Competition in College
WE are told with wearisome reiteration, until it vexes us even as a thing that is raw, that America produces few great scholars who are pioneers in the domain of thought; that in exploiting a continent we have been too busy to explore the mysteries of natural science, or the mind of man. So far as this charge is true, and we cannot deny that it has some foundation, it is commonly ascribed to our rapid industrial development, with the consequent attractiveness of material pursuits which draw our most promising youth away from the paths of learning. But must not our schools, and above all our universities and colleges, take their share of blame? It is our privilege to magnify the importance of education, but in doing so we must assume responsibility, not only for the benefits conferred thereby, but also for any evils that may flow from errors committed.
Education has many sides and many functions; otherwise it would not be the fascinating pursuit that it is. Both in discussion and in practice, we take account of imparting knowledge, and of the training of the mind; but in our zeal for these essential matters we seem, perhaps, to have neglected a not less important function, that of sifting out the minds capable of great intellectual achievement. Is it not possible, in short, that we have paid attention too exclusively to teaching, and too little to recruiting young men of the highest promise ? This ought we to have done, and not to leave the other undone, for both are needed in keeping educational work at a high level. Every one who has had personal experience in a university must be aware that the standard maintained is due quite as much to the calibre of the students as to that of their instructors. The success of our law schools, for example, must be attributed not only to the capacity of the professors, and to the direct effect of their method of teaching, but in no less degree to the fact that these schools attract the most ambitious and vigorous college graduates.
Vast as the improvement in educational methods has been, it is not clear that the process of sifting is as effective as it used to be. The old classical school, with its rigid curriculum, was inelastic, unadaptable to individual needs, and is said to have been repellent and dulling to the ordinary child; but none the less it seems to have sorted out the boys with intellectual aptitudes and to have steered them toward higher education. The same thing was probably true of the old-fashioned college. The minimum, and indeed the average, amount of study has risen very much since those days. No doubt the ordinary student was more indolent then, and acquired less mental training, but it may be doubted whether there is now so great an incentive to superiority in scholarship. If that be true, our colleges are not performing so well as they did in the past the function of intellectual selection.
But have we not a new institution created to supply that very need ? The Graduate Schools in our universities, that consummate product of the last thirty years, are designed to be real nurseries of scholars. They were surely intended to recruit the intellectual flow er of the youth, fitting them to be leaders and teachers of the next generation; and when Johns Hopkins opened its doors it became a mecca for young men who aspired to high places among the learned. Since that time Graduate Schools have multiplied, their students have increased beyond expectation, and with their growth in popularity they have “ faded into the light of common day.” They certainly contain men of the finest type, but the bulk of their students are not of first-rate quality, and much of the instruction consists in burnishing rather soft metal. In the best of them the standard is very high so far as training and knowledge are concerned ; quite as high, perhaps, as is wise, for it cannot be raised indefinitely without risk to one of the functions performed by these schools. They are, in fact, attempting to serve two objects, which are not necessarily identical in America: the education of productive scholars and of teachers; and there is some danger that in the process one or both of these objects may suffer.
The Graduate Schools of our universities contain in the aggregate some six thousand students, all preparing themselves, according to the popular impression, to be great scholars. But with any such conception the figures are monstrous. If we could turn out a score of men a year with any serious chance of eminence we should do well. The great bulk of the students have no delusions of this nature. All but a few of them are being trained to teach; to diffuse knowledge, not to add to it; to be live wires, not to be dynamos. We talk of their all doing research work, but that term covers a multitude of operations. The original thesis they are required to present for a degree proves that a student can handle original material, not that he can construct with it anything really new; it shows a familiarity with the sources of knowledge, but it does not show capacity for productive scholarship.
