Relations of Academic and Technical Instruction

AT the time when the brothers Humboldt planned the scheme for the University of Berlin, the problem of the higher education did not seem very complicated. The ancient faculties of divinity, philosophy, law, and medicine provided sufficiently for the demands of the time. It is true that the elasticity of the department of philosophy had already begun to be strained by the number of subjects which had been packed into it; but it was not necessary to reconstruct the framework of the higher education in order to provide for the subjects which at that time had come to be important. If those able men, who, by their diverse scholarship, were able to survey the field of knowledge in a most competent manner, should again essay their task, there is every reason to believe that they would feel obliged to abandon altogether the mediæval framework of university instruction, and to build a new one. In the century which has passed since they were in their prime, the natural sciences have undergone a marvelous extension, and the arts which rest on them have in great measure been created. In their day, the various technical employments were considered mere crafts, to be transmitted by tradition and apprenticeship ; the idea that they were liberal professions, to be cared for like those of the physician or the jurist, was yet to enter the minds of men.

In the old classification of employments with reference to education, we discern a tincture of the aristocratic motive. The priest, the lawyer, and the artist, though their stations in society were not high, had definite rank in the scale of precedence which was devised in the feudal age, while the plain citizens of all grades belonged in the lower estates of the realm, in that unclassified residuum of mankind with which the authorities did not concern themselves. The French Revolution, or rather the political renaissance of the western world which it is the custom to name from the country where its features were most strikingly exhibited, did something to elevate education in the arts. Since this movement we find that technical education, which in earlier times had been practically limited to a few schools where mining was taught, has demanded increasing attention. Still, to this day, the tendency has been to regard this department of instruction as something much below the university grade. The plan has been to give the needed instruction in special technical schools, arranging it to meet the immediate wants of the pupils. There has been little effort made to group this new work with that heretofore done in the centres of the higher education, — no sense of the advantages to be derived from associating the new arts with the old learning. When the technological institutes were geographically connected with the universities, there might be some slight exchange of instructors, or other similar arrangements dictated by common needs ; but the conception that the new arts could be really allied with the old culture found no place in the minds of those who guided the course of education.

Since much of this sense of disparity between the old and the new professions arose, as before remarked, from the ancient prejudices concerning the humble position of all mechanical employments, it was quite natural that the first distinct step towards the union of the two in universities should be taken in this country. So far as I have been able to find, the beginning was made with the institution of the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard. The founder of this school, Mr. Abbott Lawrence, as is shown by his communication to the corporation of the university to which he entrusted his gifts, intended by his benefactions to secure to students in the several branches of engineering and chemistry, geology and zoölogy, an opportunity to pursue their studies where they would receive the benefits arising from the enlarging conditions which a university affords. It thus fell to a broad-minded citizen of Boston, in the middle of the present century, to begin a new age in the history of the higher education.

On many accounts, the place selected by Mr. Lawrence for his school was well suited for the experiment which he sought to try. Harvard University has, during the last hundred years or more, been willing to seek new fields of usefulness in a manner exceptional among such institutions in this or other countries. It has indeed made more essays of this sort than any other. It has established schools in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, agriculture, and horticulture : it has maintained a Botanic Garden and an Arboretum, and a great Observatory which now has a branch in the Andes. It has organized very extensive and varied museums. In many ways it has shown an admirable hospitality towards all true and useful learning, in whatever form it might seek admission to its halls. The Lawrence School was welcomed in Cambridge. For almost twenty years it attracted much attention, and its graduates won their way in a remarkable manner to success in their professions. The rate of its advance during this period is perhaps as creditable as that of any other like school. What was of even more importance, several of our American colleges adopted the plan of having technical education in connection with the work they had previously undertaken. The Sheffield School at Yale, indeed, was begun at almost the same time with the Lawrence School, and scientific establishments were soon founded at Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, Michigan, and perhaps a dozen other institutions ; and thus it came to be accepted that an American university was incomplete without a school of applied science.

