The American College in the Twentieth Century
THE last three decades of the nineteenth century will be known as a period of extraordinary progress in American education. To the American college they have been a period of unsettlement, starting many problems, solving few, and completely transforming its environment ; so that the college will pass into the new century with many questions pressing upon it, so far-reaching and fundamental that the wisdom and experience of thirty years more will hardly suffice for their solution.
The prevailing type of college instruction in this country is the one first established at Harvard, which leads the student to the bachelor’s degree by a more or less fixed course of study, occupying a definite period of time. The degree was originally attainable in three years, or even in two; but as early as 1654, owing to the inadequacy of the preparatory training of that day, the period was lengthened to four years. Yale passed through a similar experience, and the Harvard-Yale system was adopted by nearly all of the later colleges. The course of four years became the traditional American college course, and today, after the lapse of two centuries, it still remains, — one of the few things in American life that appear to be permanent. Under circumstances radically different from those under which it was established, against every assault and protest, the venerable institution still holds its ground, apparently impregnable.
This permanence, however, is more in seeming than in reality. The assailants have made no breach in the walls, but they have entered in at the gates, and by various indirect means have worked their will. The college of to-day, with its outward form and framework little changed, is a very different thing from the college of thirty years ago ; and this is true not only of the younger institutions, but of the oldest and the most conservative.
The causes that have produced this change have worked upon the college in different ways, — from below, from within, from above ; but they are all really one cause working through various channels. It is customary to speak of this cause as the growth of the elective system ; but the elective system is itself a result, or rather a method. The real cause, of which the elective system is merely the manifestation, is the enlargement of the range of education, due not so much to increase of knowledge, — for not all new knowledge is straightway fit for educational purposes, — but rather to the conversion of new fields of knowledge to the uses of education.
This force has worked upon the college from below in the expansion and diversification of the preparatory course. Of the pupils of the academy and the high school a very small fraction go to college. The instruction in these institutions must of course be adapted to the needs of the great majority, who go from school directly into life ; and our secondary instruction has, in fact, been very much enlarged and improved in the interest of these pupils in the last thirty years. On the basis of this undisputed fact, it is claimed that the college ought to adapt its course to that of the high school, so that adequate knowledge of any substantial subject learned in school should count toward admission to college, and the pupil should be free to choose at the end of his school course, instead of being required to choose at the beginning, whether he will go to college or not. The claim is a plausible one, and large concessions have already been made to it. How profoundly the college would be affected by granting the full measure of it needs no exposition.
Within the college, the broadening of the educational horizon has necessarily developed the elective system, with its great advantages and its attendant dangers, the control of which presents one of the most difficult problems in college management to-day.
Above the college, the development of our educational resources is most conspicuously manifest in the creation of the graduate school, which has come to round out our university system, providing for advanced students in letters and science the opportunities for which, thirty years ago, they had to go abroad. In our older universities, the graduate school has been either developed out of the college by the gradual expansion of the body of instruction, until, like a protoplasmic cell, it separated naturally into two distinct organisms, or it has been grafted upon the college, with a separate management from the first. In the newer universities, the graduate department has sometimes taken precedence in the plans of the founders, but in only one instance, so far as I am aware, has undergraduate instruction been left out of the scheme entirely. In practically all our universities, then, the undergraduate and graduate departments exist together, as lower and upper divisions of the same scheme of instruction ; and whether the upper has been developed out of the lower or grafted upon it, or both came into being together, it is obvious that they are organically related, and must exert upon each other a powerful influence. It is obvious, also, that this influence will not be confined to the universities, but must extend to the independent colleges.
But the graduate school, while the most conspicuous, is by no means the only new feature of our educational system in its higher stages. The professional schools, one may almost say, have been made over in these thirty years. They not only provide more thorough and systematic instruction than formerly, but they have been broadened and liberalized in their methods, making room for a more scientific treatment of their several branches and for training in research. With this growth has come, necessarily, the requirement of more time. In law, where two years, or even eighteen months, once sufficed, three years are demanded now ; the medical schools have begun to require four years for their degree ; and the best equipped professional schools now provide such opportunities for extended study that their students may stay on with profit a year or two after graduation. Moreover, the professional schools have not failed to see that, for the better quality of work they now exact, a broad general training is necessary, and some of them already demand a college education as a requirement for admission.
