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PRESIDENT FRANK OF WISCONSIN--WRITES OF THE REVOLT AGAINST EDUCATION, SAYING LATTER SUFFERS FROM BEING OVERLOADED

Formality in Teaching Is Decried by Former Editor -- Advocates More Participation by Students

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

The following article entitled "The Revolt Against Education," written by Glenn Frank, President of the University of Wisconsin, appears in the current issue of The Nation.

Students of civilization whose social studies have begun with biology as a point of departure have lately elaborated with an alluring richness of detail the theory of the burden of civilization. It is suggested that among civilized peoples each succeeding generation elaborates the social environment, increases the number of demands made upon the members of society, and complicates generally the problem of living and working. With the biological strength of the race at a standstill or on the decline while the burdens it must carry are on the increase, the time is likely to come in the life history of any civilized people when the structural overloading will become so great that the civilization in question will collapse, either by the involuntary lapse of the processes of society into chaos or by a deliberate revolt of the people against civilization.

"Our Race is Overweighted"

Sir Francis Galton put this theory briefly when he said several years ago: "Our race is overweighted. It will degenerate under circumstances which make demands that exceed its powers." The enormous increase of knowledge and the increasing complexity of the curriculum in our universities is analogous to the increase of things and the increasing complexity of social organization in our civilization as a whole. It is, perhaps, more than analogous. It may well be an organic part of the larger social process that Galton described. We are witnessing today both the collapse of our curricula from structural overloading and the beginnings of a student revolt against the sterilities of current academic procedure.

Knowledge Gained Too Fast

A hundred or more years ago the outlines of a college education were simple. In the centuries immediately preceding knowledge had not increased at a pace so rapid but that educators could digest, interpret, and relate to previous knowledge the new knowledge as it appeared. But with the nineteenth century the invigorating winds of a new critical and scientific spirit began to blow across the world. The scientific spirit began hunting, blasting, boring, probing, boiling, cooking, and dissecting. Men, animated by the Itch to know, began to dig up, at a disconcerting rate, all sorts of new, facts and new knowledge. Before long it became apparent that the new knowledge was coming too fast to be digested and fitted intelligently into any educational scheme. And there happened in the educational field the thing I saw happen in a Missouri hayfield about fifteen years ago.

"Damn it, Stack it Yourself!"

Six of us were putting up hay on Cal Shinn's farm. Among the six was a swashbuckling braggart who offered to bet five dollars that he could stack all the hay that the other five of us could pitch to him. We took the bet, prorating it at a dollar apiece. We laid the base for a stack and began pitching in dead earnest. The man on the stack managed to keep his head above hay for a while, but before long he was up to his neck in hay that he could not handle. He managed to extricate himself from the mass of unstackable hay, slid off the stack, stuck his pitchfork in the ground, and said: "Damn it, stack it yourself!"

It was thus that the elective system was born. I mean the elective system as a really popular movement. I am aware, of course, that the idea of the elective system was in existence at William and Mary College as a deliberate educational theory, although but little developed in practice, nearly half a century before its adoption at Harvard, and many years before it became generally the basis of what seems to me to have been essentially a strategic retreat of educators from an increasingly unmanageable mass of modern knowledge. Looked at historically, I think the hay-field episode is an accurate illustration of what has happened in our colleges during the last century. Overwhelmed by new facts that were coming faster than they could be managed, educators slid off the stack, stuck the pitchfork into the ground, and, turning to green freshmen, said, with the profanity deleted, "Stack it your-self!"

Specialization Inevitable

Confronted with new facts and new knowledge growing at a speed that outstripped the possibility of prompt correlation at the time, the educational world adopted as its fundamental method of handling knowledge the method that was producing knowledge, namely, specialization. Few will dispute that the primacy of the principle of specialization is 90 per cent inevitable. This 90 per cent inevitability need not, however, blind us to some of the bad by-products of specialization. It is in devising ways and means for preventing these bad by-products that the next fruitful advances in educational policy are most likely to be made.

The study of the classics was crippled if not killed by classroom pedants who forgot the meaning of the classic literature in their absorption in the minutiae of the classic languages. Did William James have this in mind when he said to F. C. S. Schiller that "the natural one my of any subject is the professor there-of"? At any rate, specialization in the classics has about succeeded in sealing the tomb of one of the richest sources, if not indeed the richest source, of intellectual and aesthetic stimulation and discipline. May not a too extreme specialization in the teaching of the sciences, of economics and political economy, of education, of literature, work a similar result?

No Swift Change Possible

I am not seduced by an extravagant hope that educators can assemble any single bag of tricks that will swiftly and sweepingly reverse what may be the irresistible tendency of modern civilization to create burdens it cannot carry and to set up a suicidal complexity of organization. Our civilization and the educational system it has produced may have to run their cycle until they break. But even if we suspect ourselves to be the victims of a process we cannot control, it is dangerous to admit it, and to surrender to it is simply to set ahead the date of our debacle. We must not rest content with a coward's refuge in unrelated specialisms.