If the march of events were in all cases controlled by logic, the result of Mr. Lawrence’s admirable gift should have been decisive in all that relates to the place of schools of applied science in this country. Notwithstanding a temporary decline in the usefulness of his foundation, owing to causes which we cannot now consider, the success of the principle, and of the practice as well, was both quickly and completely assured. The schools of Yale and Columbia were of themselves enough to show that the old and the new learning could abide together, that their affairs could safely be left to the care of the same governing boards, and that the new professions gained much from association with the old. But the conception of the technical school as something which, by its nature, should be kept apart from the university, a view which arose in the rigid conditions of the Old World, was not without its advocates in this country. Their arguments have had weight: they have led to the establishment of several institutes of technology, which have proved in many ways successful, attracting large numbers of students, and providing our arts with men who are well trained in all that immediately pertains to their several crafts. Their success in their independent positions has led to the presumption that such trade schools may be freer, if isolated, to go straight forward to their object of training young men for the highly specialized employments of the arts. As a large part of the means which our people can afford to spend in the higher education is evidently to be devoted to technical instruction, it seems well to examine this point in a deliberate manner; for much depends on the decision which may in the end be reached.

In the first place, we should note the fact that, so far, only one perfectly successful agent has been devised whereby the ever-increasing store of learning, which is passed from generation to generation, can be made available for instructing youths: this is the university. Books do much for those already well trained ; natural ability may do much if combined with fortunate experience; but the only method whereby, with the least effort, a large body of youths can be brought into contact with the store of knowledge is by an aggregation of able teachers who possess the traditions of their several branches of learning, and who can, through association, maintain the spirit which is peculiarly demanded in such work as they have to do. Few even of those who have studied the life of universities appear to understand the essential though invisible complexity of their organization. To the eye, they seem to be a mere combination of instruments for teaching, instructors, buildings, libraries, collections, all of which may be duplicated at a certain cost and in a limited time. To the careful inquirer, there appear, beyond all this, the traditions of centuries, transmitting experience in all that relates to the methods by which the appointed work is done. If we could by any means weigh in the balance the material and the immaterial elements which constitute the great schools of the world, we should find that the invisible parts of the properties which give them value are by far the most important.

First among the needs of a great university — for on it depends the stability of its foundations — we must reckon the administration. In some foreign countries this may be left with safety to the civil government, which from time to time, by legislation, determines the general conduct of affairs, or regulates the methods in some detail; but in this country experience is clearly against the proposition that a really great school can safely be entrusted to the civil authorities, or can be developed under their direct control. It is therefore a difficult matter to see how properly constituted administrative boards can, save in rare instances, be provided for our great educational establishments. There are at present but few of our American institutions of learning which have succeeded in accomplishing this task of finding the men who can care for their money and regulate their work. So far, religious or sectarian interests have helped them to obtain the services of men who have the ability both to make large plans and to execute them ; but such motives, while they may bring devotion, are in their nature hostile to the larger purposes of a university. Only two or three such schools in this country are so placed, as regards their geographical position or their history, that they can command the services of their abler graduates for the needs of their government. Only where these conditions exist is it possible to insure permanent vitality in a great school. Now and then it happens that a strong man — sometimes a president of unusual ability, or a vigorous and farseeing member of a board of trustees — may give a college the impress of his personality, and lead it for a time to success ; but the continuity of action and the foresight and patience necessary for steadfast development cannot be secured without the devotion of generations of able men. Thomas Jefferson had the genius to frame for the University of Virginia what was perhaps the amplest project which has ever been devised for an American school ; but no one else has been able to continue the work which he began, on a scale commensurate with the undertaking.