Thus, at every stage of our educational system, not in the college alone, but below it and above it, we see the same forces at work, — everywhere enlargement, expansion, vigorous growth. Under the operation of these forces, what is to become of the college ? Can it maintain its place ? Ought it to be maintained ? Why should we support, at great expense, this intermediate institution ? Why transplant our educational shoots twice ? What function does the college serve that could not be performed by the secondary school or by the graduate school? Why not partition the province of the college between these two, and divert its resources into other channels ?
This will seem to some an academic question in more senses than one, — a question of no practical import. The college is firmly established in our national life. It is deeply rooted in the affections of thousands of graduates ; it administers the bounty of hundreds of benefactors ; for better or for worse, it is here to stay. Yet there is no reason to believe that the college is exempt from the inexorable law that no public institution can prosper, or even long endure, which does not serve some useful purpose to the community. Libraries, museums, wealth of endowment, noble traditions, — not these, but the vigorous stream of intellectual life to which they minister makes the college. If new conditions arise, — as they have now arisen, — and the college fail to adjust itself to them ; or if, in its eagerness to meet new demands, it prove false to its own ideals ; if it really has nothing to offer the student that he cannot get as well or better elsewhere, then the stream of intellectual life will pass it by, and we shall have put our trust vainly in endowments and traditions. But if the college has a province all its own, with natural boundaries on this side and on that, then it is of the highest importance to know clearly what this province is, and to recognize and define its boundaries.
What, then, is needed, to adjust the college to the new university scheme ?
The question is twofold, involving, as it does, both the quantity and the quality of the college training. It touches, first, the length of the college course, and the adjustment of its boundaries to the new conditions. From the professional faculties comes an earnest protest against the maintenance of the old four years’ course. They point out that this course was established at a time when there was not only no graduate school, but no professional school ; when the boy went to college at fourteen, and, coming home at eighteen, could easily accomplish his reading for a profession by the time he was twenty-one. Now the youth enters college at the age at which he formerly graduated, and completes his professional training at twenty-six or twentyseven. “ Life is not long enough to justify such an expenditure of time ; the world is not rich enough to pay what it costs. We may even say that the world is too wise not to know that, after a certain point has been attained, its own rough lessons are worth more than anything it can get from books and lectures.” 2
How shall the college answer this plea? Thirty years ago it could have given a good and sufficient answer. The college and the professional course were in no way coördinated ; the professional faculties had no thought of demanding of their candidates a college training; their catalogues showed but a thin sprinkling of college degrees. Moreover, the college was the advance guard in the forces of liberal culture. It could not have fallen back, had it been asked to do so, without abandoning what had been gained. In fact, it was just because there was nothing beyond in its own field that it pushed forward, carried its students farther and farther, until it raised the age of graduation to the point now complained of.
Can the college make an equally good answer now ? I do not see how it can. The establishment of the graduate school has relieved it from guard duty as the advance post of liberal studies : there can at least be no danger on that score, in drawing back from a point to which it would never have advanced under the circumstances which now exist. To the complaint of the professional schools there is really no answer, if we agree with them, as we assuredly do, that the professional man should have had a college training. The college, in fact, concedes the justice of the claim by yielding to it in various indirect ways. It permits the student, for example, to do the work of four years in three, and then, as a senior on leave of absence, to register in the professional school ; or it provides within its own course instruction by which students may anticipate a part of their professional work ; or it allows the first year of a professional course to be counted as the fourth year for the bachelor’s degree.
These shifts were perhaps expedient when there was no graduate school. I cannot think they are wise or necessary now. They involve various disadvantages and injustices. They encourage unwholesome haste in college work; or they discriminate in favor of a particular professional school ; or, worst of all, they inculcate confused ideas of the aim of a college education. It would be far better to admit frankly the claim which these devices virtually concede, and let the student go with his degree to the professional school at the end of three years. It is vastly more important to preserve the quality of the college course than to maintain its form and dimensions.
