The College and the Freshman
WE read often in novels that this crisis or that, some sudden responsibility, a chance word or glance, transformed the hero in a moment from boy to man. In real life there is seldom this magic “ presto, change.” The transformation consists in gradual development, covering months or even years, the plastic traits of boyhood solidifying insensibly into the rigid lines of manly character. There may well be, however, a particular moment when this process of change accelerates, when significant influences are brought to bear in rapid succession, each leaving its indelible mark.
In the case of thousands of American youth this critical period comes when the boy leaves school and enters college. It is of extreme importance, therefore, that during the Freshman year the youth should be given every opportunity to develop along ennobling lines. Until then, he has lived at home under the continuous supervision of his parents; in school he has trudged, more or less industriously, through the prescribed curriculum. At boarding-school, if he has had a few years of this life, conditions under which he has developed have been similar. The responsibility of parents has been transferred to masters, the refining influence of the mother, with its obvious advantages, exchanged for the spirit of self-reliance and power of selfadjustment resulting from closer contact with other boys. Seldom, in either case, has the boy been expected to exercise any power of initiative. Broadly speaking, this preliminary training is as it should be. I say nothing of the failure of certain parents, and of certain schools, to make the best of their opportunities, because I am depicting conditions as they exist, and the boy who may be expected to result. This at least is granted by all: that, until he is seventeen, the boy must be ruled, must follow the course laid down by his elders; that he is not competent to make important decisions for himself, and that his character should be moulded in such a way as to make him best able to meet intelligently the problems which maturer years must bring.
The average age of admission to college is nineteen. For several reasons, it should not be over seventeen. Obviously, it would be better for a professional man to begin his work at twenty-four than at twenty-six. Looking in the other direction, the average boy should be able, without undue effort, to finish his preparatoryschool work at seventeen. This, indeed, is often the case, and the year or two given by so many parents avowedly to “ character development,” really because a boy who enters college so young is supposed to be socially handicapped, is usually a year wasted; in many instances worse than wasted, because a year or more of comparative idleness does away with the habit of vigorous application so necessary in college. During his final school year the boy studies hard because success in his college entrance examinations is a prize worth striving for. Unless he is in poor physical condition, a summer should give rest enough. A third reason for early matriculation, in many ways the most important and certainly that least generally appreciated, is two-fold. The younger boy is more amenable to discipline; he is correspondingly less liable to temptation. It is this phase of the situation which I propose to discuss: to inquire whether the college gives adequate protection to its first-year students; what measures may be taken to broaden and intensify the scope of this protection; and whether a younger Freshman class would be likely to make these measures more effective.
In speaking of the American college, I have in mind, not the very small college where the boarding-school system is continued and the course prescribed, but the university with a more or less complete elective system, with Freshman classes of two hundred or more, which, through their very numbers, preclude any close association between the members of the Faculty and the students. Illustrations I shall draw largely from Harvard, since conditions there are duplicated to greater or less extent in other institutions, and since, especially by graduates of other colleges, Harvard is considered a place where little is done in individual care of students. I shall take up, moreover, neither the abnormally good, nor the abnormally bad student, but the average straightforward youth, who is as typical of America as is the college itself.
On the opening day of his Freshman year, a boy is for the first time given a latch-key. His time is his own. Like a business man or a college professor, he must meet his engagements, but beyond this he is free. He may use the intervening hours properly or improperly, as he thinks fit. There are no specified hours when he must be in his room at work over his books, no law which sends him to bed at eleven o’clock. He is not compelled to sign a pledge that he will use no intoxicating liquors. He may choose his friends where and how he will. In all probability a city with its blatant allurements, or, still worse, a small country town with its vileness cleverly hidden from all but the inquisitive, is near at hand. It is characteristic of a Freshman to be inquisitive, and there are sure to be guides, more gentlemanly perhaps, but no less iniquitous, than the guides of Paris, who are ready to show him the sights. These guides may even be among the student body, for colleges seldom print in their catalogues what I once saw in that of a small Southern institution: “ No ruffians, idle loafers, nor cigarette-smokers need apply.” In spite of the splendid climax, most American colleges are filled with cigarette-smokers, and contain — for a time, at least — many idle loafers and a few ruffians.
