At Harvard--as is the case in all American colleges--there is little real stimulus for high intellectual achievement. A Phi Beta Kappa key is the only incentive, and, in general, this is accessible only to men with an unusual ability for cataloging and remembering facts. The student who lacks enthusiasm for Phi Beta Kappa turns his attention to some college activity other than scholarship where he is stimulated by what he feels to be real competition. These activities, although they offer valuable experience, are not--can never be, a substitute for scholastic work.
As a nation, we are often criticized by Europeans, for a sordid sameness of life and institutions. Our cities, they point out, present the same square uninteresting outlines; the talk, in our homes, runs along the same tract of mediocre intellectuality; our youths and men are all alike even down to their gestures and vocabulary. Where, they ask, are our great scientists and statesmen?
No doubt this foreign criticism is exaggerated; the foreigner fails to see any differences because he does not understand us; he see us as a people, not as individuals. Yet, when we examine his statements we find much truth in them. And paramount among the explanations which we can offer for the dearth of individualism in the United States stands our educational system, with its emphasis on the average student. Our colleges seem altogether to encourage a dead-leveling process, which stifles great individual attainment.
At no time in our history has there been such need for great statesmen for leaders with broad, individual ideas. Where are we to find such men if not in the colleges? It should be Harvard's aim to act as leader in a new movement to make intellectual achievement more attractive. The division of various courses into sections, in order that the more able students may have more opportunity for development, would be a valuable, though it is by no means a complete solution of the question. Students, as individuals, should be given more attention; competition in scholarship should be stimulated. The section men and assistants, who do not arouse enthusiasm should be supplanted, if possible, by more able men. The University should aim, at whatever cost, to obtain an ever increasing number of instructors of the highest calibre. A faculty which has men of national or even international reputation does more than anything else to arouse intellectual and even individual enthusiasm.