Our method of attracting students to the Graduate Schools is defective. If you want to generate energy you must have a resistance to be overcome. If you desire to recruit men of force and ambition, there must be a great prize to be won by facing an obstacle, just as, when you want to recruit strong characters, you must call for sacrifice. In our Graduate Schools we pursue to some extent a contrary policy, for we subsidize men freely with scholarships. By so doing we are in danger of making the Graduate School the easiest path for the good but docile scholar with little energy, independence, or ambition. There is danger of attracting an industrious mediocrity, which will become later the teaching force in colleges and secondary schools. Such a policy is due in part to a feeling that a large number of students is needed to justify the expense of our graduate instruction ; and in part to a less laudable spirit of intercollegiate rivalry. A long list of graduate students is regarded as a proof that a university is fruitful in its highest work of training the great scholars of the future, but unfortunately mere numbers prove nothing of the kind. Yet the popular assumption is not unnatural, because it is hard even for men engaged in education, and it is impossible for the general public, to distinguish between quality and quantity in an institution with which they are not thoroughly familiar.
While, therefore, the instruction in our Graduate Schools is admirable, our success in recruiting for them students of the strongest intellectual fibre is by no means so great. This is the vital point, for although eaglets are raised best in an eagle’s nest, yet there is a better chance of producing them by setting eagle’s eggs under a hen, than hen’s eggs under an eagle. But how are the eagle’s eggs to be collected ? How are young men of intellectual power to be drawn into the Graduate School ? My answer is that young men must be attracted to the pursuit of scholarship while undergraduates in college, and success in doing this depends upon the extent to which intellectual appetite and ambition are stirred there. It depends, moreover, not only upon the intensity with which a few men are stirred, but also upon the diffusion of that attitude among the mass of undergraduates.
The intellectual feast spread by the Graduate Schools does little, therefore to create an appetite for learning. It feeds hungry scholars, but it does not make them. Craving for scholarship must be formed in college, and is deeply affected by the general atmosphere there. Important as this is for the recruiting of great scholars, it is of not less consequence in giving an intellectual tone to all the alumni wherever their paths in life may lead; but from that point of view the present situation is far from perfect.
It is safe to say that no member of a faculty is satisfied with the respect in which scholarship is held by the great body of college students to-day. Every one complains in his heart, although in public he is apt to declare that the conditions in his own college are better than they are elsewhere. In fact, we know little enough about the state of affairs in our own institutions, and are quite in the dark when we presume to draw comparisons with other places. This is a case where measuring ourselves by ourselves, and comparing ourselves among ourselves, is not wise. In spite of divergences in detail, the problem is essentially the same everywhere, and any college that helps to solve it will confer a benefit upon the whole country. Nor is it enough if we are better than our fathers were, if the average amount of study in college is greater, and the minimum much greater, than it was. In the community at large the general activity has increased prodigiously ; even elegant indolence is by no means so fashionable as it used to be. Our colleges ought, in a movement of this kind, to set the pace, not follow it; and they must not rest satisfied until they create among their students a high Standard of achievement.
When the elective system was first introduced, its advocates believed that it would have a powerful selective influence, by offering to each student ampler opportunity for self-development in the branches of learning that he might prefer. The opponents of the system did not deny this, but complained that the undergraduate was not capable of judging what was best for him, and that to follow his own bent would lead to a one-sided development. In the plans of men, the indirect, and therefore unforeseen, consequences are often more important than those which form the subject of discussion. The elective system — which has to a greater or less extent penetrated almost all our colleges — did, indeed, furnish an opportunity for self-development; but at the same time it weakened the stimulus to exertion. It was based upon the assumption that opportunity alone is enough, that a man will put forth his utmost powers if he can do so in a congenial field. Yet this is by no means true, even in the case of the highest genius. Many a man of talent has worked only from the stress of poverty, groaning all the time at his hard fate. Shakespeare himself did much of his writing under the pressure of finishing plays for the stage; and the difficulty of keeping artists and literary men up to time is notorious, — a difficulty not wholly due to the fitful inspiration of the muse.
If opportunity alone were enough, hereditary wealth, which vastly enlarges opportunity, ought to increase intellectual productiveness. There ought to be no place “ where wealth accumulates and men decay.” But there is too much truth in the common belief that abundant means usually lessens the output of creative work; and even Shakespeare, when rich enough to retire as a country gentleman, wrote no more. The mere opportunity for self-development, and for the free exercise of one’s faculties, the mere desire for self-expression, are not enough with most men to bring out all their latent powers. This is because in civilized life we are seeking to foster an activity far above the normal; we are striving to evoke a mental energy much greater than that required for a bare subsistence, and unless education can effect this it is a failure. In addition to opportunity, there must be a stimulus of some kind.