Would any other student suffer by the change ? For the student who passes from the college to the graduate school, it might seem to be a matter of indifference where the line between the two institutions is drawn. But it is not a matter of indifference. Although the studies of the graduate school may be in the same fields that are open to the undergraduate, the attitude of the graduate student is entirely different. It does not differ essentially from that of the professional student. Both have left the pursuit of general culture for a special object, — the mastery of a particular branch of learning. For the one as for the other, it is important that his studies in his special field should be pursued on a systematic plan, for which adequate time should be provided, — in the case of the larger fields of study, at least, not less than three or four years. If we should be asked when the student is, or ought to be, ready to enter on this special work, would any one hesitate to set the age as early as twenty or twentyone, and the stage of proficiency at the beginning of his senior year ? In any college where such freedom of choice exists as to enable him to do so, it is at that point, if not earlier, that he will begin to specialize, wherever we may draw our line between the college and the graduate school ; and it will be much better to draw it where it will bring our organization into conformity with the fact. It will be much better for the student to form and enter upon his plan of special study under the guidance of the faculty or board directly charged with the supervision of graduate work. His case in this respect is precisely the same as that of the student of theology, or law, or medicine: so soon as he becomes a specialist, he should put himself under the guidance of those who have charge of the training in his specialty; when he has become a graduate student in all but name, the name should not be withheld. There is in his case, indeed, a stronger reason than in that of the professional student for not permitting him to lurk under the name of undergraduate in any college, at least where the studies are largely elective. His presence there constitutes a danger : not only does it tend, like the presence of the professional student, to obscure the essential aim of the college and to infuse a professional spirit into its work ; it tempts him, to his own hurt, into premature specialization. If we set a reasonable limit to the pursuit of general culture, and lay out from that point plans of special study, there is a good chance that the limit will be respected. If we continue to draw an impracticable line, we draw in effect no line at all ; and the student, under the promptings of his own half-formed and uninformed taste and the unwise zeal of teachers, will be led to specialize too early. For the protection of the college course, for the protection of the student against himself, we should place the beginning of the graduate school at the point where reason and experience show it ought to be.
There is still a third class of students to be considered, perhaps a majority of the whole number, — those who go neither to the professional school nor to the graduate school, but pass directly from the college into active life. Shall we dismiss these too at the end of three years? Certainly not. Shall we let them go at the end of three years ? To this question the answer should, in my judgment, be, Yes.
For it is to be observed, in the first place, that the question of a three years’ course is not now, as it might have been perhaps thirty years ago, a question of turning the student away at the end of three years, with no place to go to for further study, — as he actually was turned away, in those days, at the end of four years. If there was danger of any such result then, there is surely no such danger now. The growth of the graduate school has familiarized every college student with the fact that the bachelor’s degree is really, as it is called, only the first degree in arts, and not, as we used to regard it, the crown of a liberal education ; and if he desires to carry his studies beyond that point, even with no thought of devoting his life to any particular field of learning, the way stands open for him. And this would be true, should the three years’ course be adopted, not only of the universities, with their fully organized graduate schools, but of the independent colleges, which are far more numerous, and are perhaps the most important factor in this problem. It would not be difficult for at least the best of these to provide instruction for a year or two beyond a three years’ baccalaureate course ; and there is ground for confidence that the number of those who took such an extended course would be considerable. The broken tradition itself would remain as a strong influence in this direction, and would survive long enough at least to give the new system a fair start.
But many students, perhaps a majority, and perhaps a growing majority, would go away at the end of three years, not to a professional school nor to a graduate school, but directly into life. What of these ? Would they gain, would the community gain, by this earlier entrance on their individual callings more than would be lost by it ?
