What Is College For?


WHEN Zarathustra went one day over the great bridge, then did cripples and beggars surround him, and a hunchback spoke unto him. . . . Zarathustra answered thus: — ’It is, however, the smallest thing unto me since I have been amongst men, to see one person lacking an eye, another an ear, and a third a leg, and that others have lost the tongue, or the nose, or the head. ‘I see and have seen worse things . . . namely, men who lack everything, except that they have too much of one thing — men who are nothing more than a big eye, or a big mouth, or a big belly, or something else big — reversed cripples, I call such men. ‘And when I came out of my solitude, and for the first time passed over this bridge, then I could not trust mine eyes, but looked again and again, and said at last: “That is an ear! An ear as big as a man!” I looked still more attentively — and actually there did move under the ear something that was pitiably small and slim. And in truth this immense ear was perched on a small thin stalk — the stalk, however, was a man! A person putting a glass to his eyes could even recognize further a small envious countenance, and also that a bloated soul-let dangled at the stalk. The people told me, however, that the big ear was not only a man, but a great man, a genius. But I never believed in the people when they spake of great men — and I hold to my belief that it was a reversed cripple, who had too little of everything, and too much of one thing.’ When Zarathustra had spoken thus uuto the hunchback and unto those of whom the hunchback was the mouthpiece and advocate, then did he turn to his disciples in profound dejection, and said: — ‘Verily, my friends, I walk amongst men as amongst the fragments and limbs of human beings! ‘This is the terrible thing to mine eye, that I find man broken up, and scattered about, as on a battleand butcher-ground. ‘And when mine eye fleeth from the present to the bygone, it findeth ever the same: fragments and limbs and fearful chances— but no men. ‘The present and the bygone upon the earth — ah! my friends, that is MY most unbearable trouble; and I should not know how to live, if I were not a seer of what is to come. ‘A seer, a purposer, a creator, a future itself, and a bridge to the future — and alas! as it were, a cripple on this bridge.’

To be that bridge from the past with its cripples, to the future with its perfect men and women — that should be the function of the college.

So long as men live for and by the exercise of specialized functions only, so long will fine men be absent, and so long will society be chaos. The surgeon who sees all life in terms of physical derangements, the merchant who lives in a world of leather or of cheese, the artist who knows nothing but tone or color, the savant without capacity for action — these men lack the ability for coördination which makes human relations intelligible and intelligent. Business men frequently are so helpless in fields other than their own, that they cannot choose service intelligently; professional men generally are so lacking in perception of educational principles, that the only distinctions they can make are between conservatism, which they may consider to be safety or stupidity, and innovation, which to them may be synonymous either with progress or with dangerous radicalism. Finer distinctions they frequently seem incapable of. I used to feel great satisfaction over the enthusiastic approval I received when addressing Rotary Clubs or Chambers of Commerce; but after sitting in such assemblies for some years, I have come to the opinion that any man of fair personality, heard on any subject where prejudice does not interfere, if his voice is good, and his delivery plausible and vigorous, can at any time win the enthusiastic approval of his hearers.

We are becoming a nation of specialists, each man an authority in his own little corner, and ignorant of the relations of life as a whole. We assume that for every subject there is a specialist, and that specialists can make up life. But social life consists, not only of specialization, but also of coördination. Only to the extent that all these functions work together with mutual understanding and with unity of purpose, can there be stability or effectiveness in human relations.

There are two main undertakings that give promise of securing this element of coördination, and these undertakings constitute the essence of the Antioch Plan. First, to all the specialized callings in which men have striven for excellence, we are adding another — the profession of coördinator. The professional courses we give at Antioch all centre themselves in this — the development of ability to gather together the various tangled threads of forces, conditions, and affairs, which make up the elements of any potential human accomplishment, and to weave them into a perfect fabric, showing the texture and design of a preconceived plan. That is what we mean when we speak of training the manager, the entrepreneur, the proprietor. Despite all the specialized training of all our schools, the world always has paid its highest tributes to the coördinator, — — whether he be king, philosopher, or merchant, — and it always will.

