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SEMINAR VS. LECTURE

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

The present system of graduate instruction in literature and the humanities used in the German universities must command the attention of those who have become increasingly dissatisfied with the lecture system now popular in American institutions of higher learning. Briefly, the German method consists in removing the emphasis on instruction by lecture, and in substituting seminars for the old lecture courses. In this country, the term "seminar" has come to connote instruction of a highly advanced kind, as in the 20 courses whose primary concern is with research; but the Germans use the term liberally, and apply it to courses which are, relatively speaking, introductory. A rough counterpart of the latter "seminar" can be found in the better conference groups in History 1. The keynote of the German seminar is reduced size, individual attention, and consequent freedom from superficiality.

It is immediately apparent that such a method throws a considerable burden on the resources of the instructor. No longer is he able to repeat lectures; his methods of instruction must vary according to the changing composition of each class. Yet he establishes, in a way impossible under the lecture system, close contact with the student and with his special needs, whereas the student cannot fail to profit immeasurably from intimate association with authorities and specialists in various directions.

Viewed largely, the attempt is simply one to de-formalize professional education in the humanities. It assumes a good deal of background on the part of each student who pursues even an elementary "seminar," but this should not be amiss in graduate fields. To such a student, moreover, it offers far more than is possible under the lecture system. A premium is placed upon his own discovery and presentation of facts; inevitably he is given a sense of responsibility and a degree of interest that he does not feel when he is merely being lectured at, collectively. "Being pumped into," said Carlyle, "is never an exhilarating process." Whatever modern educators may think of most of the opinions of the sage of Choisea, this one at least is worth some of their soberest reflection.

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