It must not be forgotten, in the first place, that these men also would have an apprenticeship of some years to serve in business, or a technical training to undergo, which they had already waited three years to begin ; and in the second place, under the elastic system which has been suggested, the question of going or staying would be left in each case to the judgment of the persons most intimately concerned. Such a plan might be expected to yield better results than any rigid time requirement. Those for whom the longer course was more desirable — that is, those who had such interest in their studies as to wish to pursue them further — would be likely to stay ; those whose interest was feeble had better go. No doubt errors of judgment would occur ; no doubt lack of means would cut off the college careers of some ; but, on the other hand, there are now, as everybody familiar with the inner life of a college knows, a great many students who would be much better off if they could be turned away at the end of three years, or, still better, if they came to college with only a three years’ course in view. This class is a large one, and it includes not only the idle and dissolute, but many a good and manly fellow who means to profit by his college life, and lapses into the habit of frittering away his time simply because he has so much of it. These students are not only numerous, but they are influential ; their attitude powerfully affects the prevailing tone of college life. For them, and for those whom they influence, — and these make up the largest part of the class we are now considering, the men who go from college into active life, — the reduction of the course would be a distinct gain. It is a familiar fact that these men often pull themselves together as they approach the end of their course, becoming serious and earnest students in their senior year ; and it might seem, at first sight, as if we should cut off this best part of college life by reducing the course to three years. But it is not so. The senior year is the best year, not because it is the fourth, but because it is the last year. The causes which make it what it is come from before, not from behind ; from the consciousness of opportunity passing away, and of the serious problems of life close at hand. The period of waste lies between the fresh zeal and good resolutions with which the youth begins his course, and the growing sense of responsibility with which he draws near its close. It is this intermediate period that would be shortened, in the briefer course. It is not the senior year that would be cut off ; it is rather, let us say, the sophomore year, and with it might well go its absurd name.
Therefore, if the elastic system which would necessarily be adopted at first — a system permitting the student to choose between a three years’ and a four years’ course — should prove to be only transitional ; if the three years’ course is destined to be as firmly established in custom and tradition in 1950 as the four years’ course was in 1850, I for one am disposed to look forward to the prospect without misgiving.
It is perhaps unnecessary to add that there are colleges not a few which fall without the range of this discussion, for the reason that they have never raised the standard of their degree beyond a point attainable by the average student at the age of one-and-twenty. For such colleges a four years’ course is evidently desirable, until the preparatory schools on which they depend can relieve them of some of their more elementary work. That this will come to pass the steady improvement of secondary education gives us every reason to expect. The present requirements for admission to our most advanced colleges can be met, and usually are, at the age of eighteen ; and while there is no desire anywhere to raise these requirements, it is not desirable to reduce them, —whether in order to lower the age of graduation without shortening the college course, or for any other purpose, — because it is not well for the average student to be admitted to the freedom of college life at a younger age than eighteen.
When we turn from the length to consider the nature of the college course, the present situation does afford ground, it seems to me, for serious misgiving. Besides the encroachment of professional studies, already referred to, the college has been invaded by other alien elements whose presence has seriously affected its character. The source of these invasions is the same that inspired, mainly in the third quarter of this century, the establishment of the so - called scientific school, beginning with the founding of the Lawrence and Sheffield schools in 1847. The new institution, to quote the announcement of the Sheffield school, was to be “devoted to instruction and researches in the mathematical, physical, and natural sciences, with reference to the promotion and diffusion of science, and also to the preparation of young men for such pursuits as require special proficiency in these departments of learning.” The movement, as so defined, was altogether commendable, and the scientific school laid down on these lines was a most valuable addition to the educational resources of the country. In our varied national life we have room and employment for many kinds of training. Unfortunately, the movement that set on foot the scientific school did not content itself with that admirable achievement. Under the lead of men less wise, less enlightened ; under the spur, also, no doubt, of financial necessity, it invaded the domain of the college, and claimed equal recognition and rights for its course of “modern” and “useful” studies alongside of the old college course. The battle that ensued we need not fight over again. We can neither wholly blame the invaders, nor wholly vindicate the defenders, of the ancient citadel. But we cannot overlook the consequences of the invasion, which have been in one way, at least, deplorable. The visible traces of the struggle are with us yet in the curious assortment of degrees, — now fortunately diminishing in number, — bachelors of arts, of letters, of philosophy, of literature, of science, of what not, which decorate our college graduates, standing ostensibly for so many supposed varieties of liberal culture, and giving currency and countenance to false and pernicious views of what liberal culture is ; for an education which aims to equip men for particular callings, or to give them a special training for entering upon those callings, however useful it may be, is not the liberal education which should be the single aim of the college. It should be the aim of the secondary school, too, — if not for all pupils, certainly for those who are going to college. For those who turn away, at the end of the school course, to train themselves for some technical pursuit, let appropriate technical schools be provided, and let them be held in all honor. But they should not masquerade as institutions for liberal education. Above all, they should not invade the province of the college, introducing confusion, and turning it into a place where there are “ a number of unconnected and independent educations going on at the same time,” instead of a place where, though there are many paths, they all lead to a single goal. For the essence of a liberal education lies in the aim, not in the studies pursued,—not in letters, not in science. These are the materials with which it works ; and it employs them, not to make professional or technical experts, but to make men and women of broader views, of greater intellectual power, — better equipped for whatever profession or employment they may undertake, and for their equally important function of citizen and neighbor.
