A SMATTERING OF IGNORANCE
Freshman year at Harvard is meant to be a pleasant time when the Yardling tries his hand at several disciplines, and wisely chooses the field in which he wants to work for the major part of his last two years. This is a scheme nicely calculated to give the Harvard graduate both breadth and depth of intellect. Unfortunately it often doesn't work out that way at all, as shown by the figures released by Dean Leighton yesterday.
Based on a large sample of the class of 1943, the statistics reveal that nearly half the Freshmen take no natural science; more than a third take no course in the social sciences; and approximately a quarter do no work in the humanities other than English A and an elementary language course, both of which are compulsory for most Freshmen. Since English A has been made a full - credit course, and Freshmen taking it have been required to take only four, instead of five, courses, the average Freshman has only two courses for tentative exploration. With some success, the Freshman advisers last Fall persuaded Freshmen to broaden out by taking five courses; but a later check-up showed that most Yardlings had dropped the extra course in the November Hour panic.
The implications of this situation are grave. At the end of one year the undergraduate must choose his field of concentration on the basis of a very narrow and limited experience with College work. As a result many men pick their field on hunches instead of experience. They become round pegs in square holes, and even if they discover it before it is too late (say by the beginning of Junior year) the shift to another field is apt to be disruptive and time-wasting.
The vote of the Board of Freshman Advisers to urge Freshmen to take at least one course in each of the broad areas of learning in their first two years is a move in the right direction. It should help to reduce the number of misfit concentrators; but the average Freshman may still have to make his choice of field prematurely. Harvard has two major responsibilities. It must acquaint the student with the major areas of learning so that he can choose wisely how to concentrate; and second, even if the student's choice is made before he comes to Harvard and he sticks to it to the bitter end, Harvard would fail if it allowed him to emerge with a top-heavy training in one field to the exclusion of all others.
The Student Council's brilliant 1939 Report on Education went to the root of the matter, and suggested drastic remedies. Teachers and administrators may quail at the thought of organizing and staffing five broad "introductory area courses" such as the Council has suggested. And it may run against the grain to make such courses compulsory for all. But no one can ignore the glaring fissure in Harvard's educational structure; such measures as the Board of Freshman Advisers has taken may bridge the gap temporarily, but they will never close it.