To some parents this freedom appears a frightful thing, because to them it means drunkenness, gambling, association with loose women. An anxious mother, not long since, asked me whether she should risk sending her boy, twentyone years old, to college next year, or whether it would be wiser to keep him at home two or three years longer. She recognized the black side of the picture, but I could only answer that, unless the boy were strangely immature, he would become each year that she tucked him into bed less able to meet the inevitable temptations of manhood. She was wrong in associating temptations of this sort exclusively with the college. They are actually those which meet every man, in every walk of life, and are talked of as college vices only because the transition from school to college is usually coincident with the transition from boyhood to manhood. This very fact, however, may well make neglectful parents hesitate, those who have allowed their sons to grow up as best they might without moral tutelage, without insistence on the sacredness of the best in life. To those, on the other hand, who have trained their boys, who have given them high ideals, who have been frank, who know them, in short, the step appears an opportunity.
But granted this freedom, the value of this trying-out process, has the college itself no responsibilities ? Shall it blink the dangers and, standing aside, allow these young men to weather the storms, or to break, as their previous training or chance may dictate ? Most assuredly not. The college so doing is guilty of gross neglect toward the parents who have done their part, and toward the sons of parents who have not. Such a college fails to do its duty. Still more, it misses its opportunities. Let us see, then, what is done now, and what further might be accomplished.
The first problem that confronts the Freshman is the selection of his courses. For the solution of this, each boy entering Harvard College is assigned to some member of the Faculty who acts officially as his adviser. He has already answered in writing various questions, among which is one as to his intended profession or occupation. In accordance with the answer to this inquiry, advisers are usually chosen. The advantages are obvious. The boy is enabled to map out a combination of courses which have practical bearing on his life-work; he believes in the selection because it is made on the advice of a man already eminent in the profession to which he aspires; he has, moreover, a scheme which will do away with meaningless scattering, which is introductory to a complete college course, and which really leads somewhere. Unfortunately, the disadvantages, to one who has studied the system in all its aspects, appear equally clear, though less obvious to the layman. For one thing, too much stress is laid on the practical aspect of college work, too little on the cultural, the result being a deplorable narrowing of intellectual activity; excellent training for the specific object, perhaps, but certainly not excellent education.
The adviser, by reason of praiseworthy absorption in his own profession, unconsciously adds to this mistaken attitude by suggesting courses not bearing directly on that profession as necessary merely to fill the schedule. From the outset the boy feels that his duty lies in grasping thoroughly those subjects — chemistry, if he is to be a doctor; mathematics, if an engineer — which will be of direct, practical service later; and quite loses sight of the fact that college should teach him to think intelligently on many subjects, as well as to know accurately one subject. What is more, the boy of eighteen seldom knows what his profession is to be, into what new and vital channels of thought his study may lead him. He has, to be sure, outgrown childish enthusiasms, no longer holds as highest ambition the wish to be a circus-rider or a chauffeur; but his decisions may yet be little indicative of the future. That he enjoys sketching is no sign that he will be an architect; that he is able to watch an operation without fainting does not prove that he will be a surgeon. Under the advice of an architect or a doctor, therefore, he may plan a college course which will be narrow, without even the advantage of narrowness along the lines of his career. Many boys, finally, admit frankly that they have no professions in view. Each of these is assigned to an adviser selected for quite different reasons, — because he is a friend, or because he seems by nature fitted to deal with that particular boy. But of the boy’s early environment and antecedents little is known; of his character, as little. An adviser so chosen can thus only suggest courses which seem to him most suitable for the average boy, a theoretical individual of whose actual existence I am gravely in doubt.
The Freshman is very likely to neglect his work. When disaster comes, the irate father often visits the dean’s office to complain that his son was wrongly advised, that he should not have taken mathematics because he “ never could work with figures.” Usually the diagnosis is wrong. In the instances where it is correct, where the boy is really incapable of certain mental work, the father should himself have discussed matters with his son, and should not have trusted to omniscience in a human and therefore fallible adviser. Generally, a boy can do his work if he will, but the play theory, originating in the kindergarten, appeals to the pleasure-loving boy emotionally, as, translated into the more dignified but still specious terms of “ interest ” and “ special aptitude,” it appeals intellectually to the father. It is extraordinary how many men there are, themselves successful through years of unremitting application to duty, who would shield their sons from the necessity of real mental effort, under the delusion that boys should study only what it is a pleasure to study. They forget that the positive joy of success is greater than the negative pleasure of idleness, that success comes through power, and power through training of the mind. They fail to see, moreover, that the mind, like the body, can be brought to high efficiency only through hard work.
