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The following discussion of the Harvard tutorial system is reprinted from an article which has appeared in the April number of the World's Work magazine.
President Lowell of Harvard has developed a system of instruction in college which holds promise of being one of the great events in American education. When Johns Hopkins founded the university of his name, a higher and different idea of a university than any in this country began. When the Harvard Law School began to teach law by the case system it revolutionized legal teaching in this country. These are two outstanding examples, and the results in each instance were the same. Not only did better teaching produce better results but also better boys flocked to the better teaching. In its desire to be a national, not a local college, Harvard has now done the one essential thing--Provided a better kind of teaching.
Harvard Requirements High
The revolutionary change has occurred very quietly. Undergraduates at Harvard have always had advisors. In recent years assistants in the different courses have watched the students more closely to see that they understood and did their work--something like the preceptorial system at Princeton. This means that Harvard, like all the other colleges, has been stiffening its requirements.
But the tutorial system is something altogether apart from that. It does not concern itself with seeing that a young man learns the facts that are given in a lecture course. It says to him this: "You have elected to major in one subject, say English literature. Very well, we shall give you as a tutor a man who can lead you pleasantly and profitably in that field. He will show you how to get the most from lectures, from the library, from all the resources of the University. If your tutor sees that you are in earnest, you will be relieved of the usual attendance requirements and other evidences of the necessity of driving you to work."
Stimulates Intellectual Curiosity
The whole system is based upon the idea that the men in college would like to grasp a subject. It differs from the old conception that they did not want to master a subject but could, by attendance marks and penalties, be made to do so. Now the cheerful fact is, that as soon as good leadership is provided, the students show a keenness for work, an intellectual curiosity, and a joy in exercising their brains. Forty-two percent of the Junior and Senior classes at Harvard are "candidates for distinction," that is, they are trying for honors under a tutorial system in preference to trying merely to pass under the old system. At present both go along side by side. A boy can study under either system, but that will not be true for long.
In Spite of the Location
The 42 percent who are in the tutorial system contains far more than 42 percent of the leadership of the two upper classes. The men who make undergraduate opinion are now for the tutorial system and an education. If the promise of this condition is fulfilled, Harvard College will have made a most important addition to the practice of college teaching and restored itself to the position of a national college by reason of its excellence and in spite of its location.
But this advance will not reach its goal unless there is more money spent upon it than Harvard College now has to spend. Quantity production of college graduates is a fairly cheap proceeding. We have been turning them out in great numbers in this country. But to teach men as individuals costs money more money than America has been willing to pay. The question is whether the money will be forthcoming to support this improvement at Harvard and advances of a similar nature that are being tried at Swarthmore and Dartmouth. It will be interesting to see whether the country in general believes in individual instruction enough to pay adequately for this most hopeful step in education.
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