The Revolt of a Middle-Aged Father


I HAVE a daughter in the sophomore class of X College. It is a small freshwater college, but with an excellent reputation; admission is fraught with many difficulties and confers some distinction. My choice was due partly to its location near the city in which I live, but partly also to its lack of ostentation.

We might have chosen the large university in my city, one of the largest in the country. But my son was a student there, and from him I learned of the disadvantages of large colleges — the lack of personal contact with the professors; the impersonal, machinelike processes of degree-making; the absence of true college life. To some extent I had contact with the student body at that large university. The group was not impressive. It certainly was quite different from the small group of students I studied with at Columbia in the early nineties. So my daughter was going to have the best I could afford; perhaps ill afford, for I am a man of modest means — a salaried man, in fact, having two other children already in college. Her going meant considerable sacrifice of comforts, of opportunities for saving, and even of the savings previously made.

As my daughter’s college is less than an hour from the city, — really in the suburbs, — I could visit her off and on, going down direct from the office in time for the evening meal or for an occasional Saturday afternoon. Thus I have obtained an intimate glimpse of present-day college life.

My first impression was decidedly favorable. There were the alluring old buildings, scattered over the large campus, a welcome relief from the congestion of a large metropolis. There were the groups of young girls and boys (it is a coeducational institution). There was loud talking, laughing, joking; and some innocent spooning, to be sure; yet, as far as I could see and learn, there was very little of that extravagance of conduct which some observers seem to find about a campus. They were happy boys and girls. But, somehow, I never could feel the atmosphere of an educational institution.

A few visits were needed before I could answer the question which seemed to trouble me: ‘What does this remind me of?’ It came in a flash. A summer hotel in the mountains or at the seashore. The exuberant youth, the loud, sporty clothes, — perhaps not always expensive; I am a poor judge of that, — the cars before the entrance, the meandering couples, the total absence of care, even the tone of the conversation, all smacked of vacation rather than vocation.

I confess that, when the comparison occurred to me, it worried me. And the more I observed the so-called college life, the more worried I became. I have no fear that modern youth or the coming generation will go to moral perdition. Each age and generation must establish its own moral standards and follow them or not, as it desires. Who am I to say that I know what those standards should be? The basis for my worry was economic rather than moral; or, if you wish, an economic morality.

Personally, I hate summer hotels or camps or vacational institutions, with their enforced idleness. Others may like them better. But, after all, it is understood that a vacation is only a vacation. It is a break in the regular necessary productive routine of life. It may be a very pleasant break for two or three weeks when one is tired out, but as a permanent diet, or for four years at least, what effect must it have on the formative period of life, on the process of preparation for active life?

‘But this is unfair,’ argues my daughter. ‘You have been here only during leisure hours. Our classes meet in the daytime, you know.’

Of course. And I do not want to be unfair to the young generation — that is the surest sign of approaching old age.

But let us see. The average requirements of a college are about fifteen hours per week. Laboratory work, which is much more arduous than simply listening to an old fogy of a professor talking, for some mysterious reason usually counts as half time; so the average working hours of undergraduate students may be twenty hours per week within the class. If the students put in an extra hour of reading and study for every classroom hour, — they may and should do more, but few do, — that means a working week of thirty to thirty-five hours, including extra reading. Pretty easy, I call that, as compared with the working hours of some millions of young persons of the same age who have entered productive occupations and are partly or wholly making their own living.

Shall I be told that I have underestimated the necessary effort of undergraduate study? I don’t think so. Look at the time that is left for all other — extracurricular, I believe they call them — ‘activities’ and pleasures. The average undergraduate student finds sufficient time to indulge in amateur dramatics, amateur journalism, amateur politics, clubs, fraternities, social life, and at least the normal amount of amateur or serious love-making. In addition — or as a substitute — some manage to work at various occupations, and thus partly or entirely pay their way through college. If some do this, the others must have a lot of time to waste.

That is the régime of life through the college year, eight or nine months or so. Even that year is interrupted by prolonged vacations: at midyear, Christmas, and Easter. The calendar of one large university tells me that the college term begins on September 24. The Thanksgiving recess lasts five days (my clerical staff gets one day, no more: girls all of college age); the Christmas recess from December 22 to January 4, or two weeks; the term-end recess, from February 1 to 8, or a full week; Easter recess, four days — altogether more than four weeks. And the classes all end some time between May 24 and June 1. Some twenty-one to twentytwo weeks of leisure out of the year.

