well serves merely to protect the feeble existence of a great many. The policy of diffusion rather than concentration of resources is in education necessarily fatal to high and thorough standards. When I think of our educational policy, the anecdote about Franklin Pierce always occurs to me. After he had been nominated for the presidency, an itinerant lecturer asked an innkeeper among Pierce’s native hills, “What sort of a man is General Pierce?” “Waal,” he replied, “up here where everybody knows Frank Pierce, and where Frank Pierce knows everybody, he’s a pretty considerable fellow, I tell you. But come to spread him out over this whole country, I’m afraid he’ll be dreadful thin in some places.” The “tertium comparationis,” as the commentators on Homer call it, is the dreadful thinness in some places, and some examples may now be in order.
A few years ago, in a certain backwoods section, there were in the same class in a large country school two boys: one the son of the principal: the other a man whom I afterwards knew at Harvard, and from whom I had the story. The principal determined, as he had more than one hundred pupils, to charter his school as a college. He did so, and in due time his son was made professor. The other boy went to Illinois, studied a while in a university there, and then went to Phillips Exeter Academy to get ready for Harvard. When I knew him he was in the senior class at Harvard; his former classmate had been for some time a professor in the new college. About that time a flaming puff in a local newspaper challenged the United States, England, or Germany to show a more learned faculty or better advantages than this college offered. I find its whole property reported in 1880 at $4000. There is a chartered institution in Tennessee where a few years ago one man was running the presidency and all the professorships, and when he resigned a local newspaper claimed that he was one of the ablest educators in the land. Certainly he had need to be, if man ever had. A Vanderbilt professor received recently a letter from a man who said that a fund of $10,000 had been raised in his town, and that it was proposed to start a college. One of the founders of the Culleoka Academy, the best preparatory school in Tennessee, says that when the school was first established people urged them to charter it as a college; and the pressure was so strong that, though their sole desire was to found a good fitting-school, they might have been forced to yield, had not Vanderbilt University been just then opened. The president of a university in Texas told me that he would have preferred to call his institution a college, but that there the name of college was so common and in such ill repute, that the character of the institution would have been totally misunderstood. This agrees pretty well with a certain Texas girl’s idea of a college. A modest graduate of a Georgia college, whom she persisted in calling p”rofessor” and his school “the college,” begged her not to put him to the blush. “Well,” said she, “it was a college before it burned down, for it was three stories high.” And this is about on a par with the report from a certain Western State, where, it is said, they have three universities and the logs cut for the fourth.
A certain Y. M. C. A. secretary once entertained the students of a Northern college with an account of his travels. He visited, one day, in a Southwestern State, a college, or university, the president of which was a D. D., and LL. D. He had been invited to dine with the president, and was puzzled to know where the dining would take place, as he saw no house near by. At noon the president produced a tin bucket, in which he was accustomed to carry his dinner to college, took off his coat and spread it on the floor, the dinner on that, and then cordially invited the secretary to “pitch in.” Almost Spartan simplicity! True, Socrates gave a first-rate university education with, if possible, even less outfit; but without a Socrates it is perhaps impossible to get on with so little. This is a realization of President Garfield’s ideal Ohio college, without, however, the great essential, — Mark Hopkins at one end of the bench.
The height and the depth of absurdity in college-making have perhaps been reached in the case indicated by the following letter, received last year at one of our larger institutions: —
My Dear Sir, — We have a fine College Building neare complesion in —— ——, & will be ready for buisness 1st Sept 1883.
I write you to informe the board of directors of Some Good man that would take hold of our College as Principle. We want a wide awake man, a thiror graduate & a man of Repetation. Will you be so kind as to give us a name & c. I am sir yours & c.
I am told that there is now living in Tennessee a man who is the founder of seven colleges, and I doubt not, when he dies, his friends will record this fact on his tombstone as the proudest memorial of him. Indeed, it does seem that such a benefactor should be named in history along with Thomas Jefferson; for surely the founding of seven colleges ought to be considered an offset to the establishing of one university and the drawing up of one Declaration of Independence. But, seriously, I am afraid that there are at least twelve men in Tennessee, natives or aliens, who, if appointed to devise some suitable way of rewarding such zeal for education, would propose to hang the founder.