We might undertake to prevent the abuse and to promote the ultmate utility of specialization by making an effort to insure, as far as possible, that students shall be exposed to a broadly conceived and coherently organized body of general knowledge during some definite period of the college years that precede the intensive specialization of graduate study and professional training. Such an organization of subject matter could be made possible only by the courageous willingness of educators to be tentatively dogmatic in saying what subject matter will best induct the student into an understanding of his contemporary world, of the forces that have gone into its making from the past, and of the living forces that are most likely to determine its future.

General Courses Not Enough

It may be said that the orientation courses at the beginning and the summary courses at the end of the college years, with which colleges have been experimenting, meet the situation into which specialization has plunged education. I doubt it. They are manifestly things tacked on to the regular college procedure porous plasters applied to the curriculum to reduce its incoherence. Any genuine orientation of the student to his world must be reached in the regular college procedure, not outside it.

Of course, no one who has even partly earned the right to participate in a discussion of education will expect too much of such a synthesized section of the curriculum. The historian with, say, the last hundred and the next hundred years of our-educational history before him would doubtless look upon the use of any such section of the curriculum as an emergency measure adopted by a people that found itself the victim of a great confusion resulting from an unprecedentedly rapid accumulation of knowledge. It alone will not educate men or equip them for the mastery of modern life. I suggest, therefore, a second field of inquiry.

If we find ourselves driven to admit that knowledge is growing more rapidly than educators an fetter it, may it not be necessary for us to strive to develop educational methods in the undergraduate's years that will deal more directly with the mental processes of the student than do many of our present methods of teaching, and examination that lay so much emphasis on subject matter? May it not be that the only way in which the modern man can hope to keep pace with the modern world is to increase the tempo of his, mind as the tempo of the advance of knowledge increases?

Progress Lies in Teaching Methods

We are dealing here with an elusive and maybe absurd hypothesis. I know the battle that has been waged around the problem of the training of the mind. But one thing is clear, and that is that we shall find no really conclusive answer to the educational dilemma growing out of the enormity and complexity of modern knowledge if we attempt to determine the future evolution of higher education mainly in terms of curriculum construction. Any such approach will inevitably drive us to a choice between superficial general knowledge and accurate specialized knowledge. We must look for the really creative development of education in the methods of teaching rather than in the materials of teaching.

What will a greater emphasis upon the possible development of the mind to see and understand more quickly and accurately mean in terms of the work of the classes. May it mean that our class-rooms will more and more become places in which the students rather than the teachers perform? May it mean that usually the best teacher will be the man who says the least to his students? May it mean the virtual scrapping of the lecture system?

It is, I admit, difficult to see how any synthesis of even the major findings of modern knowledge could be caught in a two-year curriculum if we continue to teach entirely in terms of the subjects and departments that are today the basis of instruction, unless each subject were to be taught by a polymath like Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, Adam Smith, or Thomas Henry Buckle. It may be there-fore, that we shall find that the only way we can manage to induct students into a general understanding of their civilization will be to teach during these two "general" years in terms of situations rather than subjects.

Many Difficulties 'Arise

The suggestion that we might achieve a broader culture and a better sense of the relatedness of things by studying in terms of situations rather than subjects is convincing in the abstract. But the moment we attempt to step from the abstract into the concrete and undertake to visualize such a teaching policy in operation in a university, a thousand difficulties arise. Few have ventured to condescend to details respecting this suggestion as far as college instruction goes. It has usually been left in that twilight zone of the abstract where we keep ideas that would be good if they could be made to work. In an article published in the Century Magazine, Alexander Mciklejohn tentatively suggested that we might find our way out of the confused wilderness of unrelated specialisms, not by any formal synthesis of modern knowledge in a curriculum but by devoting the freshman year to the comprehensive study of a single historic episode such as the Greek civilization, setting the freshmen to reading the literature of that period and, under the friendly guidance and stimulation of a faculty of men who were masters of special fields, taking that civilization to pieces, seeing how it worked, what forces animated it, and what germs of the future were thrown up by it. His assumption was that in a year of roaming within the catholic boundaries of that singularly fruitful experiment in civilization the freshmen would see and handle most of the beginnings or early forms of modern knowledge and life.

He suggested that the sophomore year might be devoted to a similar study of some other and later historic episode, say English civilization in the nineteenth century, or maybe our own American civilization, the assumption here being that the students would doubtless be led during the sophomore year to draw comparisons between the ways different people go at the job of building and administering a civilization, and to discover what kinds of civilizations occur when different sets of factors are present. This is, of course, an adaption to higher education of the project method that has been worked out in primary and secondary education. And there at least is this advantage in taking a situation out of the past rather than out of the present, it will stand while you study it.

Here at any rate is a definite suggestion of teaching by situation rather than by subject in the college. Is such a project feasible

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