So upon the partial idleness—or leisure, a more euphemistic expression — of the school year there is superimposed the total leisure of the numerous and prolonged vacations. Many students try to utilize these, but of course no regular occupation can be pursued for two or three months with an interval of nine or ten, so the labor market is flooded every summer with young folks looking for temporary jobs. To some it makes no difference what the work is, so long as an opportunity to earn presents itself: waiting, summer hotel clerking, door-to-door selling; occasionally, for the more adventurous, manual labor. I have read of two students making a success at bricklaying at ten dollars a day. To others the prime consideration is how to occupy the summer. It may be a summer school, or counseling at camps, or anything, so long as the work is not too strenuous. Others, more girls than boys, languish at home, bored to death with the monotony of private family life as compared with the stimulus of group life, and create problems for their parents and siblings. What very few of them do or can do is to train themselves for their life work, for their chosen profession. Exciting as bricklaying may be as an experience for the future physician, college professor, or bond salesman, it is n’t exactly a preparation for his profession. And yet, the college years are years of preparation.


I am afraid that I am giving the reader an altogether unfavorable impression of myself. Here, you will say, is a very grouchy, selfish old man who begrudges his children the privileges of the college education which, for some reason or other, perhaps out of sheer regard for convention, he is paying for. I must insist, therefore, not only in selfdefense, but for a better evaluation of the argument which follows, that I am a college man myself; not only that, but possessor of a Ph.D., an academic man by disposition, author of half a dozen serious books, and a member of the W. W. A. fraternity (Who’s Who in America). So that’s that.

And secondly, I look on myself as a kind, easy-going, indulgent, and loving father. I believe my children endorse that description. I have assumed the duty of seeing three children through college. I found soon that the least that will take a modern youth through college comfortably is $1500 a year. Three times four times $1500 makes all of $18,000. (And I never had the $18,000.) Into this went almost all the savings of a lifetime, and most of the income during their college years. It has meant a sacrifice, many sacrifices for my wife and myself. I do not run a car — not even a Ford. We have sacrificed many opportunities for vacation and travel; opportunities for saving for our old age, which is not so very far off. All of this we have done cheerfully, but the question will not down: Was it necessary? Was it wise? Was it fair to us? And was it worth while for them?

Were ours an isolated case, then this article might be considered a presumption. But obviously it is not an isolated case. It may be somewhat unusual to carry the burden of three children in college simultaneously. Wise spacing of children might have prevented that. But a family of three children is, after all, not an unusual one, and college education within the last thirty or forty years has changed from a luxury to a seeming necessity, from an exception to a tradition, not only for the rich and the near rich, or the middle class to which I belong, but even for many a worker’s family as well. It is no more a question as to whether one can afford to see his children through college, but whether one can afford not to do so.

The total number of students in colleges and universities, exclusive of professional schools, in 1873 — the earliest year for which these data are available — was only about 23,000; in 1903, 125,000; in 1922, 438,000; and to-day it approaches 600,000.

The beginnings of college education in America were partly vocational — training for teachers, clergy, and lawyers — and partly social. College training was the training of a gentleman. Hence the emphasis upon decorative subjects such as classical languages. Hence, we might add, the absurd objective of a college education, the Bachelor of Arts diploma — of which more later.

Rather suddenly there came the rush of thousands into colleges. In 1870 only one out of 150 youths was in college. In 1880, one out of 100. In 1890, one out of 75. In 1900, one out of 50. In 1910, one out of 40. In 1920, one out of 20. And in the year of our Lord 1927 the proportion is probably near to one out of 12.

A college student is, therefore, no more rara avis, no more necessarily a son or a daughter of the upper classes. The great democratic American masses are looking to sending their children to college — or, at least, their children are looking to going there, as naturally as they looked to high school ten or twenty years ago. Of course, even one in twelve is only one in twelve; there are eleven others who do not go; but the proportion is sure to increase. Whatever the proportion, they are a privileged group, against the remaining eleven twelfths or five sixths or even two thirds, who are deprived of college for economic or other reasons, and who enter productive life without waiting until twenty-two to do so.