But even so, we hark back to the responsibility of the college. We cannot have school study-hours, but we can make the Freshman ashamed not to study. At present, when the boy has made out his schedule of courses, his relations with his adviser often cease abruptly: save for the acceptance of an occasional invitation to luncheon, which the adviser deems it irksome but necessary to send, and which is accepted in the same spirit, or a call to request permission to substitute for a course that has proved difficult another which has the reputation of being easy, the Freshman usually ignores the Faculty. In Princeton the preceptorial system makes this state of affairs impossible, since each student is under the continuous supervision of the preceptor responsible for him. So long as preceptorial duties are principally advisory, — so long, I mean, as the student looks upon his preceptor as a guide, not as a policeman, — this system would seem to be an ideal one. In immediate, practical application, difficulties arise in the securing, and still more in the keeping, of good men.
The qualifications of a good preceptor are many; and any one, no matter how highly developed, is inadequate without some admixture of others. A preceptor should be a good teacher, never allowing his zeal in the acquisition of knowledge to quench his zeal for imparting what he knows to others. He should be able to inspire others with his own enthusiasm, to guide that of his charges into proper channels. President Lowell said a short time ago, in another connection, that “ the disease of enthusiasm is dangerous only when not contagious.” The preceptor then should have contagious enthusiasm, not that useless kind that rages in solitude and is exhausted in communication. He should be young, not necessarily in years, but in spirit: able to sympathize with the care-free exuberance of youth, able to understand that as a baby develops his lungs through crying, so the Freshman expands his soul through noisy demonstration.
Of prime importance is it also that the preceptor should be a gentleman, broadminded, sensitive to potential good qualities in others, refined but not effeminate, tactful, a man able to accommodate himself to the standards of others, and at the same time raising higher standards of his own for them to emulate. Such men are not rare. Our colleges graduate them every year. But it is hard to make them realize, what the world does not yet admit, that the position of preceptor is an honorable one, not a rung in the ladder of success, but a station, dignified, full of opportunities; that it may be made the highest of all offices, that of moulder of men.
Another deterrent, and a proper one, is the present lack of adequate compensation. Until the position, as a permanent position, promises salary sufficient to support a family, it cannot, all other considerations aside, be keenly attractive to the right kind of man. From the college point of view, such salaries would mean an increase in the annual expense budget that would make the system, in its entirety, prohibitive until the public recognizes its value to the extent of tangible support.
I have dwelt at some length on this preceptorial system because it is already in existence in Princeton, where its value is recognized by leading schoolmasters of the country, and because in the English universities it has long been considered an essential part of college training. Before the system can be thoroughly tested in America, however, public opinion must be revolutionized, and a class of young men created, the equals, socially as well as intellectually, of those who deem it a privilege to serve as tutors in Oxford and Cambridge. No great educational reform has ever been accomplished without such a revolution. The elective system was greeted with jeers and abuse. It fought its way to public approbation through its immense value to the individual; and its gradual development into recognition of communal as well as of individual needs is followed with respect. No such sudden imposition of the preceptorial system is advisable, even were it practicable. If we had the men to do it, we could ignore the belief held by so many that it is a police device, contrary to principles of individual freedom, a subversion of established educational theories that accord to each boy the right to make unrestricted choice in all matters —strange how quickly these theories become “ established ” — and prove its truth through its triumph. But we have not the men, and inferior substitutes would kill the movement at the start. Let the Freshman once discover that his preceptor is dull, or ill-mannered, or morally flabby, and his influence is gone; better indeed the old system and “ the devil take the hindmost.” In this particular reform it is wiser to go gradually, establishing the correctness and positive value of each step taken, and thereby creating a public demand for which there will be individual response.
The danger, therefore, lies in inertia. Since the colleges have neither means nor men to introduce complete reform at once, they waver between various possible, but seemingly unimportant, innovations, or else dismiss the whole matter as not, for the moment, worth bothering about. They should, on the contrary, be explorers, seizing on whatever seem reasonable hypotheses, and thus blazing the trail that may lead, eventually, to an even more satisfactory system than the preceptorial. Some reforms, involving neither enormous sums of money nor radical changes in collegiate discipline and teaching, might well be made at once. A very short time would prove their worth, and place them beyond the realm of experiment.
