Amid Boston Overdose Crisis, a Pair of Harvard Students Are Bringing Narcan to the Red Line
At First Cambridge City Council Election Forum, Candidates Clash Over Building Emissions
Harvard’s Updated Sustainability Plan Garners Optimistic Responses from Student Climate Activists
‘Sunroof’ Singer Nicky Youre Lights Up Harvard Yard at Crimson Jam
‘The Architect of the Whole Plan’: Harvard Law Graduate Ken Chesebro’s Path to Jan. 6
Mr. W. G. Hale, formerly instructor at Harvard and now at Cornell, writes a long and very interesting letter to the current Nation on "The Working of the Elective System at Harvard." Speaking from the standpoint of a former instructor in the college, Mr. Hale states and describes the theory and workings of this system with admirable candor and lucidity, presenting, we think, a complete vindication of Harvard's policy in this respect. The main points in his argument are these : "Harvard College is really more than a college; it is a college plus a body of preparatory schools. Harvard has the good fortune to be fed by sources which are quick to respond to any advance in her requirements, whether in methods or in quantity." Thus she is secured to a large extent in her supply of students, and is therefore enabled to steadily raise her demands and receives none but the most thoroughly-prepared candidates. The average age of students at graduation is steadily growing higher. The class of 1881 reached the average of 22 years, 11.7 months. Thus she exacts a much higher quality of preparatory work, and is dealing with a maturer class of students than formerly. Higher quality as well as quantity in preparation is required. "This is most conspicuously to be seen in the test of translation at sight, which forms an important part of the examinations in languages."
"Of the young men selected in this way, the most worthless are weeded out during the first year, under a very watchful process, which rests finally upon the test of frequent examinations. The actual depletion of the freshman class through direct dropping at Christmas-time and in June, and voluntary surrender under fear of dropping, is ten per cent. The same process is repeated in the following years." This preparation has been especially directed to prepare the student to develop the power of self-direction, and not merely to make him acquainted with certain subjects.
In chosing his electives after his freshman year, careful advice from parents and instructors is taken. Advice from instructors "is asked and given to a considerable extent, and it will be asked more and more as the intercourse between student and instructor becomes more and more natural." The main policy of all her instruction is "to teach men to go, instead of being led." This is the key-note of her whole system - to give the power of self-directed and watchful thought; - the trained habit of mind which enables a man to think continuously and accurately. This is what "Harvard's degree will mean." The system of second-year and final honors is directed to this end, requiring independent and self-directed work. Besides these provisions to secure concentrated and coordinated work, the system of "honorable mention" also works as a stimulus to this end. "The result of this double system is that it is fast becoming 'bad form,' to graduate without the one or the other of these two distinctions."
No statistics can show the actual advance in real scholarship under the new system over the old. But all acquainted with the results testify to this advance. The spirit of Harvard students has changed from the school-boy spirit to the scholarly spirit. This is fast coming true in conduct as in work. "Indeed, one sometimes becomes apprehensive lest the sense of humor may be dying out at Harvard," says Mr. Hale rather extravagantly, "and it is with something like a feeling of relief that one reads of such a bit of mischief as that recent one (conducted, it seems, in a perfectly orderly manner), whereby some sixty students made public confession of their conversion, for a simple evening, to Mr. Oscar Wilde's gospel of dress."
"Gentlemen and fellow-students," were the significant words which Mr. James Russell Lowell once used to his classes. - The results furnish a justification of the elective system, and its future is no longer doubtful.
Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.