But it is not enough that our specialists have a specialist to guide them. It is discouraging to the coördinator that he must deal with people who do not discriminate, with whom the demagogue and the charlatan are also in good standing. When he finds that people follow him because of the persuasiveness of his voice or pen, rather than because of the intrinsic merit of his plan, he is apt to become disgusted, and thereafter to go about the coördination of his private business.

If coördination is to be characteristic of our social and economic life, then it must result from the development of all-round balanced powers of discrimination on the part of all those whose native intelligence makes discrimination possible. While becoming specialists, while preparing to exercise our own special functions in our own particular callings, we must also become generalists — men and women who look at life as a whole, who have thought fundamentally in every important field of human experience. And not only must we have thought fundamentally, but we must have learned to will, to act, to undertake, and to achieve, in accordance with the results of that thinking. The unity of purpose which is to give society its motive-power is not the enforced uniformity that we came to know so well during the war, but the unity which comes from a critical examination and a reappraisal of old values; a breakingdown of barriers that are obsolete; and a building of new purposes which appeal so universally to the disciplined intelligence and instincts of men that they come to prevail.

Civilized society should be made up of men and women who have become generalists in their ability to think clearly and to act effectively in all the broad general relations of life, at least to the extent of choosing leadership intelligently; and who, with this foundation of general fitness, have prepared themselves to render specialized service in the fields of their own particular occupations.

So the Antioch Plan is an undertaking to get a new appraisal of values, a new perspective of the importance of the factors that make up human personality and power; and to provide occasion for the development of these essential qualities in the proportion of their importance to complete and effective living. To turn that theory into an effective working programme is the essence of our undertaking.


Antioch College, at Yellow Springs, Ohio, was opened in 1853, with Horace Mann as its president. The faculty and alumni of the college have furnished presidents to Harvard University, Ohio State University, Clark University, Wellesley College, Brooklyn Institute, Lincoln Memorial University, and other institutions. Its formal history has been that of a small liberal coeducational college. During the years until his death in 1859, Horace Mann so impressed his personality upon the institution that his influence still lives in the ‘Antioch Spirit.’

I first became associated with Antioch three years ago. An examination showed a physical plant of positive merit, — buildings of simple dignity in a setting of exceptional natural beauty, — and a governing board ready to take any step that would advance the welfare of the institution. A proposal was made to the trustees for a complete reorganization of the college, aimed to carry out in terms of modern life the purpose of its first president; and the proposal was accepted. Shortly afterward, local members of the board of trustees offered to make vacancies, to be filled by new appointees, with the result that fourteen of the twenty present members are men who accepted their positions because of their sympathy with and interest in the new plan. The faculty and the student body were made over to an even greater extent, and last September the new programme was put in operation.

If the Antioch Plan deserves consideration, it is not primarily because of the wisdom or efficacy of any particular method or expedient which has been adopted; but because it represents a specific, premeditated effort to develop a working programme for accomplishing the fundamental aims of college education, by methods which, though not new, have not generally controlled in the determination of educational policy. Since its significance lies, not in the details of methods adopted, but in the spirit and outlook which animate it, it is worth while, before describing the plan in detail, to indicate the general point of view which the programme is an effort to express. If there is an apparent assumption of originality in this description, it is for the purpose of simplicity of statement, and not by way of claim to any element of invention or discovery. Only through the efforts of many men, in many institutions, through many years, can a purpose such as that which animates the Antioch Plan be given full expression. In working out details of the programme there has been a careful avoidance of novelty or experiment for its own sake. At best our undertaking is so beset with problems requiring experiment and research, that we should be lacking in judgment to undertake unnecessary departures from prevailing practice.