The writer is not alone in the views here expressed. Professor Blackwell, of Randolph-Macon College, Virginia, writes, “If you publish the facts about our system, or non-system, I think you will do the cause of education great good. But our people do not want facts; they want flattery. Our Superintendent of Education was boasting, some years ago, that there were proportionately more Virginians pursuing the higher education than any other nationality, not excluding Prussians. This nonsense was repeated all over our State, and even in the United States Senate. As long as our people think that a Virginia college is as good as the University of Berlin, why should they be concerned about their educational system?” By the side of that statement may be put the following. Though there are five universities in Louisiana, the able man who has been called to the presidency of the munificently endowed Tulane University said recently in his printed report, “There is not a single youth pursuing within the borders of the State what can justly be called a university course. They have no opportunity to do so.” Other remarks, quite as radical, indicating dissatisfaction with the present state of the higher education in the South, could be easily selected from my correspondence.
It is not meant to be implied, however, that the South errs more than some other parts of the country with regard to diffusion of resources in the higher education. For instance, in Ohio, in 1881, the combined income reported by thirty-six colleges and universities was $302,436, and the whole number of volumes in college libraries was 321,147. Harvard University alone reported that year $357,431 and 214,000 volumes. There were in Ohio seventeen colleges and universities with property valued at not more than $50,000 each; nine of these, indeed, having not more than $25,000, and three not over $10,000. Again, eleven report no productive funds; twenty-six have not more than $10,000 income, of which number eighteen have not over $5000 income. The report of the Commissioner of Education reveals the same state of affairs in Illinois with twenty-eight colleges and universities, Iowa with eighteen, Indiana with fifteen; and so it is in other States.
In connection with this some comparison of the universities of the different sections of the country may not be uninteresting. Of 362 higher institutions reporting to the Commissioner of Education in 1881, 116 are called universities. Of these, forty-three belong to the South, six to New England, twelve to New York and Pennsylvania, and all the rest to the West. Of the 116 universities, thirty-seven have property valued at not more than $30,000; of these, fourteen belong to the South (seven to the negroes), all the rest to the West. Of the 116, again, fifty-eight report endowments valued at not more than $50,000; or, to be more exact, seven have $50,000, four $25,000, fifteen $10,000 or less, — mostly less, — and thirty-two report none. Of the fifty-eight, twenty-five belong to the South (ten to the negroes2), one to New York, and all the rest to the West. There is sometimes a certain kind of consolation in finding others seemingly as bad off as ourselves, and so we might be pardoned for sympathizing with Kansas in the fact that she has five universities, — one with an endowment of $6000, another with $2000, and three without any; that one of these universities had in 1880 two professors and eighteen students, another three professors and twelve students.
With our own vast outfit, numerically, in the way of universities, it is interesting to look at the kingdom of Prussia. In Prussia there were in 1876 (the latest statistics to which I have access) only nine universities; but there were 233 Gymnasien and eighty-three Realschulen of the first rank (whose pupils are now admitted to the universities), in all 316 schools preparatory to nine universities. In 1880 the city of Berlin had fourteen Gymnasien with 7247 pupils, nineteen Vorschulen preparatory to the Gymnasien with 3787 pupils, seven Realschulen with 3946 pupils, and one university.
All these facts and figures go to prove, if they prove anything, the truth of a remark of the Commissioner of Education: “When the resources necessary to meet the demands of modern education are considered, it seems that the concentration of means upon a few institutions for superior instruction, and the establishment of a sufficient number of vigorous preparatories, both public and corporate, secure to a State the best conditions for liberal education.” One of the great evils of the land is the vast number of so-called higher institutions of learning. “We may well exclaim,” says Professor Rowland, of Johns Hopkins, “that ours is a great country, having more than the whole world beside. The fact is sufficient. The whole earth would hardly support such a number of first-class institutions. The curse of mediocrity must be upon them, to swarm in such numbers.” “It may be urged,” he adds, “that all these institutions are doing good work in education, and that many young men are thus taught who could not afford to go to a true college or university. But I do not object to the education, though I have no doubt an investigation would disclose equal absurdities here. … But I do object to lowering the ideals of the youth of the country. Let them know that they are attending a school, and not a university; and let them know that above them comes the college, and above that the university. … In other words, let them be taught the truth.”