Under the old rigid curriculum the stimulus was supplied in part by competition. Since all the students were following the same course they were naturally ranked by their marks, and there was no little emulation among the more ambitious ones. Rivalry, with its component elements, the desire to win and the still stronger desire not to be beaten, is a pervasive sentiment in human nature, often most prominent when the object itself is least worth striving for. It is constantly shown in trivial things, from the schoolboy who quickens his pace when a stranger walks faster than he, to the countryman who hates to have his horse passed on the road. The intensity of the emulation depends, in fact, far less upon the value of the end to be attained, than upon the ease with which the chances of the contestants are compared; provided, of course, they are nearly enough matched to make the result uncertain. A race where the participants run side by side on the same track is obviously more exciting than one in which they start at considerable intervals, or run over different roads out of sight of one another. That is the chief reason why an athletic contest, or a physical struggle of any kind, is more interesting than almost any other competition. The sport is visible, its progress can be easily watched, and the varying chances of the players are readily compared. The world does not really believe that athletic success is the most desirable form of achievement on earth, and yet men tend to transfer a part of their emotions from the contest itself to its results. Thirty thousand people cannot go to a football game, and become greatly excited over it, without being convinced that the victory is in itself a highly important matter. Thus competition provokes rivalry, intense rivalry gives rise to a keen interest, and this in turn enhances the apparent value of the object for which the contest is waged. It is one of many instances where a state of mind is produced by stimulating the secondary emotions to which it naturally gives birth.
But the free elective system in college has reduced the spirit of competition in scholarship to a minimum. Perhaps no two men are taking precisely the same series of courses, and hence their achievements are incommensurate. Like the Caucus Race in Alice in Wonderland, every one begins and ends where he pleases, save that he must take at least a certain number of courses; and, as on that famous occasion, little interest is taken in the distribution of prizes. But it is the fashion to say that young men of college age ought not to work for prizes, or rank. This, we are told, is a low motive; and a man ought to study for the knowledge, the training, and the culture he acquires. In short, he ought not to need the spur of competition, or any other external stimulus, because it ought to be enough for him that his future welfare is in his own hands, and his own best interests ought to guide him in the way he should go. But such an assumption leads to a rather startling conclusion; for if the ordinary undergraduate can be trusted to act most wisely of his own accord, if his natural impulses are correct, then his attitude toward his studies is what it should be. If he has less respect for scholarship than one might wish, nevertheless under this assumption he is right, while we who disagree with him must be wrong.
It may be that the need of competition or other stimulus to exertion among undergraduates depends upon the position which the college occupies in the general scheme of education, and upon the intricate functions of play and work in building up the faculties of mind and body. If so, it may be worth while to consider these questions briefly.
Of late years we have been taught much about the value of play in the development both of animals and of man; and for that purpose the word is commonly used to denote those acts which are performed for mere pleasure without any other serious motive.1 Now I am perfectly aware of the iniquity of employing a technical term in an unusual sense; and yet on this occasion I propose, contrary to usage, to define play as any action of which the physiological object is a development of the powers of the actor, as distinguished from the accomplishment of a result in itself useful, or the acquisition of the means for reaching such a result. This seems a more apt definition in connection with education, because thereby attention is fixed on the physiological and educational object, not on the personal motive of the actor. To illustrate what is meant, let us look at the case of the over-studious boy, who is compelled to coast or ride when he does not want to do so, and does not enjoy it. We say that he is obliged to play, but that is a contradiction in terms if play means only things done for pleasure. Again, if pleasure is the criterion, and a student takes, because he enjoys it, an additional course beyond the number required by the curriculum, it must be classed for him as play; while for the student next him, who is taking only the prescribed number of courses, it is not play. If, on the other hand, he is a member of an athletic team, not for the mere fun of it, but because he thinks it good for him, or because he hopes that he can help his college to win the game, then again it is not play; and as we shall see hereafter, a large part of the physical sports of youth are in fact pursued from motives other than mere pleasure.