Certain races have the custom of throwing very young children into water beyond their depth, allowing them to struggle until they are exhausted, and repeating the lesson daily until the children learn to swim. This was once quoted to me as the method which should be applied to Freshmen. So it is, but not in the sense in which the speaker understood it. He ignored the two vital aspects of the method — the realization on the part of parents that the water is beyond the child’s depth, and the constant presence of an older person to rescue him when need arises. For some there is little danger. A child who has learned to swim in the bath-tub will swim in the ocean — unless he loses his head. So a youth who, at home, has been taught to recognize and conquer temptations will meet wisely the larger temptations of college — unless he, too, loses his head. The child, on the other hand, who has had sponge-baths, or no baths at all, will sink, as the Freshman who has lived through a blindly sheltered boyhood sometimes sinks under the present lack of shelter in college. The problem is how to let the youth take his plunge under guard, not alone.
Most of us remember well the sweetness of those surreptitious expeditions to secluded pools when we sported, happy in our naked freedom, doubly happy because no parental or tutorial eye watched jealously our tentative essays into water a little too deep, or currents a little too strong, for our tender years. Innocent those expeditions were, guileless attempts to reach into the unknown, of no consequence it seems, now, except as brighter hours to remember among the many bright hours of childhood. But some of us remember, perhaps, the sudden tragedy, the companion caught in an unexpected eddy, bruised cruelly on the rocks, or sinking forever from our sight. And then came the weary homeward march, the mother, brokenhearted, and the gradual readjustment of our lives.
Boys of ten and boys of eighteen — their instincts are curiously alike. You cannot police the pools of a great city any more than you can those of a mountain stream. What is more, you should not want to, because the boy’s instinct will lead him as surely to the one as to the other, and the presence of police wall make him deceitful as well as overventuresome. But there is another way. There was a master in your school who was all you aspired to be. He went with you on voyages of discovery, fished, hunted, swam with you, and all the time unconsciously taught you self-reliance, so that you might yourself recognize and avoid dangers. Such are the masters who can help the boy who has grown up: the boy who has never looked beyond the shutters of his mother’s sitting-room and cannot swim at all; the boy who, with those he loved and respected, has learned somewhat of the world, a strong but cautious swimmer; him, who, alas, has got on as best he may, who thinks he knows all, but has really seen only one side, who thinks it brave, when in reality it is only foolhardy, to swim down the rapids.
It is the first class, and the last, of these boys, who cause the trouble in college: who go under themselves, and sometimes drag others with them. The parents of the first lay all blame on the college. Those of the last curse the boy for being a fool or a knave when, as a matter of fact, he has never really had a chance to be anything else. The dean hears the stories of both, and finds them equally bitter. It is not surprising, therefore, that he, more than other college officers, insists that something must be done to save these “ hindmost ” from the devil. His ideal, hopeless always of realization, has been to know personally and to help each member of the class. When one falls, he feels himself to blame. Seldom is this true, but a good dean considers that his office invests him with responsibility for the moral well-being of all the students; and the magnitude of the obligation, making its fulfillment physically impossible, but little mitigates his sense of failure. It does make him, however, eager to share the responsibility with others.
The first step toward adequate care of the Freshman class must be to assemble the members, either as a whole or in separate but integral divisions. This includes, as Freshman problems are distinct, segregation from the upper classes. Sections of dormitories, certain buildings, or better a group of buildings if one large enough for the whole class is not available, should be reserved exclusively for Freshmen. This is already done to some extent at Yale, where, however, as the buildings reserved do not accommodate the entire class, it serves little purpose as a test. In many colleges the more popular buildings, for those who can afford comparatively luxurious quarters, are conducted as private enterprises. As the owners of these buildings, however, are always responsible to the college, it is to their advantage to keep on good terms with the college officers, and they would naturally subscribe to any new regulations.
When adequate accommodations had been provided, — rooms covering the widest possible range of price, — a rule would have to be made that no Freshman could room elsewhere than in the designated building or group of buildings. Some parents would probably at first feel aggrieved, wanting their sons to room with upper-class friends, or considering the quarters provided not sufficiently fashionable. Certain exceptions would of course have to be made in the case of boys who, for one reason or another, found it necessary to live at home. Aside from these, intelligent parents would admit that, since their boys are confided to the care of the college, the college has the right to make whatever reasonable provisions it sees fit for the proper safeguarding of its students. Should it prove necessary to place the Freshmen in separate divisions, possibly at some distance from each other, much of the value to be gained from this grouping would be lost, since there would not be the advantage of intercourse between all the different kinds, — boys from private and public schools, from city and country, from East and West. I am convinced, however, that even so it would be an improvement on the present method of mixing at random members of the various classes.
