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The following excerpts were taken from the speech made Ey Dr. Henry Noble MacCracken, President of Vassar College, at the meeting of the National Student, Federation in Ann Arbor, lastweek.
The American college has always been an experiment. It is more an experiment today than ever before, because for the first time the experiment begins to be conducted upon scientific methods. All over the country new colleges are being planned, and old colleges reorganized. The process by which they come into being is scientific. An inquiry is begun, a survey is made, expert investigators are appointed, reports are published and subject to review, funds are collected upon the basis of these findings, and the college is started upon a declared basis of action the terms of which are subject to the strictest scrutiny and the conditions of which are under the control of competent observers. The results of these experiments should, within a few years, be available to the educational world and several questions to which there is today no adequate reply should be answered.
Up in New England on the hills of Old Bennington, a woman's college is shortly to be established. At Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania an English honors school is in full operation. Down in North Carolina on the rolling Piedmont soil of Durham Duke University is rising. Here in the Middle West, Antioch College has been reborn upon a plan startingly original and appealing in many ways. The University of Wisconsin gives the opportunity to test out the faith of Professor Meiklejohn in the possibility of cultural education upon a new plan. A further experiment not yet begun is the plan of a college without trustees or president and administered on liberal and democratic terms. Tentative efforts have already been made for its founding. In the West the old Claremont Colleges in California, with their program recently announced, stand out as foremost examples of what is going on. Unnamed new colleges are being cut out of whole cloth; and the old educational world is watching in order to see whether the pattern will tell us anything. For we are all convinced that some of the old fashions are outworn.
I would lay particular stress upon the scientific nature of the experiments now under way as differentiating the new institutions from the old. What shapply marks off scientific experiment in any social science from the ordinary efforts of groups is the control of the conditions under which the experiment is conducted. For control we must have adequate funds trained observers, and accurate recording. All these terms are met in the experiments now under way; and for the first time we may expect to be in possession of results upon the given causes of which we may place reliability.
If we are honest students we will patiently await the results of these experiments but in the meanwhile is there anything that can be done in other colleges by other students in the way of experimentatoin? For it is by experiment and experiment only that we can learn anything about education as about other sociological organisms.
There is a program for the National Students Federation because in most of our American colleges the conditions are favorable for a fairly accurate observation of what is taking place. I have said that the proper conditions of a scientific observation are isolation of the field of observation, the well-trained observer and the accurate recorder. Certainly the first of these conditions is met in most American colleges. The institutions are located in small towns, where the college is the town, and the town is the college. Our Puritan ancestors, who wanted their colleges organized as Roman, Republics in order that the classical experience might be relived by the boys in their teens, have had their way in many respects. The American college town is a commonwealth, the living conditions in which are quite as Utopian as Comenjus and his friends could have desired. The college is free from taxation and from practically all obitgation to serve the community in any way. Its conditions of residence permit a twenty-four hour control of the life of its citizens and the almost total absence of external criticism permits the development of attitude toward life which are the results of hypotheses submitted only to the college forum for review. At any given moment in any American college anything, theoretically, disposable.
The dead hand of the past lies heavy upon our institutions. The pre-eminence of Latin survives from the trivium; and the pre-eminence of mathematics is our inheritance from the quadrivium of the Middle Ages. Far stronger, however, than the priorities of the classics and mathematics, are are traditional methods of instruction and of college life.
Relate play with the Curriculum.
The program of the present meeting of the National Student Federation appears to be largely taken up with the question of the relation of non-academic activities to the academic activities. This relationship must be worked out by the students. To me the extra-curriculum is the healthful, life-giving source of new curriculum. Out of the debating has grown the Political Science Department, out of the prayer meeting has come the Department of Religion. It would, therefore, seem as though it would be possible to bridge the gap between the academic and the non-academic so as to give real value to the non-academic and so as to vitalize the academic state of the college.
Four types of activity might be developed, if the two sides of college life be regarded as one: the academic courses, in the history and principles of the field of activity; the academic courses in the creative application of this knowledge to original material; the cooperative club or institute in which professors and students carry on activities of a more informal character, and finally the whole independent student organization free from any professional domination. One may cite as example the history and principles of critical writing, a course in the practice of critical writing, the English club of the college open to faculty and students and the college newspaper completely free of faculty control. There should be continuous interchange between these four types of organization and conference between professor and students all alone the line. The one need not interiene with the other either in the quantity of time consumed, or in the quality of work. Lacking any one of the four types of organization, it seems to me that a one-sided life may ensue and it is largely because the curriculum has failed to take into account this possibility of correlation, that non-academic life has come to occupy the greater part of the waking hours of the undergraduate student.
