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When undergraduates take the first examination on their extra curricular reading in American History, one of President Conant's finest innovations will leave the blueprint stage for the realm of concrete reality. These students will participate in a program which should mean much both to the individual throughout his life and the wider society which he will join.
Mr. Conant's plan provides the student with an educational impetus that will stir him long after his formal education is completed. The existence of a well defined program for independent work will do much to overcome the confusion and mental paralysis that seize men after graduation. Such study will both increase the value of what has gone before and provide another "open door" to the exploitation of new fields. The interaction between sustained study and everyday experience should produce a new and useful synthesis.
American History is a peculiarly suitable province for such academic pursuits because the problems that face us all cannot be understood without some historical perspective. Crop control, John Lewis's C. L. O., and the President's foreign policy can be most intelligently discussed by those familar with the rise of Populism, the history of craft unionism, and the conditions prevalent when Washington counseled his country against entangling alliances. More tolerance to new policies that seem to clash with old American customs may develop when we realize that many accepted reforms like free education, the limitation of hours of labor, and the extension of credit to farmers, were once branded by sober citizens as radical and subversive.
The extra curricular study of American History thus is twice blest. It helps the individual to grow in wisdom after he leaves the Yard and it gives the public an ever growing appreciation of our past that might be the "common denominator among educated men which would enable them to face the future united and unafraid."
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