European education, reproduced with minor variations in America, for centuries has accepted, as normal institutions, social failure, poverty, disease, the deterioration of the breed, and war within and without; yet it does not see itself as completely, pathetically inadequate. It has no dominating impulse to admit colossal failure, and to build itself anew. Complacently it hugs to itself the bits of flotsam and jetsam it has saved from the wreck of human affairs, and thanks God it had the wisdom to choose salvage of such priceless value. Minor changes in methods it would introduce from time to time, but in the main it is content with itself. In its sentiments and its motives the old education frequently is superlatively fine; but even then it lacks the habit of visualizing and creating better ways of realizing those purposes.

Where shall we find a new vision which will set up new standards for comparison; new ideals for education which will reveal the pitiful asymmetry and futility of our own; new methods which will make our purposes effective? We cannot expect strange ships to appear on the horizon, bringing revelations of perfection; and it is very wasteful of time and of life to wait impotently through the centuries for new prophets to arise to point the way. Is there any basis for hope that we may find a way greatly to accelerate the process of evolution in educational methods? We at Antioch believe there is. We believe that men possess the qualities and resources necessary for reforming not only the details of practice, but also some of the fundamentals of the educational process, with results at least as far-reaching as those which are following the introduction of Western educational methods into China.

The essence of the Antioch method is this: denying autocratic authority to precedent and tradition and endeavoring to have the mind unshackled by prejudice, we aim to make a fresh analysis of human needs and of the factors, both new and old, which enter into human development; and we endeavor to get a new mental picture of an educational process which will prepare men and women to meet these needs. As a limitation upon the process of unbiased analysis and of original synthesis, the past must be eliminated; as a source of data for analysis, of suggestion, and of stimulus for imagination, the past has never been taken half seriously enough.

How can we apply new methods to education? First, there must be imagination: the habit of seeing far beyond what is, to what might be. Only in the presence of what might be does the present seem mean and small, and we are furnished with the basis for productive discontent. Second, we must have faith and hope. These produce the willingness to venture. Hope and faith may not directly create values in any field. But they do discover values, the existence of which was unsuspected. William James, in his essay on ‘The Energies of Men,’ pictures the enormous unsuspected resources of men and women. Human life is so full of undeveloped possibilities, that whoever explores with a trained alert mind, inspired by hope and faith, will make discoveries forever withheld from the cynic and the conformist. Third, we must have analysis. There can be only one proper aim and end of education — to use to the best advantage the available economic, social, and æsthetic resources, to bring about for boys and girls and men and women such development and preparation that they can best meet the experiences and relations of life.

Such a programme must be based on knowledge as definite as possible; first, of qualities of the persons affected; second, of the probability, frequency, and comparative importance of their experiences and relationships; and third, of the available resources and method of education to meet those experiences. This process of analysis must be untrammeled by tradition and authority; and we need not be surprised when we find ourselves taking issue with current educational methods. Then, to complete the process, we must have the synthesis of the educational programme, using precedent as information, but not as authority. ‘She should be my counselor, but not my tyrant.’ Our fundamental process is to make a new, fresh inventory of all the universal experiences and relationships that a student will need in order to give and to get the greatest values for his life; and so to balance and proportion his preparation that any disturbance of that balance would leave him less effectively prepared.

We aim for symmetry of development. Society and the student, and not courses, are the units for which symmetry is demanded. We plan to carry no line of preparation beyond a point where its further extension would mean the elimination of other experiences more important for the development of balanced personality; even though these other experiences lie entirely outside the usual range of traditional college interests. Thus, among the most far-reaching decisions the student ever will make are his choices of a vocation, of business associates, of a mate, of a home and its equipment , of avocations and recreations, of his manner of spending his income. Would it seem strange if these subjects should appear on the curriculum, replacing Calculus and Latin? We dare not undertake all such subjects at once, for lack of preparation and of equipment ; but they loom large in our analysis. College students are poring over their mathematics and languages, whereas, in these other momentous matters, in most of which they will make decisions shortly after leaving college, they are as ignorant as babes, frequently arriving at decisions based upon the most ephemeral of reasons.

