The Middle Age of Youth


THE universities in the land appear to be a bit discouraged at the short span of life of people — particularly at the short time individuals consent to be young. They are annoyed. Yet they should not be: they have the whole span of life of each aspirant for degree.

There was a time when mistaken emphasis was placed upon the age of twenty-one. It was the time when the curtain parted to let starry-eyed youth, trained in theory, enter the arena for practical combat. For many years the universities mistakenly worshiped at this shrine. Their thinking was warped by the convict ion that youth was a period for acquiring education, maturity for making use of it.

In those bitter days they were compelled to arrange their affairs so that doctors and lawyers were ready for entry into the world of service about the time they came of age. A tedious restriction!

The universities were uncomfortable. They did a good job and their graduates were good doctors, good lawyers, good chemists, good engineers, as shining records attested. But educators felt that they were constricted. Here was a system they could not change, and they were embarrassed at their impotence to do anything but the quick and the efficient.

Then came the brilliant thought that there is no fixed line between Youth and Maturity. Youth is the period we, the educators, require to complete education. Maturity is what is left over. Simplicity itself! Why had it never been thought of before?

The graduation line, the last awarding of the last degree, began at once to be pushed up — so successfully that now when you send a present to a graduating doctor you send it to a balding and graying old fellow, still physically active and as young as he feels, but with his time in the arena considerably cut. When, in a year or so, you go to his wedding, you can see that both bride and groom, brave and gay, are inclined to avoid that draft across the chancel.

The couple will push aside the Curtain of Life with a mature, middle-aged point of view. This progress must not be lost. The universities must, as the years go by, move the final graduation day further and further into old age. They must put more energy behind the theorem of Education for Leadership, which suggests upping of university entrance requirements. If the preparatory schools have to teach more, it will take them more time, require more years, push final graduation further along.

It is hard to say whether one should second the contention, supported by many, that some manifestation of age, such as rheumatism, should be required for final degree. At any rate the universities must not relax. They must not fail to ask, if and when coming military training takes a year or so, that they be allowed to move further, on that account, into the middle age of their students. It will be suggested, because of the scarcity of years, that they unreasonably reduce their vacation and holiday span to 40 per cent. They will be asked —horrid thought—to make lectures interesting and to condense lectures to save precious time. They must resist. Are Ph.D. degrees given to make professors interesting?

Final graduation day can be pushed up and up into the years—to the age of forty, to forty-five. When graduation shall have reached the glorious age of forty-five, and when business retirement age, now dropping, shall have reached the age of fifty, there will be but five years for graduates from the great founts of learning to battle with the hard world.

A problem will be presented when graduation becomes fifty and retirement forty-five. But the universities, moving on, will be able to manage.