This segregation would not in itself have any material influence in making the first year in college less dangerous. Indeed, offhand, it would appear to some to increase the dangers. The question would surely be asked, “ What could be more pernicious than the herding together of a lot of irresponsible Freshmen? ” It cannot be denied that Freshmen are irresponsible; they are also noisy, sometimes naughty, but seldom bad. The Freshman who goes wrong usually does so under the perverting influence of an older man. This grouping is not a cure. It is merely preparing the patient for the operation, or, to put it less lugubriously, is setting aside seats from which the children may watch the circus. The class is assembled, now “ on with the play,” which must not end, like the song in Pagliacci, in tears.
The next step is to procure suitable protectors. The elective system has brought with it popular lecture courses, largely resorted to by Freshmen. As instruction becomes more efficient, these courses are conducted more and more on the “ laboratory method,” as President Eliot calls it. One hour of each week is devoted to “section meetings,” — divisions of the class presided over by younger instructors, who discuss with the students different phases of the lectures and the prescribed reading. As a result, every well-ordered college has on its teaching-staff a large number of young men, not necessarily members of the Faculty, who, in their section meetings, come to know fairly well the students under them. These, then, are the men, young enough not to be forbidding, yet old enough to be respected, who might well be drawn into service as general advisers. In certain courses, such for example as Freshman English in Harvard, where the instructor meets his students, not only in the classroom, but in private conferences, he can, if he will, know intimately all the men under him. In courses where there are no individual conferences, this does not usually occur, unless the instructor creates opportunities to meet his students outside. In some way, therefore, this more intimate contact between instructor and students must be made the rule rather than the exception.
Fortunately the solution exists, even under established conditions. Most unmarried instructors serve also as proctors in college buildings : officers appointed to keep order, each in his own particular building or division of a building. It would thus be a simple matter to appoint as proctors in Freshman dormitories the instructors in Freshman courses. It would be equally simple in these courses to depart from the rigid, alphabetical assignment to sections, giving Jones, the instructor, not the men from E to K, but those who live in his own building. In addition, Jones should also hold official appointment, if possible with additional salary, as general adviser to these same men. It might also be wise to appoint in each case an adviser chosen from the Faculty, since it would bring the student into contact with another older man, and since he might feel more confidence in the wisdom of his choice of studies if that choice were made with the sanction of a professor. Jones, in the mean time, would meet his charges in three distinct ways, — as instructor, as proctor, and as adviser; so that, unless he were a surprisingly inhuman individual, he could hardly fail to know them well, and to gain their respect and confidence.
But just here, strangely enough, is where the chief difficulty arises, and where the most definite reform would have to be made. The young instructor to-day is too often not a human individual, in the sense that he must be to attract the Freshman. Too often he is selected, not primarily, but exclusively, for his learning. A young man, after three or four years of devotion to his books, graduates from college summa cum laude. He knows few of his classmates because he has never had time to meet them. The book of “ college life ” he has never opened. After graduation he applies himself with even greater assiduity, deciphers obscure manuscripts, writes a thesis on “ Boileau’s Influence on Rousseau,” — which the world had thought negative, if it thought about it at all, — or on some rare genus of prehistoric mosquito, and then suddenly finds himself blinking in the face of an applauding world, a Doctor of Philosophy.
He is conscientious and therefore gives his instruction with meticulous accuracy, but without enthusiasm. How can he be enthusiastic in the teaching of something which does not interest him, and before students whom he believes determined to gain as little as possible from his stores of wisdom ? As proctor he does the work of a policeman, an irritating stickler for the letter of the rules and regulations; but even as a policeman often ineffective, because he does not see, and is not interested to probe, beneath the surface of undergraduate life. It would be useless to appoint him a general adviser, because his advice would never pass beyond books; because when conscience drove him to the rooms of a student it would destroy spontaneity; he could give no advice concerning life, because the Freshman would know more of life than he.