It is true that a technical school, owing to the limitations of its purposes, is perhaps more likely than a university to command the services of governors who understand its immediate objects and are interested in its success. There is, however, an evident danger that, drawing its supervising ability mainly, if not altogether, from persons who have a knowledge of only one side of human culture, the institution may become very narrow in spirit, seeking, not to develop its pupils to a full measure of their natural abilities, but to train them at once to do particular tasks. In general it may be said that the more fit the youth at graduation for the details of a special employment, the less likely he is to have the broad foundation on which his subsequent development must to a great extent depend. This truth is apt to escape the perception of those who are in charge of schools devoted to single and proximate ends. It is, in fact, the peculiar function of the university to maintain the well-affirmed principle that, to make the enlarged man, we must seek all the means of enlargement. It is characteristic of all trade work that immediate utility, rather than the means of continuous growth, commands the attention of its managers.

The experiment in special education which is now being tried in our isolated technical schools has been carefully essayed in other and essentially similar institutions. In the earlier state of the educational work of this country, when men set about their tasks with little forethought, a number of law and medical schools were founded which had no relation to institutions of liberal culture. Even those which were in some kind of relation with the colleges were in most cases substantially independent. With one or two exceptions, these detached schools have failed to maintain themselves. Neither in the quality of their work nor in the kind of student they have secured have they been creditable or advantageous to the professions which they have endeavored to serve. Some of these ventures have entirely disappeared ; others have been conjoined with colleges, thereby obtaining a moral and intellectual support which has bettered their condition ; yet others continue to exist in feebleness, their degrees being of so little value that long ago, and with no reference to the question we are considering, it was determined that they should not be recognized in the Harvard Quinquennial Catalogue. Even in those instances where the professional schools grouped about a college had at one time a large measure of independence, it has been found most advantageous, indeed we may say absolutely necessary, to bring them under the direct control of the governing boards of the institution.

The lessons which may be drawn from the history of the detached professional schools of this country lead clearly to the conclusion that there are serious dangers arising from isolation, which may best be escaped by union with institutions which can command able governing boards. There are no features in our separate technical schools which will insure them against the evils which have affected the detached schools founded to train ministers, doctors, or lawyers. Now and then, in a favorable environment, such a school may attain success ; but this success is apt to be temporary, and at best it has the limitations which we shall hereafter note.

In all the productive work of modern life, where the labor ought to have a continuity not interrupted by the death of the men who do the tasks; where, in a word, perfect continuity of action and a complete preservation of traditions are demanded, the evident tendency is to consolidate labor in large establishments. It is commonly, yet erroneously, believed that the only end attained by this massing of endeavors is the cheapening of production. This is certainly one of the results ; but it is doubtful if it is the most important of those which are attained. Of as much importance is the utilization of master minds, which can be discovered by these associations, and brought to do their utmost in their time. The supreme advantage arises from the consolidation of energy, which in a measure secures the undertakings from the accidents of death and incompetency. The principle has long been adopted in warfare ; it is common in all the organic groups where many individuals are combined, as in the hive or the ant-hill; it is hereafter to be of much importance in the affairs of civilized men. The principle of the division of labor, when half understood, appears to militate against the law of association ; but the principle is in fact not applicable save in coöperation, and is successful somewhat in proportion to the size of the association in which it is applied. The success of the university system in the past at once illustrates and explains this strengthening by division and coöperation.

So far we have considered the plan of separate technical schools from the point of view of general administration. The conclusion seems fairly affirmed that the governmental needs of these establishments make it desirable to have them conjoined with the other institutions of professional learning. We now come to the point where we must take into account the effects on the development of students, brought about by the social and intellectual conditions and the diversities of milieu which are afforded by schools united with universities as compared with isolated schools. As before remarked, the observer who looks upon these associated institutions of learning as mere “plants” of buildings, collections, etc., fails to see the main source of their influence on the minds of men, namely, the influence of contact with able scholars, and of mingling with fellowstudents who are engaged in a great diversity of intellectual occupations. It is this contact with learning which, though it may not be formal or sensible, in the case of all really educable youths is the first and most important element of university life. When a young man has but small natural ability and small means, it may be best, if he has at once to make his living, to spare him the time and force which he must expend in obtaining some sense of the breadth of human knowledge and interests. I say it may perhaps be well to do this in some cases ; though I really think that any system is unjust which deprives a well-meaning youth, whose parents can support him till he is twenty-two years old, of this precious opportunity for enlargement which is certain to be unattainable in later life. When, however, the pupil is of fair capacity, and possesses that common quality which makes a youth quick to sympathize with the life about him, it seems to me worse than folly to set, during his school time, any barriers in the way of his gaining access to the incidental advantages which a university can afford. Even if he should come to his technical employment with a little less of the craft sense than he might have gained in a detached school, this hindrance should not be allowed to weigh against the development of his general powers and sympathies which four years’ contact with a great body of diverse intellectual endeavor may bring about.

