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Freshmen in their replies to the recent questionnaire are more in agreement in their criticisms of the teaching of elementary courses than of any other one phase of the scholastic questions that they deal with. Strange as this may seem, when the great variety of schools from which they come is taken into consideration, the very diversity of their backgrounds makes such a show of opinion the more significant.
Their criticism falls under four heads: (1) that class work carry more weight; (2) that sections be made smaller, with more emphasis on independent work and less on mastering the required number of facts; (3) that better section men be selected, especially in the sciences; and (4) that "dumb-bunny" sections be established, in every large course. The first suggestion can be dismissed as being financially impracticable and the result of expecting school methods of instruction in college. The same financial obstacles lie in the way of having smaller sections and more section hands to teach them. Objection to rote learning of a multitude of facts is a natural reaction to the vast broadening of all the fields of knowledge in the course of the change from school to college study. But the establishment of differentiated sections, as is now done in History 1, would free those students who have the ability and initiative to assimilate the ground-work of facts for themselves for more generalized and interesting class work, while the slower ones would not find themselves perpetually beyond their depth.
The fourth objection, dealing with the abominable quality of many of the section men in the elementary science courses, is undoubtedly valid not only for men completing their science distribution requirement, but perhaps even more for those whose future progress in science will be greatly aided by a sound understanding of the underlying principles. Bad teaching in this field can be blamed directly on the heads of the departments and through them on University Hall. In biology, physics, and, most brazenly of all, in Mallinckrodt, instructors and assistants are told to be done with their undergraduate teaching as shortly as possible, so that they may get back to their "proper" job--research. This is not rumor; it is not hearsay. In all those departments men who have even the slightest interest in their students will bear witness to the accuracy of this statement. In Chemistry A, for example, the section men invited the professor to attend the first of the regular Wednesday meetings of the assistants, so that laboratory work and section meetings might be better coordinated with the lectures. The professor failed to appear after a half hour wait, and the meeting went on without him. He was invited to the second meeting, which he likewise failed to attend. From that time to the first of March, the professor had not once had a general meeting with his assistants. In the light of this amazing solicitude, one can hardly be surprised at the quality of the teaching in some of the sections.
Some courses, such as Geology 1, are run on a very much better basis, and with a great deal of consideration for the objects of the instruction--the undergraduates. But these courses are the exception. Not merely then, are the freshmen justified in criticizing these courses, but further they and the upper classmen should be encouraged to shout a protest against this ridiculous attitude so loud that it would reach even the deaf ears of the scientific bigwigs.
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