For the fulfillment of this aim, the college must be a place of freedom with responsibility, and that is why the school cannot do the work of the college. The school has to do with boys and girls, and must deal with them as with pupils who need constant guidance and oversight; the college has to do with students who are learning to be men, and for their training freedom is as necessary as air for the young bird or water for the swimmer. The life-preserver stage of training is past; the time has come to “ swim without cork.” Manhood, character, independence, moral courage, cannot be developed without the element of danger, and the college, which should be the best place for their development, can make itself so, not by shutting out the danger, but by providing the strongest influences to counteract it. The necessary safeguards are not to be found in detailed rules of conduct and petty prohibitions, with their petty penalties, serving as so many temptations to mischievous spirits. Regulations there must be, of course ; but these should be confined to such as are fundamental, essential to the aims of the college, positive. They should be requirements to do, and not injunctions to forbear. The college commandment should read, “ Thou shalt,” and as little as possible, “ Thou shalt not.” And whatever of counsel and warning the system may provide, the only real penalty appropriate to the college life is the timely removal of those who show that they cannot profit by its freedom. The college is not for all ; least of all is it for the morally unfit. The first exhilaration of breathing its free air is a searching test of character. To some it brings the inspiration of high opportunity ; to some it is simply the joy of unrestraint, with no incentive to either good or evil ; to some it is intoxication. To most the reaction comes sooner or later, and they settle down, or spur themselves on to the wholesome pursuit of the legitimate work and play of college life. But there will always be a residuum of those who cannot be reclaimed, who can neither control themselves nor be controlled by the influences about them. The best thing that can happen to these is to have their hopeless unfitness found out in time, and to be quietly but firmly removed to some other sphere of training, where the conditions are suited to their needs and may yet make men of them.
The influences which the college brings to bear on its students, which make its atmosphere and control its life, are manifold, and not to be enumerated or described in a paragraph. But whatever form they take, whether they work through concrete regulations or unformulated tradition, they all, in the last analysis, emanate from one source,— the characters and aims and example of the men who have made and make the college community. The college is a little world, and the most potent influence in its government is its own unwritten code of morals and of honor, the composite product of its own life ; not perfect, by any means, but in the main sound, adapted to youth, making for good. What is called student sentiment is a thing not only to be reckoned with, but to be trusted and cultivated as perhaps the most useful factor in college government. How greatly it can be improved under a policy of responsible freedom the experience of the last thirty years has abundantly shown. This policy brings no release from labor and vigilance to those charged with its management ; but the labor it entails is not that of a barren and never ending contest with indolence and love of mischief, nor that of forcing the full and rich life of youth into the mould of a formal system, but the more fruitful work of enlightening and developing that life, of giving play to its best impulses, of training it to independent action under a sense of responsibility.
