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Due Credit


One of the most discouraging developments of the fall has been the faculty's apparent loss of enthusiasm for independent study in upperclass education. Last year at this time Faculty members shouted the virtues of a courseless senior year, but now their emphasis seems to be on more and more requirements. The aim of such plans as qualifying examinations, required tutorial as a fourth course, is not requirements for their own sake, of course, but greater difficulty and prestige for honors work. One cannot quarrel with this goal, but the means by which some would attain it are alarming.

The basic assumption is that men are best educated when prodded with examinations. Only a very few students are credited with the ability to learn for the sake of the material, and it is assumed that they will learn no matter what sort of formal curriculum may stand in their way.

Many students do go through four years without ever approaching their capacity, at least in academic work. But they have been threatened with grades periodically, though perhaps not so often as they might have been. Many of them have not exerted themselves because they found no particular stimulation or excitement in a series of lectures progressing neatly to an examination.

Some way must be found to set these students to work. Those who do not work now are not the sort who will study because of a higher frequency of examinations. The latter sort which likes A's for their own sake or thinks of nothing but graduate school, is probably even now in the library. But the man who is not presently working near his peak may yet be drawn into academic interests if proper means are used.

The best means are a wide expansion of "99" courses. More students--juniors and some sophomores--should be encouraged to enroll. Tutorial for credit, unless it is only a thesis course, succeeds not because of the grade but because of the material and the method of instruction.

This sort of study is probably the most stimulating the College can offer, and it could be made available to many more students than now take it. Conservative departments and timid students are the greatest handicap to expansion of tutorial for credit, but if the faculty can put aside the absurd notion that most students work only for grades, this timorous attitude can be overcome. There is a grade in tutorial for credit, unlike course reduction, but this is not the stimulus; the spur to work in "99" courses comes from the requirement of laying one's work before a tutor who can examine and criticize it, and suggest further lines of study, new books to read, new people to see.

Course reduction for an unsupervised study project should be discontinued, and "99" courses expanded, so that tutors would receive teaching credit for their work, and not help only as a favor to a student. And departments should provide easy access to tutors competent in a student's field of interest.

Indeed, there is no reason but expense why "99" courses should be limited to concentrators. Suppose a History student wants to work for a term on American novels and can convince the Department of English that he is able to pursue such a course of study. Why should he be barred? If this method of teaching produces the best sort of learning, then it should be used as widely as possible. Science concentrators, now wholly outside tutorial, might profit especially from a History 99 or a Fine Arts 99. Course reduction, now often unsupervised, can provide a means to learn an outside field, but without a tutor for a sounding board many students who enter with the best of intentions find they do not do much work at all, and they thus may seek refuge in the argument for more requirements.

But the best student is the one who will push himself, and Harvard must provide a framework within which students find encouragement for this sort of activity. Increased requirements and prodding only retard meaningful intellectual development. A reading list and a sheaf of bluebooks cannot produce an educated man.

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