IN a recent number of the Advocate there appeared an article dealing severely with those who dare to complain of the instruction Harvard furnishes. Forgetting that few men feel at liberty to mention special cases, and forgetting, too, that, were this done, an article would be rendered unfit for publication, the writer charges this kind of criticism with a noticeable vagueness. Therefore, he judges that such articles indicate a loose and careless way of looking at college work. It would be much more charitable, and nearer the truth as well, to suppose that the man who complains is a man who really has found something lacking in some department. In so large a University as ours, and in a transition state besides, it would be strange if there should not be some ground afforded for fault-finding. But the very fact that a student criticises the methods in vogue here shows that he has an interest, albeit not a lively one, in the conduct of the college and in his own studies. Persons rarely indulge in criticism unless their taste and good judgment are offended; nor do students care a straw how recitations are conducted when they have nothing at stake. True, in many cases grumbling is heard because the standard of scholarship is kept as high as it is, but those who indulge in this are not the ones to write essays for a college paper on the ill-management of the college.
Very likely the critic is not able to take full advantage of all the opportunities now offered. With the present system of chums and compulsory recitations few are enabled to do as much as they demand of themselves in preparation for the class-room, much less can they accomplish all that the Professors can offer. But since such drawbacks exist as compulsory recitations, and the other disturbing influences of college, with which there are none not somewhat familiar, is it too much to ask of our professors, that they make their class-room as entertaining as possible; that they impress not only the facts, but hint also what can be inferred from these facts? In the classics, especially, is there room for grumbling; in history there is less occasion for it; elective philosophy I have not tried. Modern languages, as required studies, were the merest farces; as electives, some have a bad reputation. To be sure, these are general accusations; yet they are echoes of quiet conversations around the grate, in which special charges are made, and many examples of inefficiency adduced.
In our Sophomore and Junior years there are certain required studies to which professors are assigned by the Faculty. To have these instructors elected by the students would, of course, be absurd, and is too illusory a hope to be cherished a moment in the undergraduate mind. Since these studies are required, it is presumably a fact that the Faculty deem them important elements in a gentleman's education. They, therefore, ought to take pains to insure to every graduate more than a mere smattering. Everybody allows that such instructors as are appointed to have charge of these studies should consult the ability of the class under their care; that not so much a large amount of space as thoroughness of knowledge must be aimed at. Now, for an instructor to do what he readily will admit ought to be done, the instruction must be adapted to the average student, and that average taken as low as possible. Then those who are accounted the "shining lights" of the class will be only too glad to spend, in the most congenial way, what extra time is gained by short lessons and clear summaries in the recitation-room. The average student will not be so hard pressed that, in despair of learning anything, he aims only to avoid a condition; nor will there be found a man in the whole of any class so stupid or irredeemably lazy that an instructor cannot, by this method, engage somewhat of his interest and attention. Short lessons and clear summaries would do much to make many of our recitation-rooms other than that they are, sleeping-rooms for all who do not expect to be called up. Nor would the professor, it seems to the writer, find the labor of summarizing each lesson more exhausting than the wear and tear of a desultory recitation.
Especially are these remarks applicable in the case of Physics and Metaphysics, both of which are required studies, little of either of which is remembered after the annuals by the majority of any class.