Freedom in the choice of studies, equally with freedom of conduct, is an essential element of the college scheme in its best development ; and here again, not unrestrained, undirected freedom, but freedom guided by all possible advice and information, and never permitted to range so far as to lose sight for a moment of the aim of the college life, which is liberal culture, and not the advancement of learning nor the making of learned men. These are the business of the graduate school, and that is why the graduate school cannot do the work of the college. Hence the unrestricted Lehrfreiheit and Lernfreiheit of the German university have no place in the American college. Nor can the so-called equality of studies, which is sometimes appealed to in discussions of the elective system, be recognized there. Studies in a university may be called equal in the same sense in which we speak of the equality of men. We never mean by this that all men are equally good for every purpose. We mean only that all are entitled to the enjoyment of equal opportunities. And this is all that can be claimed for studies. In the university, in the graduate and professional schools, all branches of learning, so far as circumstances permit, should enjoy equal opportunity ; but in the college, where a study is pursued, not for its own honor or advancement, nor yet for the making of learned specialists, but for the intellectual cultivation and equipment of the student, its recognition and the extent to which it may be pursued must both be determined solely by its fitness or its adaptability to that end. This principle cannot be infringed or called in question ; the essential aim of the college cannot be sacrificed or its efficiency impaired in the interest of any study. When the principle, however, has been fully applied, the material which all must recognize as suitable for general intellectual culture will be many times the amount that can be used by any one student. How shall he make his choice ? It is desirable that it should be his choice ; it is most important that it should be an intelligent choice. He should not be allowed to flit from study to study, like a butterfly from flower to flower. He should not be allowed to gather together a bundle of incongruous parcels of knowledge, under the delusion that that is a liberal education. How shall he be guided and guarded without being constrained ? Various methods have been adopted. One method is to prescribe certain studies, allowing a choice among the rest. At the opposite extreme is the method by which all studies are elective, with such limitations only as are made necessary by the nature of the study itself, and the stage of proficiency reached by the student, who is left for guidance in his choice to his own taste, his knowledge of his own powers, and the advice of his friends and teachers. Between these extremes various systems have been tried : the system of “ schools ; ” the group system, with its “ majors ” and “ minors; ” the system of parallel courses, more or less prescribed, sometimes leading to different degrees, sometimes to the same degree. Of these various methods, the one which simply divides the college course into prescribed and elective studies will prove the most difficult to maintain. It is the nature of elective studies to drive out prescribed studies. The protected position of the prescribed study speedily comes to be felt to be an inferior position ; compulsion, in an atmosphere of freedom, breeds reluctance ; the teacher of the prescribed course will be the first to realize that he is working at a disadvantage, the first to urge that his course be made elective. Of the other methods, all must be said to be still in the experimental stage, and for the solution of this difficult problem we must wait for longer experience.
All this concerns the requirements for the bachelor’s degree. Intimately connected with it is the question of the requirements for admission to college, — a most important question, for on it depends the whole character of the college course. To revert now to the claim that any graduate of a good high school, with a substantial course of adequate length, should be admitted to college, no matter what combination of studies he brings: it ought to be obvious that this cannot be conceded. To grant it would be to reverse the natural order of things, to make the college course a mere supplement to the school course, to subordinate the higher to the lower. With increase of knowledge comes growth of intellectual power. The years of the college life are worth to the student — shall we say twice as much, year for year, as those of the school life ? That would be a moderate estimate. But we need not dwell on this superiority. It is enough to point out that, for the boy who goes to college, the aim of his school life and the aim of his college life are one. It is therefore only rational that his school work should be planned, from as early a stage as may be necessary, with this aim in view. If now the course so planned be found to coincide with the course that is best for his schoolmates, who go from school into life, well and good ; but if it do not so coincide, if the course or courses adapted to their needs do not suit his, the college cannot afford, simply because they are the great majority, to sacrifice for them its own aims or the quality of its own results. The school is for the many, the college is for the few; but these few are to be equipped for higher service, for leadership ; and who shall say that the community has less interest in the best intellectual equipment of its leaders than in the general intelligence of the multitude ? The preparatory course, such as the college requires to accomplish its function, must be maintained: in the high school, if possible; in schools designed especially for the purpose, if necessary ; preferably in both. The two courses must be maintained in some shape side by side, and the interests of neither class of pupils sacrificed to those of the other. Under this arrangement, some will suffer from their remoteness from suitable schools, or from tardiness in deciding to go to college ; but no system can be devised that will meet all cases.
