Economics Tutors' General Comments in Reply to Crimson Recent Questionnaires Published---Series To Be Continued
The Crimson continues publication of answers from tutors in reply to the recent questionnaire. Later in the week, space permitting, the opinions of tutors in the Departments of Fine Arts, Philosophy, Mathematics and Romance Languages will be printed.
I find many of the questions inappropriate for they call for general answers representing average conditions, while the tutorial work is intended largely, I think, to get away from general requirements and average work to individual work that will meet individual needs. With certain qualifications, I would have little sympathy or enthusiasm for tutorial work if it were not possessed of great flexibility that made it possible for a tutor to guide the individual student in the work he (the student) needed most, from which he could most profit, and to which he could bring real curiosity, and, further, to guide only those students who do need and want such guidance. A stereotyped and formal conference week after week is deadly. Some students are, shall I say, too able, too intellectually independent, to need tutorial attention. Others are too indifferent, too sterile, to gain anything therefrom. In each case, a tutorial "system" should be flexible enough to allow the tutor to save his time and patience, and the student his time, patience, or serenity, as the case may be, by simply agreeing not to have conferences.
In view of the nature of these questions and in light of the way they are phrased, it would be most unfair to subject the answers to any sort of statistical manipulation, in order to derive sweeping generalizations from them.
In answer to question 9: in the Sophomore year I attempt to give the men a broad view of the field of Economics and its relation to other fields. I spend some time on the question of economic justice, the pace of the individual in economic and social life, and that sort of thing. In the Junior year I try to correlate the different parts of the field. More precisely, I try to develop the connection between economic theory and the special field which the man has selected; or with a man in Money and Banking I attempt to point out the importance of international trade theory to his thorough understanding of monetary problems.
Thus, no statement would be all inclusive. With weaker men I spend more time on course work. Your statement "topics outside the field," is certainly ambiguous. I try to keep the discussions on the subject; since tutorial work is rather personal other topics are occasionally considered.
Why not attempt to find out exactly why the "considerable section of the undergraduate body is dissatisfied?"
1. More than the Tutorial System, what needs changing is the attitude of students toward it. Too many students come to Harvard College without any aim and with little regard for the value of education and culture. A large proportion have a vague desire for a Harvard degree. In the hands of good tutors the life of such students may be rendered purposeful. However, a better selection of tutors, with a regard for their interests outside their particular field of study, may make tutorial more interesting and broadening.
Great Deal Depends Upon Field
2. The answers to this question should be evaluated in view of the field in which tutorial and research work is done. In some cases, as in most of the natural sciences, exclusive interest in research would militate against valuable tutorial work because the character of the study and the theories involved would ordinarily fall outside the scope of undergraduate interest. This would apply to any sectionalized or minute study in any field, such as the "Love-life of oysters in Chesapeake Bay" (reputedly the subject of a Ph.D. thesis in Biology,) or the legendary contribution to learning on "The Shoe-String Industry in Massachusetts." But in some fields, such as Economics and History, research on some aspects of the subject, such as recent developments in Banking or evolution of Corporations or the problem or War guilt,--research in such broad subjects would certainly contribute to tutorial work. I have found that I have to do research in order to render advanced tutorial work with Seniors and Juniors more interesting and valuable.
6 and 7. These questions also are vague. Do you mean individually or collectively? Do you mean in the first or second semester? Furthermore, it makes no difference whether a Sophomore is a candidate for Honors or not in Economics so far as the type and quantity of work is concerned, except insofar as the natural propensities of the student introduce a variable, because usually the introductory course in Economics is taken in the Sophomore year. Therefore it is difficult, if not impossible, to do any advanced work before the Junior year. As for Juniors and Seniors, the amount of time given varies greatly. Some Honors candidates do not rely on the tutors at all. In fact they would rather be left alone to pursue their studies and write their theses, with bibliographic guidance from tutors. Others, usually of the C plus or B ability, lack the initiative and depend a great deal on tutorial assistance to obtain their objective.
