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PLAYING THE PEDAGOGUE

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The theory, long deep-rooted in American education, that discipline for its own sake holds a legitimate place in the college curriculum, crops out repeatedly in discussions of university policy. Recent press comments have viewed with considerable deprecation new departures at several institutions concerning attendance at classes. Similar changes have likewise raised the huc and cry that discipline must not be sacrificed.

This view of college education, the historical precedents of which are far more ample than the contemporary, finds not infrequent reflection in the conduct of University Courses. The Harvard tradition has always been toward strengthening individual responsibility, toward relaxing and discarding those petty regulations which are always ineffective with lethargic students, and often unjust to others. The whole trend of policy is liberal; there nevertheless remain instances to the contrary to emphasize by contrast the main current.

An illustration of this false standard has just come to light in connection with one of the literature courses open to graduates and undergraduates. A list of subjects for long reports was submitted to the members of the course, who were given an option on their choice of subject with the understanding that for those who did not exercise this option an arbitrary assignment would be made. One Senior, not choosing his own subject, was assigned one by number. Carelessly misreading the number, he wrote upon the wrong subject. In punishment for this mechanical slip, the student in question was given the arbitrary mark of "E" on his thesis, with the explanation that the instructor was making an example of him for his carelessness in following instructions. Granting without question the prerogative of the instructor to use whatever disciplinary devices he deems necessary to the mechanical requirements of the course, such primitive treatment smacks unpleasantly of that accorded a schoolboy derelict in conning his numbers.

Fortunately disciplinary measures of this sort are rare, at least in a form so extreme. President Lowell has observed that the prime object of the modern college is to stimulate desire for intellectual attainment. It is coming to be a truism that this stimulation can only be achieved by the instructor who abandons the old-fashioned paraphernalia of discipline and meets the student sympathetically on his own ground.

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