The school course and the college course, then, should be planned as two stages of the same training, with the same end in view, which is liberal culture ; and the choice of studies which may be offered to the student in either stage must be determined solely with reference to this end. The discussion of the permissible range of choice has naturally raised the inquiry, What studies are necessary? and much good ink has been shed over this question. So far as it relates to a liberal education it is an idle question. Not one of the studies appropriate to the preparatory school or to the college is necessary to everybody. In the technical or the professional education certain studies are indispensable elements of the student’s equipment. In the pursuit of liberal culture there is no such constraining necessity. Liberal culture is a thing of many degrees, of varying quality; and it is not a goal, but a progress which may be indefinitely continued. For the college, which is the highest stage of this progress available for most educated men, the question must be, What, with its resources and in the time at its disposal, is the highest degree and the best quality of culture it can impart? Not, What is necessary? but, What is best? is the fruitful question. What plan or plans of study in college will, on the whole, best secure the aim of the college for the greatest number? What plan or plans of study in the preparatory school will furnish the best foundation for the superstructure of the college training ? On the question of what are the best ingredients of a liberal training opinions differ, and will no doubt continue to do so, though they differ less than appears on the surface. The problem that most divides enlightened educational opinion in our time is not, What is intrinsically best ? but rather, How far shall what is recognized as best be insisted on ? How far can the college safely go, in admitting to its instruction and its degree those who, from necessity or choice, content themselves with something short of the best? This question would present no serious difficulty if every student were an isolated unit, coming and going, and taking whatever he was capable of grasping. But students have to be taught in classes, and the presence in a class of an inferior quality of student inevitably lowers the quality of the instruction. More than that : the presence in the college community, and as members of it, of a body of students intellectually inferior lowers the whole tone of the college. The question, then, of the quality of the training that it is expedient to require is most important ; but it is quite distinct from the question, What is best?
Take for illustration the matter which has been the most vigorously fought over in the last thirty years, the question whether the classics shall be required as the foundation of a college education. There are here two questions, — the question of excellence and the question of expediency. Those disputants in the high debate we have witnessed, who have failed to recognize that these are the problems, and that they are distinct, have only darkened counsel with their own confusion of ideas, and have beaten the air with vain arguments to prove that the study of Greek is unnecessary. The high value of Latin for linguistic training and mental discipline they recognize ; but what need, they say, of two languages, when one will accomplish the purpose ? The subject would be greatly clarified if it could be acknowledged on all hands that neither Greek nor any other study is necessary to everybody. The question is not of need at all, but of excellence ; and the excellence of the classical training does not turn solely on the high value of Greek and Latin for discipline in clear thinking and lucid expression, but also on the insight it gives the student into the life and thought of classical antiquity. If education, as it has been well defined, is an “ adjustment to the spiritual possessions of the race ; ” 3 if it is “ the building of harmonious and reciprocal relations with those great acquisitions of the race that constitute civilization,” 4 then surely no education can be called excellent which does not include some study at first-hand of the life and thought of the two peoples who developed and carried on for a thousand years this civilization which is our inheritance, and out of whose literature and philosophy and art our own have sprung. Here is a simple historical fact; and on this fact — not merely on their utility for intellectual discipline, great as that is, nor on their inherent interest and attractiveness, much less on educational tradition or prejudice — the value of the study of the classics rests. Upon this unalterable fact we may safely base our confidence that classical study will not die out among us.
