In the CRIMSON inquiry into the question of transition between the college and the preparatory school, there are four points that have been consistently emphasized by all of commentators on this subject. The first of these is that it is necessary to stimulate the student entering college by introducing him to so called collegiate methods. The student must be made to realize that the Freshman year is not a continuation of secondary school methods but an attempt to instill in him the principles of self education. The second consideration is that the preparatory school must not degenerate into a cramming school; and the last two are that a thorough background in foreign languages must be obtained in the preparatory school, and that the College Entrance Board Examinations must be more broad in their scope.
The matter of supplying a jolt in the transition from the school to the college is one requiring great understanding and thought. The general consensus of opinion is that the first three years of preparatory school should be devoted to a broad background which will give the student an opportunity to discover his particular abilities and at the same time provide himself with a foundation which will enable him to correlate the knowledge to be gained later. After this has been done, the last years should be given over to developing a thorough understanding of those subjects for which he is peculiarly fitted with reference to a general background. Upon coming to college, he will then be able to continue along the specific lines he selects with a high degree of understanding. The jolt will come in that, in the college, the student will be able to apply the methods of advanced education to those subjects in which, in the secondary school, he had to devote himself to the fundamentals only.
The question of the cramming school is so closely associated with the entrance examinations and the study of languages that it should be considered in its relation to these additional two points. The preparatory school crams its students because the requirements of the college force it to do so. It has a certain number of subjects in which it must provide preparation, regardless of their inclinations. The candidate for college entrance must pass an examination in an ancient language and a science. In order to do this, his last year in secondary school must be devoted to preparing for these tests at the expense of a study of other subjects that would undoubtedly contribute more to his education. The result has been that the attention of secondary education is focused on getting its students into college regardless of how well he does once there. The college, on the other hand, must then undertake to supply those elementary subjects which could be learned more profitably in the secondary school.
The language requirements offer a specific example of the mechanics of this abuse. A student entering college has had to be so diffuse in his studies before presenting himself for admittance that he has not acquired an adequate background in any modern language, and the college is again left to supply the deficiency, a duty that it is not equipped and which is not in its province to do. As has been pointed out before in these columns, the language requirements at Harvard make this situation even more unpleasant.
But the chief difficulty in the whole question is the College Entrance Board Examination system. In the first place, the Old Plan demanding tests for each subject presented for admission has been proven to be highly unsatisfactory. Statistics show that it is by far the least efficient means of judging an entrant's ability. But as Dr. Kerns has pointed out previously, in spite of this there has been no increase in the use of the better New plan since its inception several years ago. And the New Plan itself, with all of the freedom it brings, does not allow sufficient latitude in its range of subjects. It still requires cramming in the final year in preparatory school in certain subjects which would not normally be considered at that time. And yet, in view of the undeniable evidence against these two types of tests, they are still taken as the main criterion of a college entrant's ability.
It is a known fact that the Scholastic Aptitude Tests and the preparatory school records give the most accurate estimate of a student's abilities. His capabilities are shown in these records and not by a mere display of memory work as in the case with Old and New Plan examinations. In nearly all of the articles contributed in the CRIMSON survey, the importance of aptitude tests and school records have been emphasized, and here is the apparent solution of the problem.
The New Plan examination could be revised to allow more latitude in the entrant's background and the record of his other studies as shown by the preparatory school along with aptitude tests are sufficient means of judging his other abilities. Then secondary education could be an end rather than a highly inefficient means. To the college there remains the problem of increasing the standard of the instruction in Freshmen courses and adapting its requirements to encourage applicants who have been educated rather than crammed. The crux of the matter is the entrance examination, and their existence is entirely dependent upon the secondary school and the college. It remains for those who control this factor to introduce the liberal influence that will put American education on a truly intelligent basis.