Placed within a university of sufficient resources, a technical school can afford its pupils all the professional advantages which any separate institution can hope to provide. It can command their time for the tasks which they need especially to do. It can have its courses of instruction so arranged that the students shall to a great extent share the work of men engaged in fitting themselves for other professions. Next after the gifts which come to a youth by birthright, the most precious of his resources are those of educative companionship. This system of associate study provides such opportunities in an ample way. As yet, the manner in which this element of profitable intellectual intercourse among students can best be favored has received too little consideration. I therefore venture to give an account of the way in which, after much debate and several tentative experiments, the project has been arranged in the departments under the control of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard.

In this part of the university, which may be termed the academic, the courses of instruction given by the one hundred and fifty or more teachers who work in its several divisions, amounting in all to about three hundred and fifty courses, are grouped in departments, according to their natural order. These departments number twenty; and each of them is in charge of a committee composed of its permanently appointed teachers. The courses of instruction offered by the several divisions approximately include all the branches of learning which, in the present condition of education, can well be introduced into an academic system. In the departments of natural science they are about as complete as in any European university. The subjects are taught solely with reference to the acquisition by the student of the knowledge which the teacher can convey, and the methods of inquiry by which he can acquire the habit of research in the particular field. In the courses above those which are elementary, the effort is made to develop the habit of independent labor in the pupils. They are shown how to use the literature of the subject, and to approach the matter, as far as may be, in an original and originating way. From this body of instruction the students in the college and graduate school select the studies which they wish to pursue. In this they have a large freedom of choice, yet much guidance. In many cases, the students find a statement in the list of electives that they cannot take the socalled elective without having previously followed one or more courses which may have given them a fit preparation for the particular task.

The student in the Lawrence Scientific School finds the work which he has to do described in the above-mentioned list of studies. In his case, however, in place of the considerable liberty of election which is granted to his companions in the college or the graduate school, he is required to follow a prescribed path, taking, according to the end he has in view, a particular number and sequence of studies in successive years. When the student has a sufficient reason for making certain changes in his work, the appointed curriculum may be varied to suit his needs. In general, he is compelled to follow the plan laid down in the announcement, which designates the studies which have to be pursued in order to obtain the degree of Bachelor in one of the seven departments of the school. There are a few distinctly special courses in engineering, and in some other branches of the work in the Scientific School, to which students not candidates for its degree are denied admission; but in all the others, say nine tenths of the whole number, the technical student of this institution is always in association with those who are following the work without intending to make it the basis of professional employment, except perhaps that of the teacher. Thus, the scholastic life of a young man who intends to be an engineer, a chemist, or a practical geologist, or who is specially fitting himself to teach science, is to a great degree spent in a truly academic atmosphere, — one in which knowledge and a capacity for inquiry are valued for their own sake, and not measured by their uses in economic employment. This seems to me, as I think it will to any one who holds the first purpose of all education to be the enlargement of men, the great advantage which the system has over any which is devised for more immediate ends. It starts the youth with a broad view of learning, and leaves the practical applications of the knowledge to a later stage of his work.