A fund of information, combined with reasoning power and the habit of diligent study, while they fill the requirements of academic excellence, do not prepare a young man or woman for effective living. Only by actual experience with the real world he is to enter on leaving college can he complete his preparation. Under the Antioch Plan, while a few of our students spend their entire time at study, most of them divide their time between school and practical work as part of the economic community. To accomplish this, the students are divided into two groups, alternating in periods of five weeks between college and industry.1 These periods of economic effort are of great advantage in acquainting young men and women with the methods and technic of the calling they may later follow. But other gains are even greater. The student learns by actual experience how much life costs in labor. He learns the range and limits of his own resources, and becomes better able to judge the significance of the difficulties and resistance he must encounter. He tries out his own personality against that of others, and in general ‘finds himself,’ with the prospect of saving several years that otherwise would be taken up in that process after college. He saves industry the cost of reëducating him. It is a mistake, moreover, to consider the time spent in industry as lost to education. The student’s mind continues to grow while he works. Time is an essential element in assimilation. Instructors report less wasted motion in taking up work after five weeks’ absence in industry than is commonly experienced with the college student after a three-day intermission.

His reading continues. He is being introduced to the proposition that education is a life-long process and is not confined to school hours. In the absence of undue stress, which frequently results from working one’s way through college in the usual manner, the plan of alternating work with study is entirely superior to the habit of oddtime work of the usual self-supporting student. Self-support is incidental to the plan; yet it provides an experience in self-reliance and independence, and in the habit of measuring one’s resources, which is invaluable. In maintaining the reputation of the college as its representative in industry, the student has a responsibility which he cannot delegate.

How well a body of students can rise to such responsibility is indicated by the fact that during the first half-year of this programme ninety per cent of the student-workers very definitely made good in their undertakings. The elimination of only ten per cent in the double test of work and study indicates reasonable success in the initial selection of student material. From the employer’s point of view, the high morale of the students more than makes up for limitations of experience and maturity. Youth craves adventure. To be a part in a great undertaking brings into action hidden resources of energy and character, which are unsuspected and which never would be developed by a cut-and-dried programme. In their industrial work our freshman students during the first month at times exceeded experienced workmen, both in quantity and in quality of production.

Not knowing how long it would take to find places for our students in industry during the present extreme industrial depression, we left the reconstruction of our buildings to be completed by student labor, thus furnishing immediate employment. As a result, the students arrived amid a maze of sewer-trenches, lumber-piles, and the hubbub of building operations. Classes were interrupted by steam-fitters installing heating systems; and, for a month or more, working and living conditions were primitive indeed. The students took the situation in fine spirit; and by the time reconstruction approached completion, the entire student body was provided with other employment. They are now working in more than fifty different institutions, including factories, laboratories, banks, stores, schools, farms, and various other industries.

Little by little, as finances make possible, it is planned to assist students in the establishment of small industries, where they can assume responsibility to an increasing extent. The Antioch programme seems to have succeeded in its appeal to young people who wish to be responsible for their own undertakings. During these first few months we have been embarrassed by a multitude of requests and suggestions from our students, that they undertake industrial projects. These include contracting, operating a restaurant, a store, a laundry, a printing and publishing plant, a furniture-repair shop, a dairy farm, a house-wiring business, and numerous others. A few of these are now in operation; many prove unfeasible; and some cannot yet be initiated because we are not in all cases able to assist in the preliminary financing. The oversight of these projects by our accountants, engineers, and other faculty members helps to expose many a youthful fallacy in industrial policy.