A pursuit, then, which is followed, whether voluntarily or by compulsion, because it tends to develop the mind or body, is play; while one that is followed for the sake of gain, or because it supplies the manual skill or technical knowledge needed to earn bread, is not play. The application of the definition to studies is clearly shown in the varying relations between general education and professional training. In American schools for engineers it has been common to intersperse a certain amount of general education among the technical courses. But in the schools of divinity, law, and medicine, it has been the tradition to confine the teaching to strictly professional matters. Conversely, the American college of the older type was devoted entirely to studies that were deemed to be of general educational value, without having any direct professional bearing. So far as this object has been retained, and for the most part it still holds its ground, the college may be regarded as the last period of play. Do not misunderstand me. By play I do not mean anything trivial, unessential, or even necessarily pleasurable. I refer to pursuits which develop the mental, physical, and moral powers, as distinguished from the acquisition of directly profitable attainments. While any one may quarrel with this use of the word “ play,” the thing itself is intensely serious. It is the chief occupation of the most formative part of life, and should therefore be taken in a spirit of earnest determination.
For class-room purposes this is, no doubt, the well-worn distinction between liberal or cultural studies on one side, and professional or vocational ones on the other; but it is wider, inasmuch as it includes outdoor sports, and that is the reason I use it. The object, for example, of athletics in college is physical development, yet if a member of a baseball nine were paid for his services, or if he joined it in order to fit himself to become a professional hereafter, for him it would not be play. Now, I believe that there is a close analogy between outdoor sports and those indoor studies which are pursued for intellectual development, especially in regard to the question of stimulus by competition.
According to the usual definition of play, as an action in itself pleasurable and pursued from that motive alone, any other stimulus is obviously unnecessary. But after early infancy that is not quite true of what we commonly understand by play. With very young children mere delight in exercising nascent faculties may be enough to provoke all the activity needed to develop those faculties, but that condition is soon outgrown. With most animals, indeed, the struggle for existence begins so early that the development by play covers only a brief time of rapid growth in which pleasure may be a sufficient incentive. Man, however, goes through a long period of adolescence before he is self-supporting, and with the progress of civilization it seems destined to become longer and longer, at least for pursuits that require intellectual labor. During a very small part of this period can we trust to the propelling force of enjoyment alone, even for the training of the physical powers. The mere pleasure of exercise soon ceases to suffice, because muscular strength and nervous and moral force can be brought to a high point only by strenuous exertion that surpasses the bounds of strict physical enjoyment. To make the most of himself the boy must be induced to put forth an uncomfortable effort, and for this he must have an external stimulus of some kind. No one who knows much about intercollegiate football believes that most of the men are on the team chiefly because the game itself is pleasurable; and, in fact, other motives than immediate pleasure enter largely into all violent competitive sports after an early period of childhood. It is safe to assert that if young people took part in games only so far as they enjoyed the exercise, without being affected by ambition or the opinion of their fellows, a large portion of the more strenuous sports, and therewith much valuable training, physical and moral, would be lost.
The stimulus needed is usually found in competition; and, in fact, the object of throwing a boy into contact with others of his own age is, not only to train his social instincts, but also to bring him into rivalry with his mates, to make him play with them games which test his powers, and stimulate him to use them to the full. Within the range of their immediate interests, young people are good practical psychologists, from whom we have still much to learn by studying the way they organize their sports to provoke exertion or select superior capacity; and it may be observed that competition in sport becomes more intense as maturity is approached. No doubt competition is often carried too far, until it has the effect of eliminating from the arena all but a few champions of preëminent qualities. In his Social Life in Greece, Professor Mahaffy pointed out the advantage to the community of the field sports of Sparta, in which every one of ordinary strength could engage, as compared with the gymnastic games of Athens, where only remarkable athletes took part and the rest of the young men looked on. Athletic sports in our colleges involve the same danger, by tending to accentuate the selective principle at the expense of the physical improvement of the whole body of students. But the fact that competition may be carried further than is wise, does not prove that it is not valuable as a stimulus, that it is not indeed the main factor in the physical development of youth.
