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The delegates to the second Annual Congress of the National Student Federation of America completed the business of the convention last Saturday when they elected new officers and voted to accept the invitation tendered by the University of Nebraska to hold the 1927 Congress in Lincoln. These events culminated the three day period of discussion, committee meetings and speeches, held in the Michigan Union at Ann Arbor, and participated in by over 300 delegates from 208 universities and colleges.
Fredericks D. Berger, a Senior in the University of Cincinnati, who will attend the Harvard Law School, was elected president of the N. S. F. A. and the evening meeting was turned over to him by Lewis Fox 1L the retiring head of the organization. Marion Breckinridge of Vassar was elected vice-president, and Joseph Owens of Kansas Wesleyan University was elected treasurer.
As regional representative from New England, Chandler M. Wright of Tufts College was elected. H. W. Foot '27 was appointed chairman of the committee to investigate and make a report on curriculum.
Nebraska Gets 1927 Conference
The vote of the final meeting Saturday night to accept Nebraska's bid for the 1927 Congress came only after a heated discussion from the floor on the geographic merits of the various institutions which had invited the delegates for next year. Ohio State, Iowa, Cornell, Stamford, and Mt. Holyoke representatives stated forcefully the benefits to be derived from meeting at their respective college. Nebraska because of its central location and the fact that it is at the same time a western institution received a large majority of votes.
Prominent among the speakers at the congress was Professor Alexander Meiklejohn, former President of Amherst, the text of whose speech appears below. The first division of the speech is reprinted in full today, the last part will appear in a subsequent issue.
I don't like making speeches, nor do I believe in it, and always when I find that I must prepare for a speech, I find that my mind is in a very curious state; strange emotional disturbances are taking place and strange mental aberrations as well. I found when I came along on the train today, trying to get myself ready for this speech that strange things ran through my mind. All that I knew was that I was to come between Mr. Duggan and Mr. McCracken. I found many strange figures in this connection, and I though of three of a kind and that did not seem to do at all, because both of them are administrators and, thank God, I am nothing but a teacher now. Then I conjured the figure of a sandwich, and I was different from them; I might be something different between them, and that did not seem to be very acceptable when I thought of the different kinds of sandwiches and what went between them; I did not like the choice or sandwiches offered. And I felt still differently when I found that they were the parents of this Association, and I was to stand between them, and then I could not help but wonder, which was the father and which was the mother. It was stated that Mr. McCracken was there when the child was born and Mr. Duggan was not, so I now do know which parent was which. But you can see some of the figures and various suggestions which I conjured. I must let them go and get into my theme. I think I am down to talk about Outstanding Problems in American Education. It is a very serious topic.
Liberal Education a Failure
The outstanding problem is this. It may best be stated in the form of a question. Can the average young American be liberally educated? Can it be done? And it doesn't seem that there is very much doubt about the answer. The answer so far is that he can't under existing conditions. That question seems to be a rather serious one for this reason: Our whole scheme of life in America is based on the presupposition that the young American can be educated. We have supposed that America is to be the home of educated persons, and we have devised a scheme of government and devised a scheme of life based on that pre-supposition, that young Americans can be liberally educated and that for that purpose the college primarily exists. I think then, really, the task which faces the American college is to answer that question. In one form or another, all colleges are facing this question, and rather desperately. Can the colleges do the thing which it is expected to do? Can it give a liberal education?
Alumni Prize Exhibit
Merely for the purpose of getting the subject under discussion, I shall give a definition of what a liberal education is. Making definitions in this field is a favorite indoor sport with me and I had the fun of making up another one today. One means by a liberal education the process of so informing and training, and inciting the mind that it will go forward steadily on the road to understanding of the life to which it belongs; so informing, and training, and inciting a mind that you can count on it that that mind will travel, will go a certain way, will keep on going that way as long as it lives. If then we ask, is the average young American being established on the road so that you can count on it that he will travel the road of attempted understanding as long as he lives, we shall have to admit that the American college today is not in any considerable measure succeeding in the thing it is attempting to do. As Mr. Duggan suggests, it is not true that there are going out from our institutions today in any considerable measure streams of understanding into the life of America. That is not the way in which colleges are known by our community. If you want the prize exhibit, we have our alumni. Are they on the road to understanding? Are they settled in the way of seeking intelligence by what we do to them? I don't think that you can say this. But there is one thing you can count on, one that you can be pretty sure of, whatever else you may doubt, he does not read books. He may read other things and do other things, but he does not read books. He is not interested in that sort of life. And what is his attitude toward his college? What does he understand the college to be? I think very largely he claims to regard it as a place of sentimental loyalty, of comradeship, of friendships, and activities, and all features of amiable, pleasant relationships of fun and pleasure. College is one of the most unintelligent things that could be imagined in connection with an institution of learning. The belief in each college, that the college is the very best in the country, is a strange thing in an institution of learning, and I don't think that any one could honestly say of an American college, if one looks at its alumni, that they are established in the way of understanding. I think rather one would say that as soon as they get out into the life beyond the college, they are caught up into something else.
Colleges Fare III in America
But then, I think we should be fair to ourselves and ask why we are not more successful. We may say that it is because the colleges are in America. For the most part America is a very hard country in which to teach. As Mr. Duggan suggests, America is very busy about a great many other things. It is pretty hard to teach literature in schools to children who come from homes where a good book is never read. It is pretty hard to teach philosophy in a world where there is no taste for it in its social life. America is interested in other things. America has a social scheme which has very little recognition of what the way of understanding is. A second difficulty is that our school system is as yet not ready to give the proper preparation for college work. It has been hastily constructed and is as yet in the preliminary stages of its development. Our college teaching must be unsatisfactory until our school preparation can be better given.
Too Much Money Hinders
If then we agree that America is a hard place in which to do good teaching, we must be fair and admit that America intends to support teaching and does so with great enthusiasm. The difficulty is not one of intention, but one of understanding. America has a great belief in education; it has faith in education and wants it, but just what it is that it wants is not very clear. Our typical expression is "Culture or bust". Here it is "understanding or bust", and I think that we ought to look at both sides of this situation. America is determined to have education and is willing to pay for it. The money that is poured into the institutions of learning is almost scandalous. One of the greatest difficulties in teaching and administration is that so much of the teachers' and administrators' time must be given to deciding what to do with the money we get. If we did not have so much money, we would do better teaching. American people are not withholding money. There is enough money and enough enthusiasm. Yet, the whole situation is rather unfavorable because American people have not yet reached the point of sophistication, nor reached the point of social stress and strain which demands intelligence. It is at present easy to get on, but some day our life is going to get serious, we are going to grow up, and then better college teaching will be done.
If this is our external situation, what from the college point of view can be done about it? There is only one thing that is essential in making a college, and that is the teacher. The great difficulty, which is now present in the American college, and I say this as a teacher,
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