It is planned also to build an industrial building on the college campus, where a number of privately owned small industries will be invited to locate. The facilities offered to such industries would be floor-space, electric-power supply, an intelligent, serious-purposed working force supplied from the student body; and, to whatever extent desired, the services of the professional men connected with the college faculty in accounting, industrial research, traffic, cost-analysis, advertising, and in other departments of administration. Certain of these industries already have been decided upon, and we are now seeking contacts with others of the right type, including printing and publishing, metal, textile, and chemical plants.


Next to the provision for coördination of economic and academic work, the most notable departure in the Antioch Plan is the complete revision of the curriculum in an effort to proportion it to the actual needs of the student. It is a requirement of every technical or professional course at Antioch that it be accompanied by the fundamentals of a cultural education, the school time being divided approximately equally between the two. Technical men, as a whole, are lamentably weak in those qualities which should be developed by a liberal education. The regular course, which for the average student consists of six years of forty weeks each, for the technical or professional student is divided, fifty per cent to economic work, twenty-five per cent to technical or professional training, twenty-five per cent to a liberal education. The effect of extending this cultural work through six years is far greater than that of two years at a liberal college. Moreover, the continuity of liberalizing thought and study during six years is far more apt to result in the fixing of lifelong habits.

In the curriculum of liberal subjects also there is a complete departure from prevailing custom. Instead of a system of majors and minors, which requires that the student give much of his time to going deeply into a few subjects, he is required to get a general view of the entire field of human knowledge and interest, and only in case he makes a very creditable showing in the fundamentals of any subject is he encouraged to proceed further with it. Moreover, such advanced work must often be by means of autonomous courses, in which the student carries the subject largely by himself, in the manner of the English college tutorial system, with occasional conferences with the teacher. The time of our faculty in cultural subjects is given to a large extent to the earlier years of the student, when his mind is getting its fundamental direction, and while he is developing the habit of going alone. In this condensed programme, for example, we allow two years for a survey of history, the same for a view of psychology and philosophy, a year and a half to biology, a year each to chemistry and physics, with other fields similarly represented. Literature is the heart of the cultural courses.

We are building thoroughly modern and attractive homes for our faculty, are providing our own school facilities for faculty children, and are paying reasonable salaries. These are conditions necessary to release one’s energies for one’s job. But we do not want men or women who come primarily for house, or school, or salary. The great compensation we have to offer is an adventure in living; an adventure with a selected small group of boys and girls, who are here for the purpose of committing all they have to the discovery and the winning of the highest values of life. Anyone who comes to us in any other spirit, and is unwilling to share with us the risks and disappointments of pioneering, and of hope deferred, will find himself lonely and discontented. It is obvious that thorough scholarship and sound, balanced personality are essential.

Antioch has room for two hundred new students next fall. A part of these are already selected. We aim to develop young men and women for management and proprietorship — for economic selfsupport and independence. But we are not interested in students whose sole motive is to prepare for making a better living. Students with such an outlook will find us talking a language they do not understand. Economic independence should be but an enlargement of opportunity for giving and getting life’s highest values. Antioch is no place for the student of low ability or weak purpose, who needs imposed discipline and guardianship. His limited stay with us would be a mutual embarrassment.

The part-time work of the student, especially when he undertakes projects for himself, makes possible his gradual initiation into responsible management, at the same time that his school curriculum is giving him the theory of management. Whether it is the intention of the student to become a manufacturer, a merchant, or an engineer, the training at Antioch will aim to prepare for administration and management in that field. For instance, our students in the field of public education, as soon as they have met the legal requirements as to normal training, spend their working periods in teaching country and village schools, two students alternating in filling one position. After a year of teaching under supervision, it is the aim to secure positions which combine teaching with administration, until at the end of the college period the student shall be in responsible charge of village or consolidated rural-school systems, and laying the basis for larger responsibilities. The general vocational studies during this period include the elements of administration and management, while the specific vocational courses are concerned with pedagogical theory and practice. Antioch students are now filling teaching positions on this basis.

