"The 'blessings' of popular education in America have created an age in which we are ruled by mediocrity" is the sweeping arrangement of the American educational system by E. R. Pennel, writing in the Forum for November.
In view of existing conditions it is difficult to deny the truth of this charge. Too many colleges and universities, feeling the pressure from the outside modern world, a world not of values but of dollars, are yielding to the belief that any form of education that does not associate itself with action and material achievement is artificial and undesirable. Especially is this true of some of the State universities of the Middle West; the president of one of these recently expressed the hope that during his administration he would be able to remove from the curriculum of the knowledge shop whose destinies he directs, every course which does not have practical value. Extreme courtesy might and might not permit one to rank his graduates as mediocre. Perhaps it was with such uncouth educational policies in mind that the writer added the charge of vulgarity to that of mediocrity.
That America is making mediocrity king may apply even to these universities whose curricula are laid out on the broadest cultural lines, for even those institutions do not often produce graduates who are as efficient intellectually as are the best products of English and Continental training.
But one need not search far to explain this American shortcoming. Europe stressing social classes permits fewer men to call themselves educated while America educates the mass and not a class. It is the very essays of the American educational experiment that a vast number of students should be raised as a whole to a common level of intelligence.
America's penchant and passion for quantity production should not misdirect her in the production of college graduates, for she needs educated leaders as much as she needs a continuously rising democracy. These she can never have either in her public life or in the advancement of learning and the arts until that leadership radiates from her universities.