The printed lectures, which it is said will destroy the "aristocracy of brains" and "reduce exisiting universities to mere laboratories for the lecture publisher" will attract the eager attention of everyone who seeks a now way to learn old facts. The plan of the People's Institute, which will direct the publication is to teach the public at large the academic, or so-called "cultural" subjects by means of constantly revised and modernized lectures by some of the best teachers, printed and broadcasted in a convenient form.
Heretofore, the correspondence method of instruction has been applied almost exclusively to business and technical subjects, and apparently has had more than a fair amount of success. It is evident however that studying such subjects leads to increased earning power; there is the stimulus of money, which urges young men to go through with the courses outlined by the "mail-order" schools.
The acquisition of academic knowledge has not this pecuniary asset--at least, there is no direct connection between a cultural background and better bookkeeping, for example, so far as the popular eye can see. The stimulus, therefore, will probably be absent, and the diffusion of cultural education "to all members of society" may be much slower than expected. Certainly, the more such knowledge can be spread, the better; and if an aristocracy of brains can be succeeded by a democracy with the same level of mental attainment, the millenium will be near.
On the other hand, the talk of making colleges mere laboratories for the lecture-publisher is not alarming. The colleges will always retain their function of supplying the mental stimulus for true education; and unless there is this stimulus, any number of bales of printed lectures is so much paper and little else. If the time has come when the printed lecture can supplant the spoken lecture, can arouse as much interest, command as undivided attention, the colleges will do well to revise their courses and weed out their lecturers. The personality of a great professor is often the determining factor in inspiring serious intellectual activity--and while personality can never be suppressed even in a printed pamphlet, the spoken word is a better medium for inspiration than the written. The mental curiosity which is satisfied with a stereotyped lecture cannot be great. And when the colleges begin to suffer from the competition with the People's Institute, and feel themselves turning slowly into laboratories, they will feel also the necessity for putting increased life and vitality into their courses.