There is certainly no less need for an effective stimulus in scholarly than in physical training, but it is far more difficult to use, because we cannot at present rely on the same constant enthusiasm on the part of the young people themselves. In the professional schools this matter is in a satisfactory state to-day. Fifty years ago there appears to have been no little apathy about study in these schools, but they have now succeeded generally in convincing their students that excellence in the work of the school has great importance, both as an equipment for their coming career, and as an indication of future success. In some cases competition is indeed used with marked effect, but it is not indispensable, because the student has the powerful incentive of feeling that he has begun his life’s work, in which his prospects depend on his diligence. The schools for engineers where general and technical subjects are taught side by side, bring into sharp contrast the strong professional motive and the feebler desire for self-improvement. It is difficult there to make the ordinary student realize the value of a cultural course. He is apt to regard it as something foreign to his regular work; something very well in its way, but not essential to success in his future career. He labors without a groan on mathematics, which most college undergraduates shun like a pestilence, while he treats English literature or the history of his country lightly, as a pleasant enough accomplishment hardly worthy of strenuous effort.
At the other end of the educational ladder, also, in the preparatory school, competition, although highly useful, is not indispensable. The boy is subject to discipline, accustomed to obey, and much influenced by the precepts and wishes of his parents and teachers. If a good boy, he tries to do well, and being under constant supervision he tends to conform to the expectations of those about him. The serious difficulty begins in college, where he is plunged into a far wider liberty — a freedom that brings vast opportunities, intellectual and moral, by which he may rise, but which on the other hand he may abuse. The old schoolboy motives for hard study he has left behind; the professional ones are not yet in sight; and it is not easy to make him appreciate the seriousness of the education within his reach. To some extent he believes that it is good for him, and he intends to obtain a real advantage from it. In most cases he is not satisfied by getting through with the least possible exertion. He means to do reasonably well, but he has no idea of the benefit to be derived from striving for excellence. In short, he has a fair, but not a high standard.
Now, there is no grave difficulty in enforcing a fair amount of work; and of late years our colleges have wisely turned their attention to the matter, making the minimum requirements distinctly more severe than they were. We can, in fact, raise the minimum for a degree to any level that we may desire, provided we recognize frankly what that level implies. Suppose, for example, that the dullest tenth of the students who enter college ought not to graduate, no matter how faithfully they toil; then the line will be drawn at such a point that the dullest man above that tenth can get through if he devotes to study as many hours as a young man of ordinary health can properly spend over his books. But, in that case, a brighter man will need less effort to reach the same result; and, as differences in natural ability are very great, a student who stands in capacity among the more talented half of his class can get through with very little work. On the other hand, we could so draw the line that only the brighter half of the class could graduate at all; and in that case we should have, like the German universities, a large mass of students who had no intention of taking a degree, but who could hardly be refused the privilege of living about the college as special students so long as they were well behaved.
We can, therefore, set the minimum where we please, — a minimum, however, in which the amount of work required is in inverse proportion to natural ability, — and we cannot by that process compel a clever student to be industrious. We can set a minimum of capacity, and establish a ratio between brains and labor, but we cannot thereby set up a high standard for men of ability. For that purpose we need something more than a minimum requirement, and this brings us to our really difficult problem, that of applying a stimulus.
College work may affect the fortunes of a lifetime more profoundly than the studies either of boyhood or of the professional school, but the ordinary student does not know it. The connection is too vague, too subtle, for him to see; it rests on intangible principles, the force of which he does not feel. It is in college, therefore, that an external stimulus is most needed; yet college is the very place where it is found the least. The result is that a fellow who ranks high in school, and works like a tiger when he studies his profession, is too often quite satisfied with mediocrity in college. The disintegration of the curriculum caused by the elective system in any of its common forms, the disdain of rank as a subject for ambition,—encouraged by students, by the public, and sometimes even by instructors, — and other forces that have crept in unawares, have brought us to a point where competition as a stimulus for scholarship has been well-nigh driven from the college. Again, I must ask you not to misunderstand me when I speak of the elective system. No sane man would propose to restore anything resembling a fixed curriculum in any of our larger colleges. We must not go backward, we could not if we would; but neither must we believe that progress consists in standing still. We must go forward, and our path must be such that a choice of electives shall not lessen, among those capable of it, the stimulus to excellence.