Similarly, Antioch aims to prepare for management or proprietorship in the fields of engineering, contracting, printing and publishing, manufacturing, merchandizing, agriculture, homekeeping, house-design and furnishing, institutional management, and machine-shop operation. A fair proportion of Antioch students should be ready upon graduation to become proprietors on a small scale, or to secure positions in which management is a large element. Responsible management has a technic of its own which can be perfected only by experience in its exercise. Some men reach positions of large responsibility by beginning at the bottom and working up in large organizations; others by beginning as absolute proprietors on a small scale, and developing gradually as they master the technic of responsible management in all its phases. The latter is the Antioch way. The handicap of this method has been the lack of definite training in the technic of management. This Antioch supplies.

One requirement for financial independence will be an economical standard of living while at college. At our large endowed universities the student costs himself and society $2000 a year or more. He is a privileged person who fails to carry his fair share of the world’s burden. At Antioch we have a vision of a place where a student of high quality can come with a few hundred dollars, and complete his college course without being a financial burden upon society. A deficit of about twenty-five per cent of our annual operating cost will have to be made up, if not by endowment and contributions, then by the profit on industries owned and operated by the college. With student labor of high intelligence and morale, and with the provision for caring for much of the overhead of production and distribution, we yet need directing ability for the handling of such industries. We dare to hope that we may make the acquaintance of men of executive ability, who will find it to be an interesting adventure to help such a college achieve economic independence through its industries.

In the treatment of technical and professional courses, we come at once upon definite limitations. In a small college, such as we plan that Antioch always shall be, it will not be possible to compete with the highly specialized technical and professional courses of our great universities. If Antioch is to be a success as a technical and professional school, it must be because we have chosen a field in which small size is a positive asset, and in which a great university, because of its size, would have difficulty in competing. The transmission of character and ideals comes best by personal intimate contact of maturity with immaturity, which only a small college can furnish. The discovery of a student’s aptitudes, the counsel, the encouragement and advice necessary for organizing his personality — these must be individual, personal undertakings. Yet many college students never have opportunity to discuss their affairs seriously with any mature person.

These considerations strengthened us in our desire to make Antioch a school for developing proprietors — men and women with the entrepreneur outlook. There is room for independent proprietorship in America to-day as never before, and Antioch plans to keep that vista open. Naturally, this programme demands a careful selection of students, and carefully workedout plans for such selection are in use. The necessity of relating educational opportunity to the character of the student is one of the fundamentals developed by any analysis. Without that precaution, either the student or the educational opportunity may be wasted. It should not be assumed that every student must become a paragon of balanced qualities in order to succeed. We have come to associate right to ownership almost solely with administrative ability. Antioch hopes to develop the point of view that any high-class essential service is a sound basis for a claim to a share in ownership. Partnerships are more generally successful than individual proprietors, because weakness is neutralized and strength reinforced. We hope to teach our students to make such associations as will lead to the union of complementary qualities, and to share in ownership where an essential contribution is made.

Antioch hopes to take a place, however small, among the agencies that are at work to make a new world — new in power, in intelligence, in wisdom, in friendship and good-will. Any graduate who leaves Antioch without that spirit will be a failure in the eyes of his associates. In the ability to exercise the functions of proprietorship, where he can determine the conditions of service and of relationships, the Antioch graduate will be able to build his own little world about him to an extent that he could not in the position of an employee, where conformity to existing standards would be his first duty. The entrepreneur who has ventured and won in the field of economic competition is in a strategic position for influencing social and economic standards in his field. It is sometimes said that all fine human service has been performed either by men who kept themselves whole-hearted and uncontaminated by economic motives, and thereby died in the garret; or else by rich men’s sons who therefore were able to avoid the contamination of business. Since most men must make their livings by economic effort, that attitude in effect is a running away from life. The right to serve is inalienable, and symmetrical education will make preparation for it.

  1. For the development of this method of cooperation, we are greatly indebted to Dean Schneider, of the University of Cincinnati.