The Awakening College

[W. W. Norton, $3.00]
THE circumstances surrounding the publication of a book by Dr. Clarence C. Little on college education to-day are such as to arouse high expectations among those interested in his subject, for they promise an uncommon combination of inside knowledge and detachment. The non-academic critic of our educational institutions is frequently detached enough, but is apt to lack that intimate acquaintance with the terms of the problem that comes only with experience; and those of us who have experience are only too likely to be led by obvious motives into defense of our own procedures and to lack detachment. Dr. Little, having been student, teacher, and administrator, has now while still in his prime returned to scientific research and stands free of official responsibility. Few men writing on his themes have as good a right to be heard.
Though The Awakening College deals in detail with some fourteen separate problems, the discussions are dominated by a few leading ideas. Thus the author’s attitude toward tests for admission, the improvement of the curriculum, and the functions associated with the office of dean is determined by his belief that progress depends on ‘an increased interest in the individual student as a character and as a personality. In selecting freshmen, therefore, he would lay less stress on examinations to measure the amount of acquired information and more on tests of mental aptitude and the ‘evaluation of the pupils’ emotional maturity, stability, and normalcy.’ In planning the curriculum he advocates the ‘Freshman Week,’ the comprehensive examination at, the end of the first two years to select those fit to go on to the more specialized studies of the last two years, and the offering of greater freedom and special opportunities to the exceptional student. The dean s office, with its corrective and disciplinary associations, he would replace by a group of advisers interested in personnel problems who would give constructive guidance.
In his emphasis on the individual student. Dr. Little will have the sympathy of most progressive educators, though there will be differences of opinion on some of the methods advocated. It would undoubtedly be advantageous to be able to gauge the pupils’ emotional maturity, but we have gone but a little way toward the invention of reliable devices to this end. The vigor of Dr. Little’s attack upon the influence of bad deans suggests a reaction from an unfortunate experience rather than a generalization from a wide observation. Most administrators, I fancy, are more hopeless of finding large numbers of wise faculty advisers than a few good deans.
The second group of chapters deals with obstacles to the efforts of the college to develop the individual. Fraternities are courageously criticized as ‘breeders of shallow group psychology, a false sense of values, social distinction contrary to a spirit of democracy, and a narrow loyalty to the “chapter " at the expense of a broader loyalty to the college as a whole,’ and he seems to prove his charges. Automobiles and liquor, coeducation, and compulsory military training are all ‘obstacles’ in the sense that they introduce needless complexities during a period in which the problems of intellectual and emotional adjustment set by nature are already difficult.
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So far the book has dealt with factors directly affecting the student; it now takes up problems of the faculty and governing boards. The chapter on the Professional Scholar attacks the false emphasis often laid upon research and publication irrespective of their significance, and makes a vigorous plea for fuller recognition and reward for good teaching. The curricula for the training of teachers the author finds to lack a basis in genuine research. In this field, as in those which he calls the ‘pseudo-professions’ of home economics, journalism, and divinity, he sees an exaggerated professionalism,, and a tendency to concoct a factitious scholarship out of practical applications instead of an attempt to find a sound basis in research in the underlying sciences.
The criticism of the malign influence of ‘politics’ in the broadest sense, the proposal to reform athletics by giving opportunities to more students and more teams and thus reducing the conspicuousness of the handful constituting the ‘Varsity,’ and by delegating more authority to the student instead of the professional coach, will command general assent, as will also his plea for encouraging continued intellectual contact between the alumnus and his Alma Mater.
In a penultimate chapter on Religion in college, he expounds with approval the increase of religious liberality in colleges and shows refreshing faith in the persistence among students of belief in spiritual values. The young generation, he holds, ‘loves and trusts God more than any generation before it, and it is unafraid.’
The book is characterized throughout by the freshness that comes from first-hand experience. The reader who has followed recent academic controversy will discern here and there the scars of battle, but the discussion, though admirably specific, is never personal. Dr. Little’s modesty prevents his claiming credit even when the projects treated are such as he himself has had a main hand in initiating.
That a scholar and administrator so well qualified to speak should, after courageously facing the facts of the situation, emerge with so clear a faith in the young and so strong a hope for the future of education is in a high degree heartening and consoling.