It may be true that "super-sixes" among men go through life at a disadvantage on account of their height; but yesterday, at President Eliot's lecture, many of those present would have been glad to add a cubit to their stature, in order to see over the crowd that packed Peabody Hall. "Joy in Work," with Dr. Eliot as the speaker, is a fertile topic, and those who wedged their way in, as well as those who crowded the stairway outside, were rewarded for their attention.
No one is better aware of the virtues of the free elective system than Dr. Eliot, who instituted it at Harvard. The ideal of such a system, as he used it to illustrate his talk yesterday, is to make it possible for each student to find a subject which interests him, and which he can follow out with enthusiasm. No work, without that element of personal interest, can yield enjoyment, and without some return of satisfaction to the worker, any labor becomes stale and doubly tiring.
The ideal of the college as a place for training by the trial-and-error method, rather than a direct preparation for specific tasks, is frequently lost sight of. Surely one of its duties is to open before the student panoramic glimpses of the different fields of knowledge, and help him to find the one in which his work will give him the greatest satisfaction. This the elective system makes possible; but in itself it is not sufficient. Many men come to college pre-determined; others slip into the first groove that they find convenient, and forget that there are any others until they discover, after it is too late to change, that their work has become mere drudgery.
The requirement of "distribution" is a clause added to the free-elective system to make freedom not only possible but necessary. The men today--and there are many of them--who complain against being obliged to take a science course when they are going to be lawyers, or a literary course when they are going to be scientists, have always had the answer that "it broadens them". Dr. Eliot's remarks now suggest another answer: it gives them a chance to make sure that their first choice is correct, and that they have chosen work in which they can find continued joy. Dilettantism in the college, a tendency to try a little of everything, is much condemned; but, in one respect, there is still a word to be heard in its favor.