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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

TODAY--AND TOMORROW

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

With the abolition of the elementary language requirements, and the immediate application of the rulings as to distribution, the tendency of President Conant's policy becomes clearer. For the language step the CRIMSON duly offers thanks: the elementary requirement was a farce, and the courses built to meet it a waste and a nuisance. But to the steps presumably next in line, the realignment of the A.B. and the S.B. and the consequent slighting of Latin, there are, considered along with the changes in distribution, more problematic implications.

These changes cannot be discussed without reference to the growing influence of so-called progressive education among the secondary schools, especially those which feed Harvard. As a result, more and more students will tend to enter College with baby learning in social problems, science, and history, and without the mind training which the classics and mathematics have generally been believed a inculcate. It would be oversimple to maintain that these latter offer the only road to rigorous thinking, because the oldest one. But it is unlikely that equal materials can be found in the mass of secondary schools which must struggle with average teachers and large classes, or for that matter in the select preparatory schools which have become more interested in "creativeness" than discipline. As long as the schools remained traditional, the College could better afford, as in Great Britain, to turn its students loose, assured that they had a thorough grounding in studies of intrinsic difficulty. But with the schools gone Dewey, Harvard is forced to assume responsibility that its A.B. shall not stamp uncultivated intellects.

The Freshman year, though now freed of the nightmare of elementary language courses, cannot be counted on, as at present organized, to fill matriculation gaps, let alone furnish an introduction, for the better prepared students, to work of university grade. And concentration, for example in a science, plus four courses in economics, or vice versa, may add a dubious passport indeed to the fellowship of educated men. Although the study made by Mr. Flexner of American universities showed a lamentable majority which thought that everything was as important as everything else, it will hardly be here denied that every subject permitted for concentration is not of equal value. Nor, with an increasing percentage of students going on to graduate study, should the College limit itself to providing technical competence in a chosen field even of undoubted substance. The intensification of the tutorial system and general examinations by elimination of conflicting restrictions such as the elementary language requirements and hour examinations is all to the good. But there is room in the curriculum for more than one objective. The abandonment of distribution (and especially the required choice between mathematics and philosophy), and the prospective retirement of Latin, carry real danger. The experience under President Eliot with a policy of free-for-all, as underscored by present vagaries in secondary education, indicates the necessary for demanding that the schools furnish, or candidates for degrees secure, a minimum orientation in the vigorous culture of tradition.

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