In the appraisal of value of any property, service, or institution, a sound system of accounting is imperative. The balance sheet is not only a business concept. It is, or ought to be, if not the true measure, at least one of the measures for the evaluation of any social effort.

What the individual cost is I know, and so do many other parents. From my varied experience I know that it cannot be done comfortably for less than the $1500 per annum I have named. And, moreover, the costs are constantly rising.

Here is an approximate budget: —

Tuition $200 to $400
Other college expenses (registration, library fees, books, etc.) 50 100
Room and board, 32 to 40 weeks at a rate of $15 to $20 480 800
Laundry 50 100
Miscellaneous expenses ($5 to $10 a week) 260 520
Clothes 300 500
Total $1340 to $2420

Few luxuries are here included. The clothing allowance certainly does not allow a girl in college to dress better than does a New York stenographer — there is no reason why she should, except that she wants to — or as well as many of her college friends dress, much to her and her mother’s distress and mental anguish. Nor does the minimum budget provide for the maintenance of even the little roadster which many a college boy expects. It provides for pocket expenses, but not for hip-pocket expenses and the appurtenances thereto. Finally, it does n’t provide for railroad trips to college and home — at least two of them — and a summer vacation.

So let us accept the figure of $1500 as reasonable. Four years of that is $6000. We know that there are to-day some 600,000 students in colleges, and some 600,000 pairs of parents making this sacrifice to send them through.

A few years ago the National Bureau of Economic Research published a most painstaking investigation of ‘Income in the United States: Its Amount and Distribution.’ While the data refer to 1918, the situation probably has not changed materially during the last few years. The conclusions are based partly upon careful study of income tax statistics and partly upon estimates. In all, 37,569,060 incomes are considered. Let me inject this brief statistical summary: —

Income Per cent Cumulative percentage
$1,000,000 and over. 152 .00041 .00041
100,000 to 1,000,000 7,290 .0193 .0197
50,000 to 100,000 14,011 .037 .057
10,000 to 50,000 233,181 .62 .68
6,000 to 10,000 353,103 .94 1.62
4,000 to 6,000 665,195 1.77 3.39
3,000 to 4,000 952,693 2.53 5.92
2,000 to 3,000 3,065,024 8.16 14.08
1,000 to 2,000 17,720,187 47.18 61.26
Less than 1,000 14,558,224 38.74 100.00

With all the display of wealth in our midst, with all our lavish expenditures, it is significant that the incomes of $10,000 and over number a little more than a quarter of a million (254,634), representing only about two thirds of one per cent of the total. Even if all incomes of $6000 or over are included, they number only about 600,000 and represent only 12/3 per cent. You can’t deduct $1500 from $6000 without creating some disturbance in the family budget. And yet we have 600,000 college students to-day. We shall have many more to-morrow — a round million, if students in professional and normal schools are included.

And what about the collective social cost? It has become a somewhat hackneyed observation of American students of European conditions before the war that Europe was being driven into bankruptcy by its standing armies. The same reason is often given in explanation of the financial difficulties which France or Poland or Central Europe is going through to-day. Comparisons are made to show the enormous cost of maintaining a million able-bodied men in idleness, and an expensive apparatus to keep them busy besides — for, paradoxical as it may sound, even idle men must be kept busy at something. Mutatis mutandis, does n’t this describe at least one aspect of the American college problem? If my estimate of $1500 per annum is correct, what is the cost of 600,000 students? Is not $900,000,000 per annum a substantial amount? But is that the entire cost? We are frequently told that, no matter how high the tuition fees, no student pays more than twenty or twenty-five per cent of what it costs the college to instruct him. The expenditures of college over and above the income from college fees must be added. They may amount to some $300,000,000 or $400,000,000 per annum. And what about the loss of income from capital investments? What about the continuous capital outlays which are required to meet the demands of a constantly increasing student population? Is there a college or a college president who is not continuously soliciting funds?

Limiting the number of students, selection on psychological, financial, or any other grounds, all this may help to save an individual institution, but it only aggravates the problem, for it strengthens the illusion of those great advantages which may be derived from a college education. In the final analysis it is the wishes of the people, not the decision of the college authorities, that will decide the size of the student population in this country.