Will the college consent to give him up? It is bound to him through loyalty, the wish to reward years of faithful work. It believes, perhaps, that he will write distinguished books, and would like those books to issue from its doors. These reasons are excellent, but are not sufficient if the students are to suffer. The truism is often overlooked that a college exists for its students, not for its Faculty. The mistake made is in putting such men in charge of Freshman courses, where even a suggestion of pedantry is disastrous, and where the ability to arouse enthusiasm for study is infinitely more important than the inculcation of fact.
I have no wish to ignore the value of the Ph. D. degree. The solid learning it represents is necessary to minute research, to the proper guidance of graduate students. What is deplorable is that its possession should be held to entitle a man to a position as instructor in elementary courses. The ideal certainly would be a scholar, but one fired with the enthusiasm to teach, to kindle enthusiasm for learning in dormant minds. There are many such, men as different as possible from the exaggerated type described above ; but there are not enough to go round. The second choice should be from among the ranks of young, eager, intelligent graduates; men not as learned, perhaps, but often better able to teach; men whose ideals are high, w’hose enthusiasm is infectious; who would be glad of two or three years of experience, both in teaching and in leading younger men. Such men would imbue the Freshman with respect for his work in general, and interest in the particular subject; a result of incalculable value, not only intellectually, but morally as well, since there is no better moral safeguard than disinterested ambition to excel.
Intentionally, I have suggested that this supervision be dependent for its value more on the personality of the supervisor than on any stated regulations, because influence exerted through personality sinks more deeply into the mental and moral fibre than does habit gained through obedience to arbitrary laws. If rules are imposed, the modern young man demands their reason. If he does not understand them, he obeys only because disobedience means punishment; and the formative purpose of the rules is lost. Given advisers with whom he is in sympathy, the student will intelligently submit to regulations which experience has proved necessary for the mass, whereas he will rebel against the same regulations when they appear personally irksome, if he has not been brought to appreciate their general utility.
Certain rules there must eventually be, as there are written laws of the state and unwritten laws of society. Exactly what they must be in detail, time will suggest. They must be flexible, not rigid; hortatory, not penal; standards devised to aid adviser as well as student. It would be unwise, for example, to insist that lights be out at eleven o’clock, or to make it a misdemeanor to come home after that hour. It might well be wise to insist that every Freshman entering his building after eleven o’clock should hand in his name to the doorkeeper. Frequent repetition would suggest to the adviser that the boy was frittering away his time, or was falling into bad habits, and he could act accordingly. It would probably be unwise to rule that all Freshmen should study in their rooms from eight to ten, or that cards should never be played in the building. The adviser would soon discover whether men were seriously neglecting their work, or were gambling. He would not be expected to report single instances of dereliction from duty to the dean; he would be obliged to report persistent neglect of his advice, and the students would know him to be under this obligation. Thus, gradually, a complete system of protection could be built up. It would not be irritating to the students, because it would be founded on mutual understanding. It would aid students who aimed to do right. It would aid the college more quickly, and with less danger of error, to get rid of the few students determined to do wrong.
In still another, and quite different way, much might be done toward guarding the Freshman from the dangers of his natural inquisitiveness. In every college there are numbers of good upperclassmen who are eager to coöperate with the Faculty in starting Freshmen along the right path, and it is amazing that thus far so little advantage has been taken of their services. Each of these upper-classmen should be given a list of from five to ten Freshmen whom he would make it his duty to know. He would talk over with them their work and their play: their study, their amusements, their athletics. He would make sure that each, outside of his lessons, was given a sane interest, something to do for the college, whether participation in football, or in debating, or in writing for the college papers. He would see to it far more effectively than the Dean, or even than the advisers, that each was getting his fair chance socially. He would report cases where financial aid was needed, or admonition, or encouragement. As it is at present, many fellows are lonely; many, especially those from a distance, miss the recognition they deserve merely because they ignorantly room outside the sphere of undergraduate life, or, knowing no one at first, fall in with uncongenial classmates, and, becoming discouraged, withdraw into themselves. To such lonely men the dangerous pleasures existing outside of college appeal as substitutes for what they have missed in college. These tragedies would be far less likely to occur if all members of the class were thrown together, and natural associations were facilitated through the provision of upper-classmen and advisers.