There is a very large number of so-called higher institutions which give neither preparation for college nor college training. By their low entrance standards they prevent a boy from getting a thorough preparation elsewhere, and, once entered, he is neither able to take, nor they to give, real college instruction. It is hard to look upon this otherwise than as a crime against the youth of the country.
Closely and perhaps inseparably connected with the evil of inadequate preparation for college is, I think, the very general adoption throughout the South of the so-called school system, which is an arrangement of studies in independent departments or schools, and permits unrestricted election throughout the, whole course. At least thirty-five Southern colleges and universities have adopted this system, following the example of the University of Virginia. All that will be said here applies to colleges and universities that do only college work. No one whom I have consulted doubts that for real university work, with such students as, for instance, Johns Hopkins has, a free choice of studies. is the proper plan. I shall give now the arguments in favor of the school-system, compressing them into as brief space as possible: —
Its general adoption by the Southern colleges and universities was to suit the time and means of students, and it has opened the higher education to those who have no classical training, who were formerly excluded by the curriculum. Besides, it is well adapted to the somewhat irregular preparation of Southern students. Owing to the multiplication and enlarged extent of the subjects which might be taught in college, there must be some choice, if we want a thorough knowledge of a few things rather than a smattering of many, and if bent of mind and purpose in life are to be considered. Students can be more correctly classified under the school-system; for as few students come to college uniformly well prepared in all studies, to place one either according to his most advanced or least advanced studies would be equally hurtful. With this system he can be placed in each study just where he belongs. Besides, a bright boy will be stimulated by the prospect of rapid advancement. Public opinion at the University of Virginia holds students to a certain order of studies, which does not differ materially from a good curriculum, and thus the evil which might arise from the selection of light and easy courses is avoided. How strong is this student public opinion at the University of Virginia is shown by the fact that a student, who had taken French and Spanish as the two modern languages for his degree, found, after he had gotten his certificates of proficiency, that student public opinion regarded no other modern language as an equivalent for German for the A. M. degree, and he therefore took German in addition. What enlightened student public opinion does in the University of Virginia, direction and oversight of the faculty must do in smaller institutions, where students are younger. Besides, the irregular element under a curriculum is as troublesome as any residuum that cannot be properly influenced under the school-system. This latter, by the independence of the different departments, removes the temptation to pass a student who is deficient in one department into the next higher class because he is good in other departments. This compensating system is, it is claimed, the bane of the curriculum, and is perhaps inseparable from it. Inasmuch as there are, with the elective plan, no classes holding together for long periods, there can be no development of that class spirit which leads to combination against the faculty on the one hand, and to hazing, cane-rushes, and the like on the other, — a feature the most troublesome to deal with in the government of the older colleges of the North. The curriculum, furthermore, tends to obliterate the individuality of professors, while the school system emphasizes the work of the individual, lays full responsibility upon him, opens the way to just reward for faithful work done, without subjecting him to disparagement on account of the negligence or unfitness of others. It has, by reason of these influences, introduced into Southern college work a greater degree of thoroughness, a higher development in special directions, than was ever known in our colleges before.
