Entrance examinations are largely to blame for the small capacity for self-education shown by college men. The entrance requirements are not too hard, but they are too numerous. In preparing for either the new or old plan tests, the average boy needs to put in a working day of six to eight hours of prescribed work during his last four years at school. He has not time to develop properly any independent intellectual interests worth cultivating; he has little leisure for self-improvement and self-development, and even this leisure he is apt to find has been planned out for him.
These views are set forth in a recent issue of the Harvard Alumni Bulletin by the Principal of a Secondary School which sends nearly all of its boys to Harvard. As a remedy, this principal proposes reducing the quantity of the college entrance requirements by one-fourth, the quality remaining the same and requiring the successful candidates to show by personal conference that they have made good use of their leisure time.
The article shows a keen insight into one of the greatest weaknesses of the college system. The habits of study a boy forms in school determine very largely his habits of study in college and after. A test like the entrance examination eliminates many of the fit and not all of the unfit. The uniformity acquired by such a system makes it easier for the college, no doubt. But what the manager gains by a "system" the managed lose; and their loss is the loss of the community.
The goal of the boy in the preparatory school under the present regime is the passing of a large number of required subjects, the quantities and degree of advancement of each carefully set down in black and white. The more fortunate youths go to tutoring schools where they learn by heart answers to probable questions. In what way does this differ from a parrot learning the alphabet? Those of us who spent four years in acquiring the "canned education" necessary for admission to college would like to see the men coming on now in school have something in their mind's eye besides the examination paper. Let the college examine if it will, but on a saner basis. Instead of finding out whether or not a man has read so many books of Caesar, Cicero, and Virgil, let them discover if he can read and write Latin intelligently. From the individual's point of view, his ability to talk French well is certainly more inducive to the continued study of French literature and thought than the knack of setting down verbatim the translation of four or five prescribed books.
Let school education be primarily for the individual and incidentally for the college. Then our boys will develop "not as types poured from a common mould, but as individuals exercising and cultivating those gifts which nature meant to be of use to themselves and the world."