Writing in the current Harvard Graduates Magazine, a recent graduate examines the changing attitude of the student toward college life, particularly at Harvard. He finds that the average student, contrary to general belief, is genuinely interested in his work. His interest, however, is to a large extent dissipated by "convention," and the mechanical system of course requirements.
Precisely what the "convention" consists of the writer neglects to state but it may be taken to mean the tradition that extra-curricular activities are just as important as studies to the college man. Certainly that tradition has been a dominant factor in college life in the past, though there is good reason to think that it is less potent today. It must be remembered however that the roots of that convention lie deep in American life. It is merely one reflection of the constant and characteristic demand for immediate practical return from money invested. Students are not greatly to be blamed for succumbing to a demand which has left its mark on the academic spirit itself. The congeries of technical and vocational courses in nearly all American colleges testifies to a sort of pragmatic sanction which educators themselves have given to the utilitarian spirit.
Obviously the final cure of this evil depends on a change in the spirit of contemporary life in general. It is futile to talk of fostering intellectual and scholarly ideals unless the community which shapes both the education and the student is upholding a similar ideal. Colleges in general will continue to reflect the environment in which they exist.
The real hope for a more normal scholastic development lies in the possibility that due to a variety of reasons, the public attitude toward the true value of education is changing. The feeling that everything can be measured by material standards, though still strong, is nevertheless waning. The fact that the nation has passed the pioneering stage, and can afford now to cultivate at leisure what was acquired in haste, is perhaps the chief reason. The depression will no doubt accelerate this trend. And since causes and effects are interactive, the universities will in increasing measure foster the ideals for which they stand. The result will perhaps, though not necessarily, be a permanent decline in extra-curricular, activity, but that would be a small price to pay for the consequent gain.