Let us say that the college bill amounts to nearly $2,000,000,000, a respectable amount for even this rich country. Added to this is the enforced idleness, the nonproductive existence, of an army of 600,000 young men and women. And the army is rapidly growing, and the cost figures are increasing even more rapidly than the army.

Now it would seem to be good social ethics, or common sense, that a privileged standing ought to have some justification. Surely that should hold true in an ideal democracy such as ours. The privilege of a college education, the privilege of postponing entrance upon one’s life’s duties in this workaday world until the age of twenty-two or twenty-three, ought to be worthy of some justification to the other social groups not so privileged; to the other age groups within its own social class; and to college youth itself.


The extension of the schooling period from fourteen to eighteen, through the democratization of the high schools, corresponds with the views held by an increasing number of physiologists, psychologists, educators, and students of social conditions, that it is wise and useful to postpone entrance into modern productive industry to fourteen, or sixteen, and for many industries to eighteen, years of age. If this prolonged childhood will give children a better chance in later life, surely modern American society can afford it. Whatever the fiscal arrangements, whatever the shifting of cost depending upon distribution of wealth and income and our system of taxation, society can well afford to say: ‘We, the grown-up people, young as well as middle-aged, are willing to carry the burden, individually for the good of our children, collectively for the good of the next generation and of the country at large. It is up to us to do the world’s work while the old folks rest and young folks are getting ready.’

But is the situation at all similar for that group which makes up the student body of our colleges? The college period extends from the age of eighteen to twenty-three or more. Physically our students are grown up. They are able to do the work that has to be done: athletic feats would seem to demonstrate that. Their health is usually above the average. For physiological reasons they have an oversupply of energy, which they should dispose of in order not to get into mischief. A very expensive apparatus must be furnished to meet that need in a wasteful way. Not so very long ago persons at their age were the fathers and mothers of the race. Surely they are or ought to be self-supporting — not in positions of leadership, of course, but in the rank and file. Even now the other eleven out of twelve, those who are not in college, are employed in industry, commerce, arts, in every line of endeavor except science and the learned professions. Surely even we complacent middleaged Americans do not mean to say, ‘Let the middle-aged and the old folks, those of fifty years and over, work more and harder, so that our boys and girls between eighteen and twenty-four may have more time to play while they are studying a little.’ But that is exactly what we are doing.

Is this policy justified? If so, what is the justification?

The traditional reply is obvious: ‘You are paying for the education of the children. Do you question the value of education?’

I do not. But I am beginning to question the meaning of the word in its application to a present-day college.

In whatever I have said, and will say presently, I am not referring to professional and technical education. But college, undergraduate college, is not vocational. It deals with that ill-defined entity often described as ‘culture’ or general education. Far be it from me to deny the necessity of it. I hold, I think, fairly advanced ideas on the subject. Culture and general education must, I believe, embrace some understanding of the ego’s relationship to the universe, the earth, the human race, society, and himself. But what I do insist upon is that this ideal general education and culture is obtained in our colleges by only an infinitesimal proportion of students; that the effort to obtain it is not even encouraged either by the college or by the student body; and that no one who possesses this much-desired culture — I am thinking of something much more substantial than the mere polish of a gentleman — has obtained it during the specified years of college.

The idea that anything approaching a general education can be crammed down in four years of college, certified by an A.B., and enjoyed ever after without further effort, is the greatest impediment to the growth of American culture.

Education is an important part of life. But should it ever occupy all of life? The one great contribution to the theory of the place of the educational process in life as a whole was made by the Gary formula, intended for a younger group but applicable to all ages: Study, play, work. I am questioning our college system because it puts the greatest emphasis on play and considers work either as a necessary evil or not at all. Against this policy I, as a middle-aged man, do revolt. My life is mostly work. There is some study — always has been. Perhaps my reading hours average more than the traditional fifteen hours a week of the college student. But there is very little play. And I am getting tired, and the height of my productive energy has passed. Meanwhile, the young folks have much play and very little work, if any. Whether the arrangement is quite fair as between myself and my children is a personal matter; but whether the arrangement is fair between two generations is a matter of great concern to society at large.


This question must be answered in the light of the return the country gets for the expenditure of two billion dollars per annum. What do we get collectively and individually? What does the country get? What does the paying father get? What does the student get ?

