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John Reed's Portrait


Columbia University undergraduates have a real point, though not a real grievance, when they criticize the practice of handing over the freshman and sophomore classes chiefly to young instructors with "specialized interests." The critics insist that beginning undergraduates need the stimulus of older and experienced teachers more than they do the specialized guidance of the younger experts. Undeniable are the advantages derived from the various forms of experimentation with the tutorial system, the separate "house" system, the system that substitutes guidance for dictation, and mastery of the art of how to seek out knowledge for the injection of knowledge by the lecture system. But there are inevitable disadvantages. The informal English university system, which consists, as Mr. Stephen Leacock puts it, by having a small group of students sit down with an instructor and smoke at each other, requires for its success an adequate supply of good tutors. When you add the requirement of tutor-specialists you reduce the available supply of fine leadership still further.

The purpose of college education of course, is to create in the student the desire for knowledge and to show him how to go about learning for himself. The two objectives ultimately reduce themselves to one. If the desire is created, if the flame is lit, then the other thing will follow as a rule, though not invariably. The question is, therefore, under what system the young freshman is likely to catch fire soonest. If the situation is visualized as lying between Professor Fossil droning away in his lecture room over the heads of 300 young undergraduates, and thirty alert and eager young tutors taking hold of that freshman mass in groups of ten individuals, then there is little doubt whence the greater urge will come. But it is far from always being Professor Fossil on the one hand and thirty young Mark Hopkinses on the other hand.

There are many professors at their desks who can stir the young freshman soul to passion and effort, who can light the flame and let nature do the rest. There are young specialists who probably are poor teachers, because they are specialists and because they are young. New York Times.

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