But suppose all this to be granted ; suppose it were agreed on all sides that some acquaintance at first-hand with the civilizations that are the foundation of our own civilization, and with the literatures that underlie and permeate our own literature, is an indispensable part of the best liberal education : we must not fail to recognize that the settlement of this question at once opens the way for another, a question of policy, — Shall the college limit itself strictly to what is intrinsically best ? Shall it use its resources and its prestige to draw as
many as it can to the best standard, or shall it permit a larger liberty, and seek to draw a greater number of students to a good standard, if not the best? This is a perfectly legitimate, indeed a necessary question, which every college must settle for itself. In what way can it, with its resources and its environment, do the most good to the community and to the country ? A college with small resources may not be able to limit itself to the highest standard ; a college cannot exist without students ; it must do the best it can with those it can get, and live in the hope of better days and a more enlightened constituency. To a college with ample resources the problem presents a graver responsibility, in proportion as it is free to act, and as the influence of its example is far - reaching for good or for ill. But for it too the question is a perfectly legitimate one. Just where shall it draw the line to make the most effective use of its great resources without waste ; to do its share in stocking the country, and not overstocking it, with college-bred men ; to adjust the conflicting demands of quality of education and number of the educated ? It is a legitimate question ; what I wish to emphasize is that it is a different question. The question, What is best ? is one ; the question, What is expedient ? is quite another ; and only harm can come from confusing them. The wider a college opens its doors to different kinds of training, the farther back it permits the divergence of choices to begin, the deeper is its obligation to see to it that equality of opportunity be not interpreted to mean equal worth, be not permitted to obscure the inherent relations of studies to one another, or to draw the student on without guide or compass, until he comes to the maturer studies of his college life, only to find himself imperfectly equipped for them because he lacks the necessary foundation. The question of expediency has proved a troublesome one to this generation. We have wrestled with it many years and have tried many experiments, and we are not yet of one mind. The only thing certain is that the experiment is to go on. Whatever we may think about it, — whether we see in the dislodgment of the classics from their traditional place a sure deterioration of the college education, or agree with those who wish “ to broaden the foundations of liberal culture,” — the experiment is to go on ; and it is to be tried on a larger scale and in a more radical way. The men of the twentieth century will at least have a larger fund of experience than we have. Let us hope they may be given wisdom to draw the right lessons from it, and that its teachings may be clear and conclusive.
In discussing what seem to me the most important questions of college policy that present themselves at this time, I have spoken mainly of colleges for men, not from any desire to ignore the college education of women, but partly for convenience of expression ; chiefly, however, because the problems dealt with have been worked over and fought over in the colleges for men, and the promoters of the higher education of women have thus far contented themselves with demanding for women access to the best education provided for men. The movement for the higher education of women in this half century has taken the form of a struggle for rights. That battle has now been fought and won ; the barriers of prejudice have been beaten down ; the way to the highest intellectual privileges stands open to women, in theory, at least ; and if practice lags behind anywhere, it shields itself under a plea of circumstance, and no longer takes its stand on a denial of rights. The victory is won. And now comes the question how to use the victory, — the question, lost sight of apparently in the heat of the struggle, what the higher education of women shall be. So far as this relates to the university, — the graduate and professional schools, — the problem is not a very difficult one, and is in a fair way to solution. In most subjects, at least, the training of learned specialists presents no separate problems for men and for women, and men and women already sit side by side in the lecture rooms of our most conservative universities. With the college the case is different. If the proper aim of the college has been correctly defined, and if liberal culture for men means the cultivation of an all-round, strong, disciplined, intellectually efficient manhood, then the college for women must have for its aim an all-round, symmetrical womanhood. Its business is not with the intellect alone ; it must concern itself as well with the moral qualities that constitute the strength and grace of the womanly character. What scheme of college training will best secure this aim ? Here is a field of inquiry and experiment on which we may be said to have as yet hardly more than entered.
Again, what type of college for women will provide the best conditions for working out such a scheme ? Of colleges exclusively for women we already have two types, corresponding to the two types of colleges exclusively for men : the independent college, like Vassar and Smith, and the college attached to a university, like Radcliffe and Barnard. Some people have looked on this second type as merely temporary, as a steppingstone to the admission of women to the university college for men. But this is a hasty inference. Such a college will inevitably develop its own college life and traditions, its own body of graduates, and other elements of permanence. At present, certainly, we must range it alongside of the independent college for women and of all colleges exclusively for men, over against the coeducational type of college, which has been generally adopted in the West. Here is another great question, which we shall be better able to answer when we know better what the college can do for women ; and not merely for teachers, but for women destined for the higher positions of social life, who constitute as yet too small a proportion of our college students. Here again the experiment is to go on, and the twentieth century must find the solution of the problem.
Clement L. Smith.