The one thing that the student obviously gets, or achieves, is his A.B. Will the answer appear facetious or cynical? But, seriously, no other definite answer can be given — at least, none that will apply to the student body as a whole.

What is this mysterious A.B. degree? Why ‘bachelor’? And why ‘arts’?

The corresponding, though not altogether comparable, German symbol at least has a meaning: certificas maturitatis, a certificate of (intellectual) maturity. A certain intellectual content has been acquired. Whether rightly or not, it is assumed to include the intellectual baggage needed for intellectual maturity. And the mature person may be expected to go forth and at least take care of himself. Is n’t that, after all, the minimum test of maturity?

But what does the A.B. certify? It is true, we too speak on Commencement Day of the young graduate going forth to ‘conquer the world.’ We grandiloquently declare that ‘omnia jura, honores, privilegia ad hunc gradum pertinentia’ are conferred upon him or her. But all this Latin, we know, means no more than the two Horse Guards, standing on duty in London, mean in the economic problems of the British Empire. Does it stand for any definite educational content? A large modern American university offers perhaps two or three thousand courses, but, on the average, a student may not take more than twenty to thirty of them during his four years. The A.B. does, to be sure, confer the right to reënter the university and to work for an A.M. degree. But the same question may arise. What does an A.M. stand for?

Strange as it may seem, the A.B. is a quantitative measure. It certifies to the acquisition of a certain amount of knowledge of assorted kinds — almost like a pound of assorted chocolates. One might say that it stands for four years of academic training. But even that is no more accurate, for it is now quite possible to acquire it with no unearthly effort in three and a half years, or even in three. So another measure must be accepted. An A.B. stands for 120 points, or counts, or whatever the yardstick of the particular college happens to be. Roughly, of course, this may be converted into units intelligible to the layman. A point usually stands for one hour a week for a semester of some sixteen weeks; so an A.B. stands for some 120 times 16 — that is, 1920 — hours of classroom instruction, with proper deductions for vacations, holidays, and cuts, excused and unexcused. And there you are.

Does this mean anything to you? It means nothing to me. Some 1800 hours of classroom attendance may mean some education, some culture, some knowledge, some philosophy, some Weltanschauung — it may mean any one of these things or a little, very little, of each. And it may mean none of these things. It may mean nothing at all beyond some formal compliance with the minimum (quantitative) requirements and some luck and dexterity at the final examinations.

The elective system came as a useful reaction against the scholasticism and formalism of a so-called classical education. Surely no one would wish to return to the mediæval system of education which was limited almost to dead languages and dead cultures. No one would want to force 600,000 youths to study for four long years subjects in which they have no interest at all. But, on the other hand, if we want to confer the title of a learned or an educated man, — for an A.B. must mean or at least symbolize that, if anything at all, — we must first of all arrive at some agreement as to what education means.

A bare few winters within an educational institution mean nothing. A mechanical agglomeration of trigonometry, history of the Renaissance, Greek philosophy, scenario writing, interpretation of French drama, psychological measurements, palæontology, accounting, third-year German, and Provençal French, or any similarly relevant combination, arrived at with due consideration of the looks of the professors, their reputation as to ‘cinch’ courses, desire for a free Saturday, conflicts with various athletic events, and hatred of early rising — this, we submit, is not a systematic education. Just what the effect of this mental food is likely to be we are unable to tell. No one has figured it out.

No, this is not an exaggeration or a caricature. For all we know, this may be an actual record. There is no reason why it should n’t be. Some colleges have made an effort to overcome this evil. There are tutorial systems, honor systems, outlines, and requirements for major subjects. But, with all these efforts in the right direction, the combined effect is slight. In the opposition against the old classical programme, no unified plan for a rounded-out general educational programme was created.


We come back to the original question. What does the college give the average student? Surely not a systematic education. Surely not scientific training. Unfortunately, no accurate information exists as to which of the many thousands of courses are most popular among arts students. Is n’t it strange that, with all the millions expended and solicited for the maintenance, upbuilding, and extension of our colleges, we really do not even know specifically what we are spending the money for? Is it for the teaching of philosophy, or science, or the arts, or literature, or trades, or — what? From general observation one may judge — though perhaps erroneously — that courses in English and other languages and in commercial subjects remain the most popular. Now, no matter how broadly we may wish to define the word ‘science,’ no one could seriously claim that these subjects furnish a foundation for a general scientific education.

