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The distribution of application blanks for the next five houses to members of the Sophomore and Junior classes, is a reminder that the House Plan is not an experiment. Except for the year's start of the first two units over the others, there will have been no experimental stage scientifically conducted so that various formulas and combinations might be tried. But even when the whole seven dormitories are in full swing next September, the House Plan will not be a reality. Nothing but the raw elements will have been poured in, as they have been poured into Lowell House and Dunster House this fall. The refining process will be slow.
The past three months offer some basis for analyzing what may be the trends of future development. The houses so far naturally fail to fulfill the sweeping change of educational methods predicted beforehand, and even now somewhat naively visualized by the press and by visitors staggered by the physical splendor of the buildings. None but the most excitable, however, expected radical changes in the mental outlook of men who were to reside in the first two units. Nevertheless there has been a growth of ennui among those previously interested in the House Plan, and as the interest has waned, the sharpness of perception has dulled with it, so that probably the majority do not realize that the first two units are wielding influences, different in each case, on their inhabitants. The Houses are not dormitories after all, if Lowell and Dunster are any criteria of judgement.
The antagonists of the House Plan greeted the announcement of the change with a number of dire pictorial representations of the future characteristics of Harvard, the individual houses, and the individual students. Some said that the plan was a gross pampering of romantic democracy. Others predicted houses separated by social rank and a tendency toward snobbishness, or perhaps a superficial imitation of Oxford and Cambridge with a super-imposed paternalism.
More reflective judgement, and the lack of any startling novelties in the characters of the houses, made it clear that the change would not be as radical as had been supposed. Consequently there has been a reaction among the undergraduates, who conclude that the 250 differences of the 250 students in any house will be a sufficient check to great differences between the houses. Therefore they advise a laissez faire policy.
The present attitude among student critics of the House Plan is that, despite their former fears, all that has happened is the creation of better opportunities for making social contacts, for furthering friendships between tutors and students, and, in general, for presenting a ground on which previous barriers are modified through the routine of living. It is believed that the unwillingness of the student to sacrifice his traditional freedom will prevent a distinct trend of any kind.
The fallacy of this entire position is obvious to any critical observer. The belief in the passive resistance of undergraduates to jingoistic ideas of one kind or another is upset by the realization that the undergraduate is passively accepting House originality, even during the last three months. The process is slow, but its very passivity and languor indicates the impressionability of the students.
Lowell House, as is obvious to anyone who has been observant, is the seat of a small but active cult bent on a crusade toward Balliol. The question is not on the merits of the English college. But a house individualism established through an uncritical limitation, and not through a sober development of its own faculties, is not an individualism that breeds men who think for themselves. The student members have proved themselves very lamb-like in accepting certain superficial actions, not bad though occasionally childish. The zealous minority is coaxing an effortless majority.
Dunster House is less jingoistic in its offence. The chief objection is that some members of tire house already presuppose that membership there entities them to a superior attitude. Outsiders protest that an otherwise ordinary student imagines himself a member of a social uppercuts through his habitant in Dunster House. Members of the house will admit that this is a characteristic not lacking in certain other members. Those who are more self critical will admit that it is present to a small degree in themselves. There has been no conscious attempt from within, either by the students at large or by a minority, to force others to abide by the same standards. The situation is anything but serious. And yet, subtle distinctions on not altogether creditable lines are already perceived in the two Houses.
Compared with past standards of individuality, the Houses are becoming provincial. And the passivity of the students indicates that extra-house activities will have to be stressed. Lowell House has demonstrated the impression ability of the many by the few, and Dunster House, it must be feared, has demonstrated the opposite. Therefore, the present word of warning must be to make the college as a whole a sound counteraction to the difference of its units. With the limited basis of experience now existent, it appears that the cry for house freedom from University guidance is not wise. The college as a whole has proved to be, in most instances, too unwieldy a body for any efficacious paternalism. With this in mind, perhaps the best thing for the houses would be a little more university paternalism to avoid the narrower house paternalism.
Judging, purely from the present situation, it would seem wise to consider the University as superior to the houses until the houses can be distinctive without being provincial. It is justifiable to utter a faint "Cave" against either the rabid pursuit of originality or the passive acceptance of it.
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