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When Professor Laski declared that "This is a revolutionary cpoch" in his lectures on political philosophy last week, he struck a note that is being echoed by political observers all over the world. "Democracy is on trial"; "This century will see a struggle for power between Fascism and Communism," and other such cries are heard on all sides. Those who do not predict a revolution at least admit that the growing complexity of governmental and economic problems have come near swamping the mind of man in his attempt to seek a solution for the problems of politics.
If democracy is indeed on trial it seems obvious that Harvard should see to it that her graduates, as future leaders of the community, be prepared to take an intelligent position in the modern political scene. This means that they should be ready to vote intelligently and furthermore, able to argue and discuss politics intelligently. But the growing complexity of political problems has made such a preparation more and more difficult. It is no longer possible to obtain a grasp of modern conditions by means of the conventional training in the liberal arts. Some specific knowledge of the social sciences is becoming more important than ever.
It appears to be necessary, therefore, that Harvard make a basic training in the social science compulsory. Every student should be required to take one of the elementary courses, History 1, Government 1, or Economics A, or else should be allowed to demonstrate his knowledge by passing a general examination on political theory by the end of his Junior year. In this way those who have acquired adequate political knowledge by extracurricular reading and discussion in college would be enabled to omit these courses from their curriculum.
When definite requirements of this kind are suggested, the cry immediately goes up, "no compulsory courses." Such a sentiment is in line with the modern tendency towards more academic freedom, it is true, but such an objection to compulsory courses can often be exaggerated, particularly in this instance.
In the first place it is undoubtedly true that many students have no intelligent reasons for taking either one course or another. They are rather indifferent to schedules and fields of concentration, and any requirement that steers them into a course of such proved value can only be for their good. Furthermore, it seems to be the case that the average student does not object strongly to required courses as such. The reports of the various language courses in the Confidential Guide record no great objection to the necessity of taking any one of them. Even the English A report is not unfavorable and the protests which are heard occasionally can be attributed more to the fact that the course itself is a chore rather than because it is compulsory.
Lastly, it is true that many men in other fields develop an interest in the social sciences during their college careers and come to see the value of these subjects, so that if the requirement was put off until Junior year, it might be passed off voluntarily by many, without a feeling of compulsion.
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