Against the school-system, as I look at it, the case may be stated about as follows: —
Whatever the original intention, the result of the adoption of the school-system has been, in most colleges, to lower standards by abolishing requirements for admission. In fact, it is not easy to prepare boys for the school-system. So long as the college adheres to a definite course, the lower schools know what they have to do. But when, in place of this, comes a plan with unrestricted election, they know not how to prepare for the various courses that may be chosen; and, if they knew, the work is too various and general to be done by them. Then there is the question of choice of studies. To arrange a judicious course, at the present day, would put to the severest test the best teacher’s skill, and be too hard a problem for our best prepared Freshmen. How absurd it is, then, to expect men who are as wretchedly prepared as the vast majority who enter our Southern colleges to choose what is best! I am quite willing to believe that public opinion at the University of Virginia will hold men who look forward to taking degrees to a strong course, but I do not see how it could greatly affect that element which corresponds to “irregulars” under a curriculum, and which is, and must always be, larger with the school-system than with the other. The faculty of a college, by their utmost effort in directing choice of studies, can only partially control the matter, since so many of our students come to college expecting to stay not more than a year or two, and afterwards make up their minds to take a full course, only to find that they have wasted much time by rather aimless work at the beginning. President Johnston says that he knew at Washington College a new student from the West who wished to elect as his course “the violin and mathematics,” or, more plainly stated, “the fiddle and fractions.” When President Johnston went to Baton Rouge he “found thirty-eight students in twenty-eight classes. One boy had for studies arithmetic and civil government only, — a course which might be the correct one, if he was predestined to be the auditor of the State.” A student once came all the way from Texas to attend the gymnasium at Vanderbilt University, and though he chose certain studies he made no pretense of doing anything in them. He became the best gymnast at the university, but this was not considered sufficient cause for allowing him to continue his connection after the first year. The greatest evil I have observed, however, is not that men try to shirk hard courses, but that they attempt too many hours, or the higher work before they are ready for it. I have seen most of the time of a faculty occupied at weekly meetings for two months with petitions to be allowed to drop certain studies. In a class of nine I found recently two students who had such a combination as sub-college Greek and Hamilton’s Metaphysics. This system gives professors a dangerous opportunity to magnify their own departments by requiring too much of a student’s time, so that he must either neglect some other work or sink under the burden. While, in an institution like the University of Virginia, the school system may act as an incentive to the individual professors, the very independence of the different schools may work badly; for under the school-system the president can hardly be more than chairman of the faculty, and if trustees elect an incompetent man there seems to me to be no check upon him, and he may do, in a college, endless harm by his methods, or lack of any method.
An evil of the curriculum, in the South at least, is that often excellence in one department is allowed to compensate for deficiency in another, and a majority of the faculty vote a man into the next class over the protest of one or two. But this is not a necessary feature of the curriculum, for I have seen it worked entirely free from this evil; each officer being allowed to “condition” students as they required, and a certain number of conditions cutting off a man. Such heterogeneous elements as the school-system brings together, in our practical application of it, prevent anything like thorough drill or systematic progressive work in the class-room. It is my experience, and I think it is general, that in most classes will be found men differing in training all the way from one to four years. flow much this adds to the labor of teaching may be easily imagined. I reckon honestly, from actual trial both in New England and Southern colleges, that the teacher must expend at least twice as much vital energy on our mixed lower classes, as on the better arranged classes there.
At its best estate it is, I fear, as President Johnston says, “collegiate work performed with university methods by students untrained, and therefore unfit, for this kind and degree of education;” and in the light of this statement it is fair to charge the system with a tendency to obscure the sharp distinction which should be drawn between university and college work. “It is just as demoralizing for a college to invade the domain of true university work as for a preparatory school to attempt to be a college.” And as there is as little limit or check upon granting college or university charters in the South as there seems to be to granting medical school charters in Massachusetts, it is easy to see, when once old traditions are broken up, what confusion may be wrought by ignorant trustees and incompetent faculties. The school-system has aggravated the endless tinkering on college courses in the South, and pretty much every institution has a course more or less peculiar to itself.
Under the school-system, the college, or university, does not get the hold on its students that the curriculum college has. Class feeling may be troublesome in some of its phases, but the esprit de corps, the fellow-feeling that grows up among those who march for several years toward a common goal, make students love the college all the more, help to hold them there, and then, more than anything else, perhaps, bind them as alumni to the Alma Mater. Of course no worse evil can befall a college than that its students should be perpetually changing. That the school-system seems to have some inherent weakness at this vital point I propose to show by the following comparison of colleges. In no case will graduating students be counted. Of the 226 academic students at Vanderbilt University in 1881-2, 111, or about half, did not return, though five of these entered purely professional departments of the university. In 1882-3, out of 201 academic students the loss was 93, or nearly half, though here, again, five entered professional departments. The great majority of these left during or at the end of the first year. It may be claimed that Vanderbilt is a young institution, and has not yet gotten the hold upon its students that such institutions as the University of Virginia have. Certainly, if any institution in the country may claim the allegiance of its students, that one is the University of Virginia. In 1878-9, of 226 academic and medical students combined, 126, or more than half, dropped out, though six or seven of these seem to have entered upon purely professional studies. Of the 126, 67 had been at the university only one session, 37 two sessions, 11 three sessions, 4 four sessions, 1 five sessions. In 1879-80, out of 217 academic and medical students, the loss was 107, or about half, including seven or eight who returned for professional study. Of the 107, there had remained at the university one session, 51; two sessions, 37; three sessions, 12; four sessions, 2; five sessions, 3. After all due allowance made for rigid examinations at these two institutions, there would still seem to be a weakness in the system on the point under consideration.
