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As Harvard begins its fourth century President Conant's hope to enlarge the university's service will have only the more support because his program of extension includes a plan of simplification. Dr. Conant believes that students in American colleges should have food less elaborate but more nourishing. "The faculties," he says, "should endeavor to reduce the number of courses given and in many cases to condense the material now presented. The tremendous subdivision of the fields of learning which has occurred in the past thirty-five years will certainly shock the academic historian a century from now. The increase in the number of special courses of instruction has by no means been solely in the faculty of arts and sciences; the professional schools have shown the same tendency. How to stop this movement of expansion, how to eliminate and condense, how to arrive at an agreement on certain aspects of certain subjects which should be thoroughly mastered-to my mind these are the great educational questions of the future."
At this point the command again rings in memory: "Get wisdom, but with all thy getting, get understanding." In the nineteenth century and the first third of the twentieth, the area of man's knowledge vastly increased. Jove's lightning, once more mysterious than the sun-spots, now illuminates homes, irons shirts and cooks toast. At 150 miles an hour man rides the air more easily than stage-horses could plod the ground at fifteen. The X-ray pierces steel, and the radio causes a whisper to be heard in five continents. But the alphabet and the multiplication-table are unchanged. Changeless also is the need that use of these tools should be taught in the elementary schools with utmost simplicity and absolute certainty. Not different is the need-though greatly more difficult the achievement-that the essential contributions of modern science, the principal values of man's recent learning, should be brought to equal clarity of statement and instruction in our colleges.
Today the higher schools leave too many of their students in the condition of a man gorged with countless courses, no one of which is digested. The mean, as President Conant declares, should be simplified. We need to reach a point, as he says, where we shall be concerned with "teaching less and less but at the same time providing a better and better education." Progress to this end cannot be instantaneous. It will take at least a generation to win the goal. But we can all be glad that so eminent a scientist as James B. Conant, who understands today's demands for scholarly specialization as well as anyone can, likewise sees the need of new synthesis, new simplification and generalization in America's higher education. He is prepared to fight for these gains, and in such effort he deserves all possible aid. --Boston Transcript
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