We spoke yesterday of the harm relsuting to the preparatory school from the excessive haste with which its work has had to be done. While this difficulty is now in a fair way to be removed, there remains another for which the college and not the elementary school is responsible.
Today the entire education of many boys between the ages of fourteen and eighteen is devoted not to the acquirement of lasting and valuable knowledge such as is the necessary foundation for any great intellectual achievement, but to the superficial mastery of subjects so as to be able to stand test questions, the nature of which is known beforehand. Not real learning, but the passing of a college examination, is the goal of study. So true is this, that often familiarity with previous examination papers is the chief strength of a candidate's preparation, while of working familiarity with his subject he has almost none. In straining his attention on the end he has been allowed to forget what are the real means. For this the instructors in the preparatory schools are not wholly to be blamed. Parents do not say to them merely, "Give my son an education," but "Get my son into college;" and they do it.
But wherever the blame, the effect is alike unfortunate. As in the case of athletics, the college has to teach an ideal which should be already recognized. The very fact that the college itself finds it necessary to hold stated examinations, tends to encourage new students in their conviction that beyond passing an examination they have no concern with a subject. This spirit greatly impairs the value of the college examinations. It is carried into daily work to such an extent that the real student is rarely developed before the junior or senior year, and often not by the end of the course. With such a vital difficulty to meet, how can the college hope to fulfill satisfactorily its function of higher education?
It has been suggested before, and well suggested, that the trouble could be at least in part avoided by the abolishment of the entrance examinations. A satisfactory substitute for them might, it seems, be found in a certificate of preparation from any of a number of schools which should be approved by the College. In these schools the College would have supervision over the courses and in general over the methods of instruction, and could prevent abuse of privilege by holding in reserve the right of examination. By these means there would be a chance of securing a sound education for boys, and so of leaving the College somewhat more free in the exercise of its ideal functions.