The incidental profit which the student of technical science may win from his residence at a university consists partly in the chance which he there has of getting some idea of the modes of thought and expression of many masters who are not among those whose instruction he is required to attend. When I was myself a student of geology in the Lawrence Scientific School, more than thirty years ago, I found a great and abiding profit in the lectures of Professor Lowell, which I heard for several successive years. So, too, the instruction given by Professor Jeffries Wyman in the lecture room and laboratory, though not demanded in my course, was of inestimable advantage to me. Such chances as these could not possibly come to a youth in a detached technical school, even if its teaching force could be organized with ideal completeness. Such men as those I have mentioned grow and abide only in the free atmosphere of academic culture, where learning is followed for its own sake, and not as an aid to a very immediate end.

There are those who appear to hold that such divagations from the path of duty which is marked out for the youth who expects to make his bread by applied science are harmful to the integrity of his purpose. It seems to me that in this view there is a radical misapprehension as to the conditions of mental development, and of our duty towards that process. While there doubtless is such a thing as a dissipation of energy on the part of a brain worker, it is tolerably clear that the intelligence, like the body of a man, is at its best an intricate and complex growth, in which each healthy organ, or function, strengthens every other. The blacksmith needs a strong arm, but also a patient back, a quick eye, and a ready judgment. The true athlete, the man who is fit for all the exigencies of an active life, must have trained, not his body only, but his judgment and his will. The mind is not a member, like the ear or the arm ; it is a pervasive and complex whole, which must be developed by many various contacts and influences. In later life the mental athlete may use his powers chiefly in some narrow field ; but there ought to be nothing narrow about his powers.

If, as is often the case, it be necessary to give the student of technology a practical acquaintance with the arts which he is to practice after the period of his direct schooling is past, that end can best be accomplished, not by keeping him in an atmosphere of a professional quality during his term times, but by a proper use of the long summer vacation which we, following the English usage, have adopted in our higher education, — a custom which is warranted by the trying character of our climate. This long break in study is often a sad waste of the period of life in which intellectual accomplishment is most easily won, — a time which should be counted by months, when indeed the principle of carpe diem should ever be before the minds of those who have control of youth. I have found that students of geology who pursue the theoretical part of their work in term time, with only such practice as is necessary to illustrate the theory, and who give the long vacation to economic employment in mines or surveys, derive a very great inspiration from contact with the practice of the arts. They feel at once how the general truth illuminates the practice, and in this practice they learn where they still need enlightenment by studious inquiry. The same result is attained in other branches of engineering work.

I am satisfied that the above-mentioned method, where the academic culture is combined with that of actual practice, will afford the fit solution of all the real difficulties which beset the training of our master workmen in the universities. Three months in each of four years can fairly be given to the lessons which the youth needs to learn in the applied science of his proposed occupation, making in all a year; eight of each twelve months shall be devoted to his term-time studies, — leaving a month to pure vacation or to home life. At first sight, it may seem improbable that the opportunities for practical instruction which are necessary for the development of such a plan could be found for any considerable number of students. Experience, however, indicates that the intelligent employers of high-grade labor are ever looking about for able young men whom they may take into their service. Such employers, of course, always have more persons seeking employment of them than they need ; but the trial which they can make with a promising youth, who is willing to come for little or no pay, and to prepare and prove himself before he asks for a permanent position, has very distinct advantages. It should be remembered that the youths who resort to our universities are, in a very decided manner, selected from the mass of their generation. It is true that only a small part of the able young men of this or other countries find their way to these schools ; it is also true that some few dull or characterless persons obtain this promotion through their families ; but in no other large aggregations of men do we find anything like the average grade of capacity in the academic departments of our great schools. In proportion as they make their students ready for duty, the occupations of the world will call for their services, with the assurance that their ability and their training will give them value in tasks of a difficult nature. Our schools will find the men of affairs willing to aid them in making youths ready for their professions.

