The Path to Public Service at SEAS
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IT seems a little singular that in a college like this, where an elective system prevails, and the course of study is consequently left to a great extent to be selected by each student for himself, there is no provision for any instruction for the purpose of enabling us to make an intelligent choice. In order to make such a choice it is particularly important to have clear ideas of the manner in which all knowledge is divided or classified, and of the value and applications of the different branches, together with the general character of each, and their mutual relations. For the want of such knowledge the student is often left almost entirely in the dark as to what studies it is best for him to elect, and, basing his choice on various insufficient grounds, or leaving it to chance, he often regrets it afterwards when its wisdom is brought to the test of experience.
Why, then, can we not have a course of lectures to supply this want? Something of the kind seems to be almost a necessary supplement of the elective system; and it appears that formerly some attempt was made to supply it. Seven years ago the President of this College gave two courses of lectures, - one, during the first term, to the Freshman class, on the subject of "Integral Education"; the other, during the second term, to the Senior Class, on the "Mutual Relations of the Sciences." These subjects seem to indicate the scope of the instruction desired, and, if made to cover a general view of all knowledge, with advice as to the best methods of study and reading, and the aims to be had in view in studying, a good course of lectures upon them would be of great service. It would be interesting to learn why they were given up.
In addition to this a course of lectures might be given by an instructor in each of the principal departments of study, designed to give a general idea of the scope and application of the studies included in it, with as many of the leading facts as there would be time for, so that without making a regular study of every branch, each one might be able to obtain a general notion of its nature and value, both in itself and in its relation to the various trades and professions. A very few lectures in each department would be sufficient, and their popularity would probably not be less than that of the readings and lectures in literature which are now so numerously attended.
Aside from the assistance furnished by such lectures in the choice of electives, such a course would have no mean value as a branch of general culture. Hardly any instruction could be more interesting, and though we can learn but little, comparatively, of what is to be known, - of the omne scibile, - yet we have reached a stage at which it is desirable for us to take a broad, general view of the whole field of knowledge. This is necessary that we may have some understanding of the work of students in other departments than those in which it holds in the grand whole, as well as to enable us to choose our own studies. Besides, it is just as important, especially in an education professing to be, par excellence, liberal, to obtain a comprehensive view of the whole, as to achieve an accurate and thorough knowledge of some particular parts of learning. Though as we travel along the plain we may better appreciate the details of the landscape and obtain a truer idea of it, and of what constitutes its beauty, than if from a mountain-top we saw all commingled and undistinguishable in the hazy distance; yet the latter view is the broader and grander, and that we may have a true idea of the whole region and the relations of its parts, it is almost indispensable. Besides which, it seems to me discreditable that a man should pass through college without knowing something of every important branch of knowledge; yet as things are now arranged this may occur with even the most earnest and diligent student, since in some branches no instruction can be obtained without taking an extended course. This is particularly the case with all branches of Natural History. But the chief advantage would be in enabling the student to co-ordinate and sub-ordinate properly the different parts of his education, and to attain a position from which he could make an intelligent selection of his future studies.
W. H. G.
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