Of the smaller colleges, Wofford College, South Carolina, adopted the school, system in 1880. In 1880-1, out of 128 students the loss was 51; in 1881-2, 58 out of 131. Davidson College, North Carolina—not one hundred miles from Wofford—has a curriculum with parallel A. B. and B. S. courses. In 1880-1, out of 90 students, only 16 failed to return. Emory College, Georgia, has the old curriculum. In 1879-80, the loss was 41 out of 137; in 1880-1, 53 out of 161.
It is fairest, of course, to compare Southern colleges only with Southern, for poverty has much to do with loss of students in that section; but a comparison with some Northern colleges may not be uninstructive. Out of 174 students at Williams College in 18801, the loss was only 24. From personal knowledge, I should say that there were as many poor students at Williams, working their way through college, as at the University of Virginia or at Vanderbilt. There is a great difference in this respect, however: students in the New England colleges allow poverty to interfere with their education far less than Southern students do. At Yale College, in 1880-1, there were 482 academic students, of whom only 51 failed to return next year. Of the 51, 25 were Freshmen, 14 Sophomores, 12 Juniors. The New England colleges sift their students at entrance; in the practical application of the school-system, the sifting process begins with the first, or rather with the first final, examination. To illustrate: Williams College rejected, in 1882, just one third of the applicants; and that means that it started with just one third less baggage than a college in the South, under the school-system, would have been burdened with.
The history of the school-system, as I have seen it worked, may, without much injustice, be epitomized about as follows: A large mass of mostly crude and perfectly heterogeneous material is taken in, and straightway the eliminating process begins. Many drop out during the year; many do not attempt the examinations; still more, trying, fail; and most of those who drop out, or fail, never return. Of 40 students in German in Vanderbilt University, in 1882-3, only 12 passed the examinations; in French, out of 33, only 12; of the remainder, in both studies, about half dropped out during the year, and the others failed in the examinations. Of the students in German only 12, in French only 8, returned. In chemistry, the same year, 59 were matriculated; only 19 passed the examinations. Some years ago there were in the Senior Greek class, at the University of Virginia, 75 men; of the 75, only 15 thought it worth while to attempt the examination; of the 15, only 5 got through. What does that mean? I am perfectly willing to admit that the examinations of the University of Virginia are the most terrible ordeals on this continent; but it is quite certain that if the seventy-five men had had any sort of preparation for a Senior Greek class, — in other words, if they had been in their proper places, — the proportion that passed this examination must have been greater than one in fifteen.
It may be proper to say, by way of side remark, that it is refreshing to note the tone of respect in which all my correspondents refer to the University of Virginia. It is a tacit acknowledgment of her preëminent position in Southern education. The whole South owes her a debt of gratitude. She first, perhaps, introduced among us the element of real thoroughness in college work. When the war was over and our colleges were beginning to revive; at a time when we could not, under the smart of recent events, look to Harvard and Yale and Princeton for models in our rebuilding, then it was that the University of Virginia held aloft, as ever, her high standard of graduation, though it cost her professors money to do so, and she became the one model for all our institutions that aspired to do high and good work. Witness her influence in the fact that at least thirty-five Southern colleges and universities, mistaking the true source of her excellence, have adopted her school-system. With such professors as the University of Virginia has always commanded—and there, of course, has been the source of her strength—her work would have been of a high character under any system. But what might she not have done for Southern, for the national, higher education if, while selling her degrees and certificates so dearly, she had been as strict as Harvard in admitting students! But I must think, to use the language of one of my correspondents, that “the effort to imitate the University of Virginia has done no end of harm to Southern colleges.”3 Again, this system emphasizes examinations too much and teaching too little. The best teacher is not the man who can “pitch”4 the most men, but the one who can get the most men through fairly. The system requires more men and more means than most, perhaps any, of our Southern institutions can command, even if it be the best system in itself. It becomes impracticable, by the cost of the machinery, to run it.