There is, perhaps, in the mind of the reader, an impression that the students who are assembled in our greater colleges are engaged in studies or diversions which have no particular relation to their plans of life ; their aim being to develop their minds and bodies, with no care as to the way in which they are to be hereafter employed. This view as to the position and state of mind of the college student was true enough in Harvard College so long as the required system of studies was maintained ; it is doubtless true of schools where that method of work still prevails. It was indeed the logical, the necessary result of that plan of education where the youth was taking a prescription at appointed intervals, and with a blind trust as to the benefit he was to receive.

One of the most interesting of the many effects of the elective system has been a steady and tolerably rapid change in the attitude of the young men toward their future : in this matter, it is not too much to say that in twenty years a great revolution has been brought about. The fact that a student has to make a choice puts his studies on the plane of the other elements of conduct which constitute the life of a free man, and this selection keeps the question of his course of study constantly before his mind. The result is that while the few who are guided by the uncivilized humor of monetary enjoyment are apt to select their studies with reference to the ease with which they may " get through,” by far the greater part are, from the beginning of their college life, intently engaged in preparing themselves for their future occupations, or at least are trying to attain a position where they may make an intelligent determination as to a career. Thus, any college where the young men are free to choose their studies is certain to afford an environment which is favorable to the development of the earnest spirit that is imperatively demanded of all those who are preparing themselves for technical as well as other work. Under the old conditions, in which undergraduates had only required studies, it might with reason have been doubted whether the environment of a college would have been favorable to the development of the earnestness of purpose necessary in the case of men who were to go thence to professional employment. It seems to me that the elective system has done away with this danger; it has made our academic life fit for the earnest, self-guiding young man. That colleges where the studies are elective have at the same time become less well suited to the education of the intellectual waifs who are forced into such a society is also true, but this is a matter of secondary importance.

The elective system in academic education, begun in Harvard College, has been rapidly extended in other schools of similar grade in this country, and is sure to be adopted wherever the resources of the institution will permit the innovation to be made. There is a probability, indeed, that it may be extended downward, until it affects in an important way our secondary education. This change does not mean that we are to give up the idea that the really educated man is a person broadened by knowledge which does not immediately relate to the economic work of society; it does mean, however, the earlier formation of a plan of life, and the acquisition of culture in relation to that plan. In place of the ephemeral " jigsaw ” decorations of our old teaching, we are to seek a solid framework of education which shall suit the needs of the individual, and which may receive an adornment fitly related to the plan.

The establishment of this theory of education makes it the more natural that all the higher training of specialists should be gathered into the universities. There we may expect that the body of students will be endeavoring to obtain from the store of instruction which these institutions provide the learning which may suit their especial plans in life. The society of teachers and students thus created will be so varied that it will fairly represent all the diversities of the masterful occupations which our civilization demands. In this condition of their development our great establishments for the higher education will be an epitome of our culture. Gaining their education under the conditions which they will afford, our youths will come to acknowledge the solidarity of all high-minded and wellinformed endeavor. The prejudices of caste, the narrowing quality of many occupations, are serious imperfections in our democracy, which will tend to disappear before a spirit of culture that recognizes all the well-trained intellectual service of mankind as in equal measure dignified and honorable. This end can be attained only by culture on a common ground.

So far, though the people of this country have had an ideal of higher education to which they have been very devoted, and for which they have made many sacrifices, it cannot be said that they have been wise in the ways in which they have sought to advance its interests. They have multiplied colleges, and made a patchwork of their professional schools. Vaguely conscious of the vast body of learning which it is necessary to preserve and to disseminate, they have failed to see how the work needs to be done in order to adapt it to the conditions of our American life. In this task, as in all else, they began by imitating the institutions of European countries, where learning was for the clergy, the bar, and the gentry. In dealing with the newly discovered needs of the technical professions, they have again been led in part to follow the example of Europeans. It seems, however, clear that with the broadening of the understanding as to the province of the higher education, and the share which universities have in the work, the people will demand for their children the opportunities of enlargement which they cannot elsewhere obtain.

Nathaniel Southgate Shaler.