A Slowly Developed Standard
If a Ford Foundation report, due this winter, backs up last year's Andover report suggesting that qualified secondary school graduates be allowed to skip their freshman year of college, some Ivy league faculties have indicated that they will give the plan strong consideration. Friends of the scheme argue that in certain secondary schools much of the work done in the senior year is duplicated during the first college year. Hoping to eliminate this wasted time for the bright and well-trained student, supporters of the Andover report would start these men in the sophomore year, bypassing the survey courses that generally make up the freshman year of General Education.
For Harvard, at least, this would be unwise. First of all, the problem of duplicating work during the first year is negligible. With the broad sweep of topics and reading from which to choose, almost every student can find at least one General Education course in each area that explores much material new to him. Nor in re-reading familiar material does the student necessarily waste his time, since he is likely to gain fresh insight to the texts.
permitted to finess the elementary survey course and pare their graduates thoroughly. In these fields there is no reason why an exceptional student should not be permitted to finess the elementary survey course and plunge into more advanced work during his freshman year.
But it is better to have specially prepared students go further in four years than to cut their college time to three years. Acquiring a liberal arts education is, of course, a lifetime affair, and four years' formal study is little enough time. To reduce that period by one more year cheapens the degree that is only significant if it represents a certain maturity of outlook and taste. Even formal education in the liberal arts is more than a check list of books read and a tote sheet of hours spent in class rooms. It includes a slow savouring of the intellectual atmosphere in a college, and the leisure to take part in activities outside the class room.
Some say that Harvard, to become a truly national school, should allow students who could not bear the expense of a four-year program to finish in three. But this argument fails in two respects. First, the College has a primary obligation to maintain certain standards for its AB degree; and a packed three-year schedule is not conducive to a rounded liberal arts education. Moreover, men who have the aptitude, and have received the secondary school training necessary to telescope the General Education program into one year, can probably share in the mammoth Financial Aid program.
Harvard must weigh the probable advantages of both systems. The three-year plan might reduce the number of books that some students re-read, and allow a few men who cannot qualify for scholarships to win a Harvard diploma. But keeping the four-year rule will continue to mean that all Harvard graduates have received a common grounding in the liberal arts on which to build. And a Harvard degree will still represent a standard opportunity to have developed the intellectual and emotional maturity that comes through education.