But let us grant the improbable. Let us concede that through the study of the classics, English, some history, and a smattering of miscellaneous information which goes by the term of social science, the foundation is laid for general education, for culture. Why, even then, is the cumbersome, complicated, and expensive machinery of a modern college necessary? Why is it necessary to force the partaking of this mental pabulum into a period of four years? Why does this educational process call for four years of so-called college life?

The answer, of course, is: ‘There is no reason whatever.’ Books, lecture courses, libraries, are or ought to be sufficient. The more the process is diluted, the more enjoyable and profitable will it be. The study of literature, art, history, or politics should come in small doses as a relief from the humdrum duties of making a living or learning a profession or a trade.

And what is it that college students do not get, or what do they miss, because of their college obligations? What are the objectionable by-products of our college system?

I do not mean to insist that these results obtain in all cases, but they are frequent — perhaps the rule, rather than the exception. Moreover, evidence is accumulating that a growing proportion of students are becoming conscious of them, if one is to judge by the number of deflections from the college ranks before the four-year period is completed, particularly among men.

First and foremost, college delays entry into life’s work by four years. Secondly, a habit of excessive leisure is definitely established. Let it even be cultural, gentlemanly leisure, devoted to reading magazines, or writing verse, or discussing the universe. Excessive leisure it nevertheless is. It makes for the type of junior whose main talent is in speeding a car and sponging on ‘the governor’ — the ‘six-foot, cleancut, energetic, athletic (but lazy) American manhood’ our magazine fiction writers are so fond of. A subtle disdain for what the Germans call Alltag (week days) develops; a lack of power of concentration upon a day’s work, unless there is some promise of a thrill or a kick in it. Perhaps by the year 2927, when pressing electric buttons will be the only economic function left, that will not matter. But now it does. It represents a handicap from which both students and parents are made to suffer.

Thirdly, college frequently leads to a greater confusion, at least as far as the personal problems of the student are concerned. It may be natural for a young boy to dream of becoming a fireman or a broncho buster; for the adolescent girl to dream of a career as a movie star. If these ambitions persist too long, psychologists are likely to classify them as infantile fixations. Thousands upon thousands of students major in English. They put the main emphasis on the reading of fine literature and on practice writing. Some of their own works achieve publication in college periodicals. Occasionally true literary talent may manifest itself in this way, as it probably would anyway, under any circumstances. But the number of potential geniuses, future novel and short-story writers, playwrights, poets, and of late years columnists, is enormous. The possibility of staggering royalties, the fame of literary success, the ease and excitement of a literary career, all this must make a tremendous appeal to the adolescent mind; but in the sheltered security of a college atmosphere this attractive career, as compared to humdrum workaday life, appeals to many who are sadly lacking in the necessary qualifications. Inevitably this economic irresponsibility, protracted into a period of life when young people should be dependent upon themselves, offers a strong stimulus to daydreaming, from which the sad necessity of looking for a job after Commencement furnishes a rude awakening. Many a tragedy is thus created. The average boy and girl — and it is average boys and girls who now largely fill our colleges — must find adjustment very much more difficult and painful.

Why, in view of the personal and social cost, in view of the many difficulties created which drive so many students out of college in the junior and even in the senior year — why does the number of students increase so rapidly? Why do hundreds of thousands annually clamor for entrance? Why are hundreds of thousands of parents so anxious to make the sacrifice?

The motives for a college career are many and varied: (1) quest for scientific knowledge; (2) desire for a general education and culture; (3) desire to obtain the preliminary preparation necessary for the study of a profession; (4) desire for the social distinction conferred by a college degree; (5) belief that a college training offers a competitive advantage in future efforts for economic success; (6) the lure of college life; (7) primarily for girls, the opportunity for a marriage market; (8) parents’ insistence upon it, even though the student would rather do something else; (9)‘Nothing else to do, except work,’ and college is preferable to that; (10) ‘Everybody is doing it.’

What is the comparative strength of these various motives and factors? A genuine old-fashioned quest for scientific knowledge may be numerically the least important factor in the minds of prospective students. Perhaps the quest for culture is a little more popular. But I am afraid that it is the lure of college life, its freedom from responsibility, from worry, from economic pressure and hard work, that proves the greatest attraction as far as the student is concerned. Convention and the herd spirit move the father; social distinction throws its spell over the mother. Everybody is doing it; therefore it must be the right thing to do. Everybody is doing it, and we should be déclassé if we did n’t. Everybody is doing it — and it seems to pay.