One of the chief difficulties in dealing with the student body to-day is lack of frankness on the part of some toward the dean. They regard him traditionally as a penal officer. If he questions them about themselves, they fear he is trying to implicate them in offenses against discipline. Under the new system this evil would at least be mitigated. Freshmen would talk more freely with their student and official advisers, because nearer to them, and because no traditional reticence would have to be overcome. This would finally also break down the barrier between them and the dean, because they would find, in the course of time, that their self-revelation, when reported to him, was so reported only that he might add his help and encouragement. Even at present, the most useful constructive work a dean does is made possible by what other students tell him of their fellows — students who know that information thus given is never used in discipline cases, but simply to make advice and encouragement more pertinent. Discipline which depended in the slightest degree on what one student told of another would be as intolerable in college as in school. Under a more systematized plan of coöperation with students, the possibilities of extension in this work of strengthening and upbuilding loom large and inspiring.
Let us suppose, then, that the Freshmen are grouped together, that professors at the head of large courses have been made to see that instructors who imbue the students with a love of work are more valuable than those who discuss minutiae with soul-deadening accuracy; that these instructors serve as proctors and advisers to the men in their sections; that they have working with them a number of responsible upper-classmen. The position of the incoming Freshman is very different. He soon knows an instructor whom he can respect for his humanity as well as for his learning. This same instructor, moreover, friendly, accessible, will talk to him as man to man, about his work, his friends, the latest play. The upper-classman whom he runs into pretty regularly will introduce him to others of his own kind, will make him feel his responsibility to the college and the obligation of doing something for the college. He wants the respect of these men, and soon learns that he cannot have it if he is selfish, or a loafer, or a sport. To get drunk does not appear, after all, such a praiseworthy achievement. Even to be seen on the street-corner talking to a chorus-girl does not have quite the manly charm he supposed it would have. Instead, he feels a little ashamed and foolish. He discovers that vice is ungentlemanly and mean, to be hidden for shame, not because it is a secret gloriously bad. After all, he finds the college itself offering innumerable opportunities for amusement. Days of work faithfully done, athletics or debating that bring approbation from his fellows, occasional evenings at the theatre with pleasant companions, all those things, applauded or appreciated by his classmates and his older friends, all are more satisfying, more really fun, than are the hours of neglect of work that must be suffered for at examination time, the evil pleasures which cannot be lived over again in talk, no matter how confidential. He finds his ambition aroused, his interests broadening wisely, his love for the honor of his college expressing itself in a struggle for self-improvement.
From the point of view of the college, finally, all this could be more satisfactorily brought about if the average age of admission were lower. Boys of seventeen have, to be sure, less settled characters than boys of nineteen or twenty. It is character more open to both good and bad influences. Yet undeniably, by the time a boy is seventeen he has reached the age when he needs association with men to bring him out. Undeniably, also, he is more sensitive to the ugliness of vice in all its forms, is less likely to be tempted by it, than he would be a couple of years later. He has still shining about him the white light of his mother’s purity, and in it he sees shudderingly, not covetously. Under present conditions the younger Freshman has, to counterbalance this instinct for moral cleanliness, the fancied obligation to be a man, and being a man often means to him following in the lead of the worst among his older mates, learning how to misbehave like a street-loafer. A tentative reaching out toward this “ cursing ” manhood was once amusingly illustrated by a Freshman, who, eating in commons, blushingly asked that some one would “ please pass the damn milk.”Among boys of his own age, however, this supposed obligation would no longer exist, and, through the protection of older friends, he would be developed from a boy, good by reason of his innocence, to a man, good by reason of his strength. Less susceptible to the attractions of dissolute living, more amenable to good advice — this would seem to be the situation as touching a younger Freshman class.
Under any system, in any college, there would always be a few to fall by the wayside, a few who would remain solitary and unapproachable. There would always be a few with inherited bad instincts, boys confirmed in vicious habits before admission; but these would be sent away before they had a chance to pollute others. There would always be some who repelled friendship, introspective youths wrapped up in the study of their own personalities. As undergraduates, they are to be pitied, but do no harm. They never expand until later, perhaps, love, revealing one other soul, reveals the world. But for the normal boy, the healthy-minded, noisy Freshman, to whom life presents few problems, few responsibilities, there would be comparative safety, the impulse to develop along uplifting, self-reliant lines. Parents might then surrender their sons to the college with a feeling of safety, sure that the college would make every effort to fulfill its duty, — not only the duty of education, but the supreme duty of creating good citizens.