It may not be out of place to give now the opinions of a few of the best known Southern educators with regard to the school-system. President Carlisle, of Wofford College, South Carolina, writes me, “We made the mortifying discovery that six men could not attend to one hundred and twenty boys without help from two students as ‘sub-tutors.’ That fact alone proves to me that we have not yet reached the wisest scheme for us. We are attempting too much.” Professor Joynes, of the South Carolina College, till recently an ardent advocate of the school-system, says now that it is “a failure all round.” President William Preston Johnston, of Tulane University, writes me, “While I approve of the ‘elective system’ for real universities, I regard its application to colleges and schools as a misfortune.” This opinion is, like the last, of especial value from the fact that this able educator published, in 1869, an article strongly defending the school-system even in an institution of college grade. Chancellor Garland, of Vanderbilt University, who bears the same relation to Southern that Mark Hopkins does to New England education, having been professor or president in leading Southern institutions of learning since 1830, says of the school-system, as compared with the curriculum, “It is susceptible of producing higher scholarship, if rightly applied, but most commonly its results are marked by less training of the mind and less thoroughness of attainment.” Dr. A. A. Lipscomb, late chancellor of the University of Georgia, writes, “The old system trained and disciplined young men better. The old B. A. curriculum has never been equaled for compactness and concentration. We have gained in quantity and lost in quality.” President Hendrix, of Central College, Missouri, proposes “to return this year to the four-years curriculum, with certain elective studies after Sophomore year; to refuse to matriculate students under a given age and without specific requirements; and to have the preparatory department wholly distinct.” The following opinion is from a man who is by common consent without a peer in his specialty in the South, but unfortunately I have not the liberty to use his name. To mention even that specialty would he to make known the man. He was himself educated under the school-system. “The elective course was proper enough in the University of Virginia, but one institution of the sort would probably have been sufficient for the entire South. The new state of affairs (after the war) induced other institutions to imitate the University of Virginia. Even this might have been without injury, if they had adopted elective curricula, and required students to select one or another of these. I am not in favor of requiring Greek, for instance, of all students; but I am in favor of requiring fixed courses to be pursued in a fixed order. I should certainly like, in a college, a good old-fashioned four-year curriculum,5 but branching in about three directions; and then genuine university work.”
It is a noteworthy fact that all my correspondents who propose anything constructive agree upon two or more curricula, as circumstances may allow, and would limit the choice of studies in college to curricula, with perhaps some elective studies after the Sophomore year. Vanderbilt University made last year the two first years of the undergraduate course required for all who propose to take a degree, with only a choice between curricula. Central College, Missouri, and Wofford College, South Carolina, will this year go back to the curriculum course or courses. Emory and Henry College, Virginia, will hereafter give only the A. B. diploma.
