A Senior who expects to come up for examination in ancient authors the last of October, not feeling himself as well prepared as he wished, called upon his tutor to talk over his difficulties.
"What authors have you chosen?" asked the tutor.
"Plato and Tacitus," replied the student.
"Well, if you think you can't get them ready, why don't you change to Sophocles and Thucydides?" suggested the tutor, much to the surprise of the student. "You will find Sophocles much easier than Plato, and Thucydides is only about half as long as Tacitus."
Fortunately, the Senior had other ideas about his college career than a servile preparation for the examinations, and he declined the suggested change. This incident, not serious in its consequences because of the student's self reliance, is serious as an example of tutorial blindness, of which, unfortunately, it is not an unheard of instance.
Abject servility to examinations may be pardoned in a student, for, whenever it exists, it is proof positive that the student does not know what he is in college for. And how should he? Various motives, all more or less connected with tangible benefits conferred by a college degree, prompted his coming to Harvard. But once he is within the gates, the tangible vanishes. He deals with the subtle and elusive powers of mind and spirit, and in his uncertainty the definite requirements for examinations at least give him something solid to grasp. It is not strange, therefore, that he should mistake examinations, intended as a means to an end, as the ends themselves of education.
But in a tutor, such blindness is inexcusable, and where it is found, is evidence either of laziness, or of ignorance of or incapacity for his high office. It is much easier to prepare a student for a definite examination than to stimulate his intellectual curiosity and arouse him from mental lethargy. The first is the miserable job of that parisite upon the University, the tutoring school. The second is the high duty of the college tutor. It ought to be a cardinal rule with tutors that the divisional examinations be kept always in a subordinate position in their discussions.
Harvard is fortunate in having many tutors who perform their true function, and to them is due the splendid success and almost universal approval the tutorial system has met with among students. But so long as a single tutor remains content to regard himself as one in kind with the hirelings of tutoring schools, the tutorial system at Harvard will fall short of its fullest service as an instrument in education; and the majority of unfortunates who go to such a tutor will continue to regard the divisional examinations as an added hurdle to be got over on the way to a degree.