The interrelation of research by professors with the instruction of undergraduates is no less important. There have been unfortunate attempts to discourage research by undergraduate teachers, or to minimize the value of research in the life of the professor. Still more unfortunate is the tendency of the professor himself to withdraw more and more within his personal field of interest for his happiest life, and to set this apart from his contact with students so that his instruction becomes mechanical and artificial. His lectures are not rewritten, his discussion groups are perfunctory, and he breathes freely only when in his laboratory or library or office.
The really vital contacts between professors and students seem to me nearly always to arise when the students come into intimate association with the professor's moments of research. There the real character of the teacher appears. Things he cares most about are conveyed to the student from his love of scholar ship and his devotion to new-truth. The students catch a glimpse of the divine fire and are themselves inflamed. Yet how rare is the provision in the American college curriculum for such movements. It is, I believe, largely because the students themselves, judging by the superficial qualities of the professor's attitude, remain indifferent to the things about which he cares the most, that these contacts are so seldom obtained.
The choice of a college today is practically never made by a student because of what the college teaches or because of how the college teaches or because of who teaches at the colege. Yet somehow these considerations must be put in the forefront when the decision as to what college to choose is made. The relation between parents and students is here important. The choice of one's college in a continental system of education like the United States affords a large variety in the decision. And there should be greater systematic inquiry than there is as to the type of education desired.
No general scheme of college education, finally, can be complete, which does not contemplate the continuous and valued relation between student bodies in all colleges. I have heard that the tramp student is becoming common in this country, the student, that is, who visits first one college and then another in his pursuit of learning. I would welcome such an exchange of students if we were only sure that the purpose of such an exchange were the advancement of learning. I believe profoundly in the value of such contacts between students of the East and West, between students of American and Europe.
It will become the function of the National Student Federation, to explore these fields and many others, and to make them fruitful. You cannot create an ideal college just by taking thought, and by giving rein to your imagination. We live in America, in the Twentieth century.
America Has Not Been Interested
Another reason for the conservatism of the American college may be that the American public displayed no interest in any such experimenting. The well-trained mind was not in any great demand on a continent where good health and steady habits were almost the only prerequisites to fortune. The conditions have not greatly changed with the passing years. The American people, progressive in many other points, have been utterly reactionary in their points, have been utterly reactionary in their attitude towards intellectual training. Parents have discourged concentration upon study, and employers have put more emphasis upon the non-academic record of the candidate than upon his work in the classroom.
Students are also saying to the professors: "The funds of the college have hitherto been secured from alumnae whose emotions have been stirred by emotional appeals to the spirit of the old college. Future appeals for funds, if they are to come from us when we attain the dignity of graduates, will have to be based upon reason and upon proof of the need. Our affections for this our temporary place of residence, will probably be no less than that or our predecessors, but it is going to be of a some what different nature. We shall remember our college not in the golden glow of careless youth, but with the clear memory that there the pathway of our life, for the first time, lay clear before us."
And we teachers are not unmindful of the validity of such arguments, or of the wide-spread nature of the questions that have provoked them. There is scarcely a college executive or a college teacher today, who, would refuse the invitation of a body such as the National Student Federation to cooperate with you in the laying out of a program by students for study of the American college, and for the discovery of ways in which it can better meet the students of today. My chief criticism of the American college executive is that he does not sufficiently trust the students. His own distrust is the starting point of a vicious circle. From his distrust arises the paternalistic system of college government. From the paternalistic system there comes the postponement of important decisions by the student. From this postponement of important decisions there follows immaturity, irresponsibility and preoccupation with trivial rather than important issues. I firmly believe that if the American college will adopt a different attitude toward the student this circle will be reversed. Adopt the attitude of trust and the faculty will become colleagues rather than governors of the students. Faced with the necessity of governing their own conduct the students will become responsible. In acquring responsibility they will no longer be amused by the more superficiaities of student life. . . . .
Seven Surveys Proposed
Upon these two hypotheses, then, that faculties and students should be colleagues rather than master and man, and that the way to get a responsible attitude toward study is to grant responsibility in the conduct and choice of study, would propose certain fields for investigation by the National Student Federation. All of them are debatable fields lying between organized activities. All of them need, it seems to me, the most careful cooperation between faculty and students, if that vitalizing of the courses of study which we all desire is to result. These fields are; (1) the student and his support; (2) the student and his choice of life work; (3) the student and his political status; (4) the student in academic and non-academic life; (5) faculty research and undergraduate instruction; (6) the choice of the college and the choice of the field of work; and finally, (7) the college student and find other college students. In all these fields, it seems to the, gaps exist, which prevent under-standing, and which prevent students engaged in one field from seeing the meaning of the other. The American college is like one of the American states ten years ago, before the good roads movement had struck its citizens. Only at certain seasons of the year was contact possible at all along the highway. When the good movement began highways were flung out from this center and from that, most of them without leading anywhere and not linked up with any major systems of the continental traffic. Now the good roads movement has learned to think in continent, at terms and traffic is continuous
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