In the Princeton Review for January, there is a very able article on the college of today, in which the writer advances some very sensible and timely views on the subject of college and university education. He begins by asking whether the most of people are better citizens and better men and women for possessing this higher culture, and says in reply to his question: "Now it must be admitted that a college can do harm and that culture may be a bad thing. Not a true college or a noble culture, mind you. But it has become an axiom among philosophers that the finer a thing is the more vile is its corruption. So then if culture be but a carping and inactive criticism, in the nature of a chronic and irremediable disease that sees the world only through jaundiced eyes, and if a college produce this culture, it is unutterably a bad thing that you should found such a college and possess such a culture. If your college is to sap the vitality of men, to wither their brains by spring-forcing, to make them know so much that they avail nothing, to send forth graduates who are a perpetual sneer at their less learned betters, then let us have no colleges. But are we thus to slap civilization in the face, and because animals can run into evil courses, become vegetables which cannot? This indeed amounts to throwing up the game of life and admitting that the world is worse off the older it gets. It is the business of the true culture to point out the landmarks that verify progress, to add to the experience of the individual the experience of the race, to prove that no effort is possible without its result-and no result possible without effort; to send the young man out into life equipped to make a place in it, and with faith which shall never grow old that whatsoever of good, however humble, he puts into the world shall abide in it forever. That there are college weaklings, as there are weaklings everywhere, is not to be denied; but it is the purpose and mission of the true college to add 'strength to strength.' Its graduate is to be a wider man, of deeper resource; if a farmer, a better farmer, at all events a better citizen and a better man. So far as this result is not produced, it is the fault of the man himself, of training that is bad instead of good, or of the social and political conditions into which he emerges."
The writer turns his attention to the elective system, of which he apparently entertains an unfavorable opinion. He says: "General education is a question of the subjects to be taught, special education is a question of the person to be taught. The one depends on what is known, the range of present knowledge, which is not an individual matter; the other depends upon personal choice of a life specialty. A chief purpose of the general or college education is to afford that comprehensive view of the world of knowledge and activities which shall enable the student to make intelligent choice of the special field to which his tastes lead him and for which his personal qualities fit him. But what this general education should be, he has not the means to decide. Others must determine that for him, and these others must be those already acquainted with the wide field of general knowledge-educated educators. From this point of view elective studies have properly no place in the college course; they are an infusion of the university idea into the college, and they have the decidedly bad effect of encouraging the American tendency to 'save time' by crowding general education into fewer and fewer years so as to put the boy 'at his work' at the earliest age possible. It is a heritage from the old idea that to become a good merchant a boy must not go to college, but begin by sweeping out the store. We give little enough time for preparation as it is, without college authority for the forcing process. It is of course alleged, as the plea for these elective studies, that they are intended to prevent forcing, to save the student from attempting many things he cannot do, that he may do well the one thing he chooses to do. But this is at once a surrender of the principle of general education, a confession that knowledges have already increased beyond our powers of classification. The elective system is the device, in fact, for eluding the difficulties of a transitional period, in which knowledge has taken a surprising leap, so that we don't yet know how to handle the new results. But the key is given in the simultaneous growth of that power of analysis and generalization which, selecting only typical details, displays the more clearly the great principles and relations of arts, sciences, and letters."
Then after a plea that the colleges should not increase the "noble army of smatterers" he goes on to discuss the question of college government in the following terms: "The plan of the college is of great importance; but of still greater importance, practically, is the question of its theory and methods in its relations with students, their discipline in conduct and study. There are two opposing systems. The one considers the student still a boy, hedges him about with close paternal government, stimulates him with merit-marks for successful study, and punishes him with demerits for ill-conduct; ranks him by examinations, rewards him with prizes dependent on his marks, and sends him out with a certificate of excellence. The other patterns the freedom of the German universities (which do not correspond to our colleges), would treat the student as a man responsible only to himself, permits him to be present or absent at his choice, and otherwise regards him as a free and independent American citizen. The one argues that the student must be trained to enter the world through close supervision and with immediate motives in view; the other believes that he must learn before he enters the world that he must depend on himself. The tendency of profesionalized teachers is to follow the first system ; and it must be admitted that the liberal innovators who have reached out toward the freer method have often been sadly disappointed in the practical results. Their students did not accept the responsibility. But perhaps their failure came because they threw themselves upon an ideal method, not modified to conform to actual conditions. The truth is that the American College student is both boy and man; he comes in, a boy, with very little sense of responsibility, and yet he is often qualified to vote long before he takes his degree. The college, receiving him a boy should send him forth a man. And it should treat him in view of his transitional character during this period. The college theory of discipline should contemplate an increasing development of responsibility during the successive college years. You cannot successfully appeal to public opinion unless there is a public opinion to which to appeal; and the failure to recognize this truism has been the cause of the disappointment of many liberal educators who have trusted to a sense of responsibility before they have taken any pains to develop such a sense. And yet the unmitigated paternal government, with its fallible infallibility, into which college methods often return after spasmodic attempts toward a better system, has, it seems to me, been a great curse to this country. College students, removed from the associations through which they would naturally develop into political activity, are subjected, just as they approach the age of political responsibility, to a system of paternal government which, by practically assuming all the responsibility itself, destroys the sense of individual responsibility. While, on the one side, our colleges have trained numbers of men to enter usefully into public life, they must, on the other, be arraigned for causing much demoralization."