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Any discussion of Freshman curriculum must be made in the light of what the student will study during his remaining three years in Cambridge. The student should leave college, President Eliot once said, knowing "a little about a lot and a lot about a little." And it seems logical that he gain the knowledge in that order, looking over the field before he attempts to concentrate. Yet in such a program, demanding highly specialized work the last two years and more general study the first two, there are serious dangers that may well upset the Freshman curriculum.
The survey, or vegetable soup course, is probably the greatest of these. Such courses as Government 1 are harmful to the student in three ways. They give him the blissful illusion, common among undergraduates at the University of Chicago, that he is acquiring the sum of all knowledge, when in reality he is being given only a few insubstantial generalities. They destroy the personalized education, traditional at Harvard, either by large lectures or by section meetings so large that they degenerate into lectures. Thirdly, by demanding little thought and only stereotyped, parrot replies, they send the student, not to Widener or Boylston, but across Massachusetts Avenue to the tutoring schools, where he is likely to remain the rest of his undergraduate days. It might be observed parenthetically, however, that this last danger could be removed by intelligent examination. Other reforms which could improve the large survey courses include visitation, staff meetings, consultation hours, and more sections with more able instructors when the budget will permit.
Another serious deficiency of the general Freshman course of study is that the method of study, the most valuable asset to be acquired at Harvard, is not learned until the Sophomore or Junior year. Whether because they are regarded as too young, or because research is held incompatible with general study, Freshman may be in good standing in June without knowing how to write a footnote or identify a primary source.
Distribution in the Freshman and Sophomore years is an excellent plan, and one essential to a well-rounded education, but such a curriculum cannot be imposed at the expense of interest and initiative. If general courses are to be retained, it must be with instructors who are at once anxious and able to teach and to provoke student thought. Theirs is a task infinitely more complex than that of the school-room lecturer, for they are initiating the student into a world full of contradictions and injustices, and in so doing are giving him a social viewpoint he will carry through Harvard into life. As the Freshman suffers, society later will suffer.
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