Now, there is no reason to suppose that young men have by nature a stronger desire for physical than for intellectual power, or a greater admiration for it; yet, largely by the free use of competition, athletics, in the esteem both of undergraduates and of the community at large, has beaten scholarship out of sight. The world to-day has a far higher regard for Newton, Locke, and Molière than for Augustus the Strong; but in our colleges “ the physically strong,” as Carlyle called Augustus, would attract much more attention. I am not one of those who condemn athletic contests, for I do not think we can afford to diminish any spur to activity in college, but I am convinced that we ought to stimulate other forms of energy, and that we can get many a hint from athletic experience. The production of true scholars, or even of the scholarly tone of mind, is not the only object of the college. It aims to produce men well developed in all directions, and it has many agencies for doing so outside the class-room; but it cannot exist for these alone, and if it fails on the scholarly side it will be irrevocably doomed.
One hundred years ago the English universities awoke to behold the low state of scholarship among their students. It boots nothing to inquire how it compared with the worst that has ever existed here, but it was bad enough. They met it by a resort to frank competition. First in one subject, and then in another, they established a degree with honors awarded in several grades, and they succeeded in making the honors, not only a goal of ambition, but, what is more, an object of general respect. They have prizes, too, which are eagerly sought; and, in short, the stimulus to scholarship rests on an elaborate system of competition for prizes and honors. Of course, there are voices raised against it, protesting that the muses ought to be wooed for worthier motives; but it is our province to make the most of men as they are, not to protest that they ought to have an innate love of learning. The problem of human nature, the question whether we could have made it better if we had presided at creation, is too large to discuss here.
The fact remains that the Oxford and Cambridge men are firmly persuaded that success at the bar, in public life, and in other fields, is closely connected with high honors at graduation; and the contest for them is correspondingly keen. The prizes and honors are made widely known; they are remembered throughout a man’s life, referred to even in brief notices of him, — much as his athletic feats are here, — and they certainly do help him powerfully to get a start in his career. The result is that, by the Isis and the Cam, there is probably more hard study done in subjects not of a professional character than in any other universities in the world. What defects the system may possess, its strength and its weakness in other directions, need not detain us. The structure of English society, on which the old universities are built, is very different from ours; yet there are qualities in human nature that are common to all mankind, and without copying an institution we may, by observing it, discover the secret of its success. Although we do not follow, we may learn.
Competition as an effective stimulus to scholarship in our colleges suffers to-day from a widespread feeling among the students that the distinctions won are a test of industry rather than of superior intellectual power. This conviction finds its expression in the term “ grind,” which is applied with great impartiality to all high scholars, instead of being reserved, as it seems to me it was formerly, to a certain kind of laborious mediocrity. The general use of the word is certainly unjust, for statistics show that, as compared with other men, the high scholars win a far larger share of distinction in the professional schools and in after life. But the feeling contains a grain of truth. In our desire to ensure from every student a fair amount of work, we are too apt to use tests that measure mere diligence, with the result that high rank in college is no sure measure of real ability. This has been to a great extent avoided in England by distinct honor and pass examinations, the questions in the former being of such a nature that industry alone cannot, it is believed, attain the highest grade; and this is an important matter if high rank is to command admiration. It is surely possible to devise tests which will measure any qualities that we desire to emphasize; but do we not touch here upon one of many indications that we have lost the key to the true meaning of the college ? The primary object of the professional schools is knowledge, a command of the tools of the trade, and a facility in handling them; while in college the primary object is intellectual power, and a knowledge of facts or principles is the material on which the mind can exercise its force, rather than an end in itself. If we could make the world believe that high rank is a proof of intellectual power, our task in instilling among undergraduates a desire to excel would be simple.
The difficulty in stimulating a scholarly ambition is enhanced by a new, and on the whole a higher, moral tone among college men. The philosophers of a century ago preached the harmony of interests both in politics and economics. They taught that, in seeking his own highest good, a man promoted that of all the world; and they looked forward to a millennium based on universal self-interest. With the waning of this creed, a more altruistic spirit has replaced the extreme individualism of our fathers; and, as usual, the new tendencies are particularly strong in the rising generation. In college, the upper classmen feel a responsibility for the welfare of the younger students, and look after them, to an extent that would have been regarded as extraordinary, if not indeed meddlesome, half a century ago.