Intimately connected with the school system, and no doubt sprung from it, so far as this country is concerned, is another evil that obtains largely in Southern college work, — I mean long examinations. When Vanderbilt University was first opened, the time for examinations was not limited; but after one professor had been kept up by classes two days in succession from nine in the morning till midnight, he moved that a limit of six hours be fixed. The time has since been reduced to five hours. This is simply an instance of the extreme to which examinations have been carried; in many colleges they are still unlimited as to time. Professor Blackwell, to whom I am so much indebted for views in favor of the school-system, expresses himself on the question of long examinations substantially as follows: There is something wrong about our present system of examination. There are teachers who give the whole book. “Discuss subordinate sentences,” is merely a sample question. A student could prepare for that kind of examination and write all day without making a mistake, and yet might be unable to answer a few well-chosen questions, which would really test his knowledge. Such broad questions allow only the most meagre treatment, because of the vast extent of the ground to be gone over, and one who knows anything of the subject can write a large number of pages without showing either knowledge or ignorance. Twenty-five lines of Livy will test a man’s mastery of Livy as well as one hundred, if the examiner is already acquainted with that man’s general scholarship. One result of stressing the examination is that the student gets flurried. The fact that it counts so much frightens him. In a monthly examination, on one occasion, forty-seven lines from Heyne’s Reisebilder were assigned a class for translation; and, though the students wrote on their knees, without support for book or paper, all finished in one hour, and some in less time. Had it been a regular semi-annual examination they would have taken two hours or more. In the same college an examination paper on trigonometry, on which three and a half hours were allowed at the Naval Academy, was given to a class, — or rather only three fourths of it was given. The students took from six to nine hours to write it. In the one case one third of the year’s work was involved; in the other the whole. Then, too, the effect on the health of the students is very bad. The best students in the colleges, where such examinations obtain, look, at examination time, almost like walking ghosts. In proof of this last remark of Professor Blackwell’s, I may state that I have seen a young man examined for five days in succession, six hours a day. It was not long before he could neither eat nor sleep; he could not even think clearly. At the end of the time he was almost wild, and had barely passed on his examinations, though he was a hard student, and was conceded to be one of the brightest men in the institution. If that can happen in a daily six-hour examination, what must happen in those that last twice or three times six. I know the case of a young man in another college, who, after sitting in the examination room from eight in the forenoon till seven in the evening, came the next day to another examination, in which a medal was at stake, and in which he himself was acknowledged to have all the chances in his favor, and said, “Professor, I cannot stand the examination. I am utterly prostrated. Even if my diploma depends on it, I cannot stand it.” In one town last year I heard, at one time, of six cases of brain fever, or other serious ailment, believed to be the result of overwork in college. I am firmly convinced that, below the university, examinations should be limited to four or five hours at the outside, — better three; and that they should count in a student’s standing not more than one third, recitations counting two thirds. The custom and law at Yale, Harvard, and Williams is three hours.
I believe that these excessively long examinations belong, if anywhere, with the school-system, in the real university. One of the worst features in a system which allows such long examinations is the tendency to merge the teacher in the examiner, than which nothing can he more fatal to college work. Such instruction is apt to result in the professors knowing as little of his pupils as the Latin professor at the University of Edinburgh, who always confounded Thomas Carlyle with a certain other dull Mr. Carlyle, for which Thomas never quite forgave him. In college work the teacher is infinitely above the examiner. As President Johnston says, in college we want a teacher, and above all things a teacher. There is no substitute for a live man in teaching; he makes his pupils men as well as scholars, and inspires them to scholarship largely by his own enthusiasm for learning, and through their love and respect for him.
This mania for long examinations, beginning in the higher institutions, has worked downward until it has invaded even the primary schools. In the public schools of Nashville the examinations are held in writing from the time the children learn how to write, and they have two examinations a day, together equal to five or six hours. The children of one of my colleagues in Vanderbilt have written examinations, in one of the private primary schools in Nashville, covering five or six consecutive hours. They are eleven and thirteen years old respectively. Think of a child of eleven years writing five hours in succession! It is physical torture! It is cruelty to animals!
The assignment of a considerable amount of parallel reading, especially in the classics, may be mentioned as another evil that obtains in Southern college work. This too is probably the offspring of the school-system, and belongs, with it, in the university. It is difficult to see the sense of assigning to a student, who has already as much as he can bear in his regular class-work, from fifty to five hundred or two thousand pages extra, to be read privately. It is simply putting a premium on translations. A professor of recognized scholarship and experience writes to me, “I do not publish any parallel reading, for I am determined to stop lying in print. I cannot understand how some of our teachers can get so much Latin and Greek read. I worked on the parallel reading at the University of Virginia honestly for a while. I very soon, from sheer necessity, took to the translations.” Of course parallel reading is in itself highly beneficial, and all first-class students must read a great deal privately if they would become scholars. But in college it should not be assigned as a task. A good teacher may be trusted to inspire in a bright pupil so much enthusiasm that he will do the work simply on advice. The trouble is that an extra task, which is easy for the brightest man in a class, becomes an insupportable burden for the weaker men. There is great danger, too, that professors, especially young men, vying one with another in making high and hard courses, may grind the student as between the upper and nether millstones. Against this it has been urged, that “a teacher who acts as if his were the only department is a one-sided man. The right way to give parallel reading is to assign only so much as the average student can read, and then see that the class reads it.” Yet the professor who wrote those lines says, that when he began to teach, he required two thousand pages as parallel reading in German of one class in one year. Of course he soon learned better. But it happens that all the professors of my acquaintance who have used the method gave immense quantities at first, and only very gradually learned reason. Most of these have virtually discarded the custom of assigning parallel reading as a task. But while they were learning moderation, what was becoming of the poor boys?
