President Butler Sounds a Warning

(The Crimson invites all men in the University to submit signed communications of timely interest. It assumes no responsibility, however, for sentiments expressed under this head and reserves the right to exclude any whose publication would be palpably inappropriate.)

Nominally, it is an annual report that President Butler of Columbia University has submitted to his trustees. Actually he has presented a world conspectus which is, at the very least, sober and comes very near to being pessimistic. Reversing President Butler's order of presentation, we find that we live today under a new-paganism in which individual appetite or impulse has replaced the belief in law, whether in Heaven or on earth. For this state of affairs the universities, according to President Butler, must bear their share of guilt. And from the universities the lusting after false gods may be traced down through the high schools to the elementary schools, where the young must no longer "be guided or disciplined by their elders, but must be permitted to give full and free expression to their own individuality, which can of course only mean their own emptiness." The president of Columbia finds that our whole system of education is pretty well discredited in the public mind, although he does not quite make it plain why a public wandering after false gods should reject an educational system which is headed in the same direction.

Mr. Butler sums it all up under an old formula: "Both school and college have in large part taken their minds off the true business of education, which is to prepare you to live, and have fixed them upon something which is very subordinate, namely, how to prepare you to make a living." Unfortunately, Mr. Butler supplies ample contradiction for himself. He regrets the fact that the elementary schools have deviated from their proper business of training young children in good physiological habits, of teaching them the elementary forces of nature, of giving them the ability to read understandingly, to write legibly, to use numbers correctly. These have been pushed into the background "by all sorts of enterprises that have their origin in emotionalism, in ignorance, or in mere vanity." A great deal of what Mr. Butler says about our plumbing for the full and free expression among the school children is sound. Sound is his protest against our forgetting the principle that every generation can only climb higher by standing "on the shoulders of its predecessors." But this very surrender to emotionalism, to ignorance, or to mere vanity is proof of a desire to teach not the secret of making a living but the secret of how to live. One may live nobly without being able to read well or write with perfect legibility or to figure accurately. But it is fairly hard to make a living under such handicaps.

The truth of the matter is not that we are on the wrong track in education, but that we have gone forward too hastily. Mr. Butler's protest is valid not against the principle but against its excess. Elsewhere on this page we print an account of a new system of examinations at Harvard designed to equip the student for the fullest use of his faculties in the interpretation of what he has learned. This is not a reaction from the generous elective system introduced at Harvard twenty years ago. It is intended rather as a corrective to that system of free choice. Up on Morningside, President Butler calls attention to the new prescribed freshman course. Introduction to Contemporary Civilization. This is a compulsory course in humanism for which Mr. Butler claims the success that it deserves. But here as at Harvard, the new methods are obviously not a rejection of humanistic studies. They are rather a systematination of student initiative that has been overdone.

Mr. Butler exaggerates the peril. It is fairly common experience that the college student or the schoolboy, if given free rein, will not go in too heavily for the subjects that teach one how to make a living. Their inclination is pretty strong for the snap courses that teach us how to live. New York Evening Post.