The sense of mutual obligation, and with it the corporate spirit, has grown apace. A man no longer wants to feel that he is working for himself alone; he wants to labor for the organization of which he forms a part, because that seems to him a nobler motive. This is one reason for the halo that surrounds the athlete; while the scholar seems to be striving for nothing better than personal distinction. If he is seeking a pecuniary scholarship, his aim, though needful, appears sordid; if not, it seems at best selfish, and therefore unworthy of the highest admiration. But the member of the football team, who risks his limbs in a glorious cause, whose courage and devotion are placed freely at the service of his alma mater, stands out as a hero worthy of all the praise that can be lavished upon him. Many a man, deaf to all other appeals, can be induced to make a creditable record in his studies on the ground that otherwise he cannot play upon a team, and that it is his duty to do something for the honor of his college. Such sentiments deserve respect, although to a serene philosopher they may seem a substitution of coöperative for personal selfishness. But they assuredly place an obstacle in the path of any one who would try to raise the esteem for scholarly attainment. The undergraduate sees no way in which scholarship adds lustre to his college, and this complicates the problem of making it admirable in his eyes.
We have seen that the sifting out of young men capable of scholarship is receiving to-day less attention than it deserves; and that this applies, not only to recruiting future leaders of thought, but also to prevailing upon every young man to develop the intellectual powers he may possess. We have seen also that, while the Graduate School can train scholars, it cannot create love of scholarship. That work must be done in undergraduate days. We have found reason to believe that during the whole period of training, mental and physical, which reaches its culmination in college, competition is not only a proper but an essential factor; and we have observed the results achieved at Oxford and Cambridge by its use. In this country, on the other hand, several causes, foremost among them the elective system, have almost banished competition in scholarship from our colleges; while the inadequate character of our tests, and the corporate nature of self-interest in these latter times, raise serious difficulties in making it effective.
Nevertheless I have faith that these obstacles can be overcome, and that we can raise intellectual achievement in college to its rightful place in public estimation. We are told that it is idle to expect young men to do strenuous work before they feel the impending pressure of earning a livelihood; that they naturally love ease and self-indulgence, and can be aroused from lethargy only by discipline, or by contact with the hard facts of a struggle with the world. If I believed that, I would not be president of a college for a moment. It is not true. A normal young man longs for nothing so much as to devote himself to a cause that calls forth his enthusiasm, and the greater the sacrifice involved the more eagerly will he grasp it. If we were at war, and our students were told that two regiments were seeking recruits, one of which would be stationed at Fortress Monroe, well housed and fed, living in luxury, without risk of death or wounds, while the other would go to the front, be starved and harassed by fatiguing marches under a broiling sun, amid pestilence, with men falling from its ranks killed or suffering mutilation, not a single man would volunteer for the first regiment, but the second would be quickly filled. Who is it that makes football a dangerous and painful sport ? Is it the faculty, or the players themselves ?
A young man wants to test himself on every side, in strength, in quickness, in skill, in courage, in endurance; and he will go through much to prove his merit. He wants to test himself, provided he has faith that the test is true, and that the quality tried is one that makes for manliness; otherwise he will have none of it. Now, we have not convinced him that high scholarship is a manly thing worthy of his devotion, or that our examinations are faithful tests of intellectual power; and in so far as we have failed in this, we have come short of what we ought to do. Universities stand for the eternal worth of thought, for the preëminence of the prophet and the seer; but, instead of being thrilled by the eager search for truth, our classes too often sit listless on the bench. It is not because the lecturer is dull, but because the pupils do not prize the end enough to relish the drudgery required for skill in any great pursuit, or indeed in any sport. To make them see the greatness of that end, how fully it deserves the price that must be paid for it, how richly it rewards the man who may compete for it, we must learn —and herein lies the secret — we must learn the precious art of touching their imagination.
- For example, Karl Groos’s The Play of Man, translated by Elizabeth L. Baldwin, page 5.↩