WHAT IS A LIBERAL EDUCATION?

Under the above title, President Eliot, in an essay published in this month's Century, says: "To the list of studies which the sixteenth century called liberal, I would therefore add, as studies of equal rank, English, French, German, History, Political Economy and Natural Science, not one of which can be said to have existed in mature form when the definition of a liberal education which is still in force, was laid down." The writer asserts that, although the meaning of the degree of Bachelor of Arts has quietly undergone many serious modifications, "it ought now to be fundamentally and openly changed." Through the force of custom, tradition, inherited tastes, and transmitted opinions; the educational practices of today are still cast in the moulds of the seventeenth century. The scholars of that time saw a great light which shone out of darkness and they worshipped it; and we, their descendants, in the ninth generation, upon whom greater lights have arisen, still worship at the same shrine. A position of academically equality with Greek, Latin and mathematics is demanded for those later studies which have proved to be a necessity to a liberal education. American colleges to an extent that is ridiculous neglect some of the most important studies outside of the classics and mathematics. Dartmouth has no teacher of history, "whether professor, tutor, or temporary instructor." Princeton has only one professor of history, and he includes political science with history in his teaching. Yale requires neither French nor German for admission, and "no instructor is provided in either language before the beginning of the junior year." Columbia compels her juniors to attend two exercises a week in political economy for half the year, and at Brown juniors and seniors may elect the subject for two hours a week, the one a half, the other a whole year. While the eleventh century thought it had a permanent curriculum in "Lingua, tropus, ratio, numerous, tonus, augulus, astra," history proves that the staples of education have changed, and reason says still more clearly that they must change. It is not proposed to substitute new subjects for the old, but only "to put new subjects beside the old in a fair competition." "The higher the value which one sets on Greek and Latin as means of culture, the firmer must be his belief in the permanence of those studies when they cease to be artificially protected. In education, as elsewhere, it is the fittest that survives."

The liberal education of today is a far different matter from that of our fathers. The great majority of men in this country who belong to the intellectual professions are not liberally educated. Various reasons may be given for this, but there is no doubt but that "it is also due to the antiquated state of the common college curriculum, and of the course of preparatory study at school." The sciences are recommended early in the course and "English should be studied from the beginning of school life to the end of college life." It is only right that the classics should stand on their own merits. "It is not the proper business of universities to force subjects of study, or particular kinds of mental discipline upon unwilling generations." "Finally, the enlargement of the circle of liberal arts may be justly urged on the ground that the interests of the higher education and of the institutions which supply that education demand it. When institutions of learning cut themselves off from the sympathy and support of large numbers of men whose lives are intellectual, by refusing to recognize as liberal arts and disciplinary studies languages, literatures and sciences, which seem to these men as important as any which the institutions cultivate, they inflict a gratuitous injury both on themselves and on the country which they should serve. Their refusal to listen to parents and teachers who ask that the avenues of approach to them may be increased in number, the new roads rising to the same grade or level as the old, would be an indication that a gulf already yawned between them and large bodies of men who, by force of character, intelligence, and practical training are very influential in the modern world."