We have also in the South, of course, the same trouble that exists all over the country, namely, the overtaxing of students by requiring too many studies for graduation. It is an evil that thinking men see to exist even in the public school courses. Chancellor Garland says, “The vicious feature in our colleges is overtaxing the pupil with routine work, and affording no opportunity for general culture by reading useful books. Our students have too many subjects to study. They have time only to learn lessons; none to master subjects and principles. It is a cramming process.” It is a constant subject of remark among Southern professors how little students read. The students are aware of this, but claim, with much justice, that they have no time for reading. I was astonished, when professor in Williams College, to see how many daily papers were taken by the students. Still more surprised and delighted was I to hear a Sophomore say, that he and a classmate were accustomed to meet once or twice a week to read aloud and discuss Emerson, and that they had just finished all his works. That man stood near the head of his class. I remember with what a feeling of pride another student showed me his treasures, the British and American poets, and how I marveled at his knowledge of them. He was only one of many. Students crossing the campus of the South Carolina College late at night used to see George McDuffie’s light burning, and hear his sonorous voice as he read aloud some English masterpiece. I am afraid we do not allow our students time for that now. In Harvard and Yale, with the exhaustive preparation they can and do require for admission, the elective studies, in the higher classes particularly, seem to solve the problem in great measure. But with us, where wretched preparation is the rule, election is never safe before the third or fourth year, if then. It seems to me the only plan is for the better colleges in the South to have and rigidly enforce certain fixed requirements for admission; then to have two or more parallel courses, as circumstances allow, with fewer studies in each course, and more time given to each; and finally, in the third and fourth years, if possible, some elective studies.
After this jeremiad there is space only for the mention of a few of the hopeful signs in Southern educational work. I take hope from the fact that the South is more generally aroused on the subject of education than ever before, that primary education is more generally diffused. The effect will be seen in time. Young men who aspire to professorships are beginning to fit themselves for the higher work in a manner not known before. The unwritten law of good Northern colleges that a young man must have first-class university training, at home or abroad, if he hopes to rise, is being established among us, too. Eleven graduates of recent years of a college in South Carolina, which has really not more than one hundred names on its rolls, are now pursuing, or propose to pursue, a university course either in this country or abroad. With two or three exceptions, these young men are seeking not professional training, but simply higher culture. Best of all, two thirds of them are making the money necessary for the course they propose. There was an increase in the incomes reported by Southern colleges from 1880 to 1881 of $109,330. The idea that colleges must be endowed is gaining ground. There is a growing conviction that fitting-schools of a high order are as necessary as colleges. We do not yet, however, appreciate the truth that preparatory schools, in order to good work and permanence, must be endowed. Two facts have given me more encouragement than anything else. Culleoka, recognized as the best fitting-school in Tennessee, is every year crowded with students from all parts of the South, and sometimes rejects in one year applicants enough to fill another school. The other fact is the founding and endowing, a few years ago, of the Holy Communion Institute, a good academy, in Charleston, South Carolina. We have probably touched the lowest point, and those of us who are young will see better things in the “New South” than our fathers ever saw.
- Manifestly an error, for Harvard’s annual expense account, a year or two ago, was said to be $582,390, and Yale’s over $350,000. ↩
- It is interesting, in connection with universities, to note the fact that of seventeen higher institutions for the colored race in 1881, thirteen were universities. ↩
- It is not my purpose to criticise the University of Virginia. Her work has been of so high and thorough a character that I should hesitate to say anything against it. The attempt on the part of so many weaker institutions to imitate the University of Virginia is what I am principally concerned with here. ↩
- Southern college term for English pluck. ↩
- He says elsewhere that he would call the classes Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior. ↩