Question eleven is too broad to be answered briefly. It involves a consideration of the fundamental nature, purpose and benefits of education. In a change of the sort proposed a pass degree will be nothing more than a mere diploma to hang on the wall or something to brag about in Pullman cars. Furthermore, in some fields it would be absolutely impracticable to ensure the slightest understanding of a subject by the Pass men without tutorial instruction. This, I think, is the case in Economics. In this field a pass degree without tutorial assistance would be no more than a certificate of ignorance. Even admitting that education for some students degenerates into involuntary and helpless exposure to knowledge it seems to me that if we decide to tolerate them in an institution devoted to higher education we might as well expose them to as much of it as possible. This is, I believe, what they do at Oxford where Pass men and Honors men alike receive tutorial assistance.
Improvement in the tutorial system now seems to wait chiefly on
(1) More student time devoted to tutorial work and less to course work, which involves,
(2) A higher opinion of the nature and possibilities of tutorial instruction.
On both these matters there still appear to be wide, and somewhat discouraging, differences of opinion.
I do not understand the point of questions 9 and 10. If the general examinations are of the proper sort, preparation for them and work in the general field should boil down to the same thing. If this is not the case, there may well be something wrong with the examinations. Construing tutorial work in this broader sense, I cannot honestly say that any one of the students I have had has "failed to respond to tutorial instruction."
Pressure of Course Work
I feel very strongly that the most serious handicap under which the tutors work at the moment is the inability of even the most willing students to give a sufficient amount of time to tutorial work. Pressure of courses, particularly for those who are dependent upon scholarship aid, makes it difficult for either students or tutors to do a thorough job.
Although I am in full sympathy with the CRIMSON's attempt to get at the facts. among which current opinions of the tutors are basic, about the working of the tutorial system. I fear for the statistical classifications and conclusions therefrom which are likely to be made from the answers to many of the questions here given. My main reason for attempting to answer this questionnaire is the desire to express myself on question 11.
There is no doubt that the benefits derived from tutorial work vary widely and if some easy administrative test of selection could be devised which would restrict the tutorial privilege to those who would make the best use of it, I should favor its adoption. The movement now under way for a "pass degree" with optional tutorial work, however, seems to me exceedingly dangerous, partly because it involves a lowered standard for the unawakened and lazy, but, more important still, because it strikes directly at what I consider the great merit of the present system: the discovery of latent powers and new interests by large numbers of undergraduates who have heretofore considered themselves and have been considered mediocre students.
Apportionment of Tutors' Time
At the present time, some Tutors complain that they haven't enough time to spend on the good men, the ideal of some appearing to be full time with the Honors Senior working on a thesis subject. It seems to me the ideal distribution of time would give the eager and able Sophomore or Junior time enough to bring him to the point where he could work more by himself than ever before in his Senior year and enough time on the unregenerate Sophomore or Junior to be sure that there was no hope of awakening latent powers befor he was consigned to the limbo of the hopeless in his Senior year. The tutor now has considerable flexibility in apportioning his time, and he should be encouraged to exercise his powers of distribution of time according to his own ideas, without enabling him to cast off entirely the difficult responsibility for doing what he can to make intellectual slumber less restful.
In connection with question eleven, I should like to say that I believe all men should have a chance at tutorial work, since it is impossible to tell at the end of the Freshman year whether a man will benefit from it. On the other hand, if, after a trial, a man remains indifferent, it should be possible for him to drop it. In many cases, however, a change of tutors helps. The only ground 1 see for making a distinction between honors men and non-tutored pass men is that of expense, and I hope it will not be necessary to face that consideration.
In my conferences, such as they are, the discussion is upon the man's special field, and is apt to be largely on the subject which he has selected for his distinction thesis. I believe most of the men get benefit from these conferences, but they are a selected group and would be likely to get from anyone all that he is able to yield.
My impression, founded chiefly upon conversation and discussion with instructors as well as students, and not upon any special experience in tutoring work, is that it is undesirable to have two degrees, an honors degree and a pass degree. It is, also, that the tutorial system in its main outlines has worked satisfactorily. Some modifications are needed, more particularly as to the best ways of dealing with the men who would be candidates only for a pass degree (if such were offered), and as to the best way of bringing into line with each other the work done in the courses and the work done under the tutors. In both directions there is much to be done