Is there a different way? Unless a constructive answer to this question can be given, what is the use of complaining?

To begin with, it may be pointed out that the recognition of the necessity of a radical change is growing, not only among students and parents, but among college authorities as well. If, on the one hand, dissatisfied juniors drop out to become cub reporters, law clerks, or stock-company actors, many colleges, on the other hand, make all possible efforts to attract part-time students. In postgraduate schools, leading to the higher academic degree of Ph.D., most students are parttime students, as an examination of university catalogues will disclose. In most Western universities, short-time — one-year or even one-term — courses are arranged. In the large Eastern universities thousands of students attend extension courses, either purely cultural or vocational, or both. Even correspondence teaching is in vogue at many universities. Evidently thousands of people at work are anxious to acquire culture or useful and necessary knowledge. And they are usually mature persons, who know what they want and are willing to pay for it.

Then there is the development of ‘labor’ colleges, or at least colleges recognizing the necessity of work in combination with study. There is the very interesting experiment at Antioch College, combining work with study in an alternative arrangement.

These experiments and tendencies disclose in various ways the growing opinion: —

That cultural education should not be limited to the leisure class.

That the acquisition of culture and knowledge is not limited to any particular age.

That useful productive employment need not and should not destroy the desire for culture and knowledge, but, on the contrary, should stimulate it.

That the process of acquisition of culture and knowledge should be fitted into the scheme of useful life rather than offered as a substitute for it.

That the true desire for culture and knowledge does not need the stimulus of points, credits, examinations, certificates, degrees, and parchments.

That the proper encouragement of this continuous educational process requires some leisure and freedom from exhausting toil.

From all these observations and partial generalizations, three principles of considerable pragmatic importance may be deduced. (1) Education of the masses should not be parasitic. (2) Democratic education presupposes some leisure: that is, reasonable restriction of the hours of labor. (3) Democratic education does not require the artificial encouragement of academic paraphernalia.

A further increase of the college population from 600,000 to a round million, to three or five million fulltime students, might spell economic catastrophe. But five or even ten million men and women of all ages, spending part of their leisure time in collegiate study, might mean a real triumph of culture and civilization. The only hazard involved would be to Hollywood, California, the World Series, or the financial backers of pugilistic contests.

How can we accomplish this change? I am almost afraid to announce my panacea. Reasonable people are justly suspicious of all panaceas.

What is desired is a proper balance between work and study and play; a proper evaluation as between useful knowledge, intellectual effort, and decorative culture; a destruction of unjustified prerogatives arising out of academic snobbishness. And how can you accomplish that — or, at least, achieve a movement in the right direction?

Abolish the A.B. degree. Abolish the silly, childish, antiquated, snobbish, academic title, which stands for nothing — surely for nothing of definite intellectual or cultural value.

And this proposal is not made with any special preference for the S.B., Ph.B., or any other busy (or lazy) bee.

When the university confers the title of physician or attorney or teacher or civil engineer or chemist or biologist, there is a definite action conveying a definite meaning; the ‘privileges, rights, honors,’ and so forth mean something. A man either is a physician or he is not. An academic bachelor’s degree has none of these attributes. It is a presumption without justification. It is a claim without any force behind it. Culture and education cannot be easily measured, and, even if they could, what is the necessity of measuring them? The evidence of their presence should be something much more vital than the dried skin of a dead sheep.

Of course, the discerning need not be told that the abolition of the academic degree is only a symbol. That with it must go veneration for the academic degree, veneration for idleness masquerading as intellectual leisure. That the centre of gravity of a modern college must shift from the full-time student to the part-time student, who is only tolerated at present; from the fiftyto one-hundred-per-cent idler — the six-foot of college manhood glorified by our hectic magazines — to the serious seeker for knowledge; from the ‘remittance man’ who spends his surplus energy in following the cheer leader, tearing down signs, and uprooting lamp-posts, to the useful worker who finds in the college hall a refreshing change and relief from his daily grind.

What a change in building plans, in faculties, in trustees, in college presidents, might follow! But might it not be worth while?