The trend of educational progress undoubtedly is toward increasing what President Lowell has called "interest in and respect for the intellectual life." In so far as this object is achieved in the future, the gravest of university problems will disappear, and it is with as the mainly on its accomplishment that all improvements in educational machinery must be made.
In line with this trend of education at Harvard is the further elaboration of one phase of the tutorial system now only in the twilight phase of its development,-- the informal tutorial meeting of students in a department. Tutors in several departments of the University now call occasional evening meetings of their tutees at which either a student opens discussion by reading a paper, or a professor gives a talk, or both. Admittedly, those meetings are often disappointing, unsatisfactory. But, at least, they justify the hope that eventually the tutorial meeting as an instrument of education will come to be recognized as equal in value and importance to both the lecture and the individual tutorial conference.
The tutorial meeting has certain unique qualities. It can accomplish what is impossible either to lectures on to ordinary conferences. The necessity of "speaking down" from the platform limits the possibilities of the lecturer, the tutor cannot go beyond what little he himself within a short space of time can tell each single man who comes to him. In a tutorial meeting there can be the informality, the spontaneity, the free discussion which a classroom lacks without the hampering, mechanical restrictions of an ordinary conference. the speaker who directs the meeting,--perhaps he is a different individual each time, the present in considerable detail a thesis which challenges dispute. In the give and take of the discussion which ensues, the instructor becomes a real individual, education for the first time becomes personal, and more than anywhere else there is liable to take place in the mind of a student at such a time that intellectual awakening which is the beginning of all fine knowledge and scholarship.
It is apparent that tutoring meets as usually conducted now are far from the ideal which may some day be realized. As a rule they are too large. And attendance of from half a dozen to to a dozen students preferrable with greater numbers free discussion is difficult and without this the meeting is of little value. The professors and instructors present are often limited to bandy the ball of conversation among themselves; for the students this is not education by discussion; it is merely the lecture variety of education through the ears.
To find men with the capacity of teaching by this method is a perennial difficulty. A strong personality, force, act, and vigorous ideas which invite refutation and defense are essential. Meetings are held too irregularly and infrequently; tutors have not yet learned how best to conduct them, nor students to engage in them. And too often the primary purpose is preparation for divisionals, a single man at his desk may be able to acquire a greater mass of facts than at such meetings; their great merit consists not in giving the raw material of education, but is stimulating the desire to attain in and in developing the power to utilize it.
The success of tutorial meetings in the final analysis, of course, will depend on how instructors succeed in making them attractive, and on how undergraduates receive them. If they achieve the success which is potentially theirs, they will eventually become an integral part of Harvard education. But in such an even, it is greatly to be hoped that in the development of a system they do not lose that informality which is at once their most pleasant and their meet valuable characteristic.