George Birkbeck Norman Hill.

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siderable freedom of choice is allowed. Elementary Greek,
Latin, French, and German are among the subjects required in
the ordinary course ; but one of the ancient and one of the
modern languages may be omitted by those who pass in a
certain number of more advanced subjects. For instance, for
Greek and German might be substituted Physics and Chemistry,
and a higher knowledge in Latin, French, and Mathematics.
A candidate who has failed in some of the subjects, but who
has distinguished himself in others, might nevertheless be ad-
mitted, on the condition that he makes up his deficiencies
during his college course. Till he has done this he cannot
advance beyond the Sophomore Class.^ The candidate, for

^ Educational Review for April, 1894, p. 317.

2 The Present and Futi0-e of Harvard College, p. 5.

3 Matriculation is a word not apparently in use in Harvard.
* Catalogue.^ p. 189.


entrance into the Medical School, must pass in English, Latin
(the translation at sight of simple Latin prose). Physics, Chem-
istry, and in any one of the following subjects : French, Ger-
man, Algebra (through quadratic equations). Plane Geometry,
Botany. Those who have taken a degree in any recognized
college are examined only in Chemistry,^

In the College the only " prescribed studies " — studies in
which all alike must share — are for Freshmen, Rhetoric and
English Composition (three times a week) ; Chemistry (lect-
ures, once a week first half-year) ; German or French for
those who do not present both for admission (three times a
week) ; for Sophomores and Juniors, Themes and Forensics.^
Seniors (the men in their last year) are left unconstrained.
With all this freedom of choice, from every student in every
year a certain amount of work is required. The studies are
divided into courses and half courses, according to the estimated
amount of work in each, and its value in fulfilling the require-
ments for the degree of A.B. or A.M." In each of his four
years a student must pass through four of these elective courses,
receiving instruction three hours a week in each. Instead of
one course he may take two half-courses.^ Besides his " pre-
scribed studies," therefore, he attends lectures twelve hours a
week during thirty-six weeks of the year for four years in
succession.'* Pie is not left free to rove from study to study
among the three hundred and thirty courses which, in their

1 Catalogue, p. 373.

2 "Twelve themes. — Lectures and discussions of themes. — Forensics.

— Lectures on argumentative composition. — A brief based on a master-
piece of argumentative composition. — Four forensics preceded by briefs.

— Discussions of briefs and of forensics." lb. p. 75.
8 Catalogue, pp. 64, 205.

* Some part of the time each year is occupied in examinations.


tempting varieties, are spread before him, taking a sip at each,
and then leaving it on the morrow " for fresh woods and past-
ures new." "The elective system," writes President Eliot,
" is not an abandonment of system. It is emphatically a
method in education, which has a moral as well as an intel-
lectual end, and is consistent with a just authority, while it
grants a just hberty." ^ " The Freshman Class is placed under
the special charge of a Committee of the Faculty," composed
of twenty-one members, " each member of which acts as adviser
to a certain portion of the class. Every Freshman is required
to submit his choice of studies to his adviser at or before the
beginning of the year ; and his work is to be carried on under
the supervision of that officer." Even when the student is out
of his Freshman year, " his choice is limited to those studies
which his previous training qualifies him to pursue." When
once his choice has been made at the beginning of each aca-
demic year, he can make no change without permission.^ In
the college slang, a Freshman's adviser is known as his nurse.

After I had written this chapter I received the following
letter from a young Bachelor of Arts, who took his degree last
summer magna cum laude. He says : —

" As you will doubtless have heard and read pretty much all that can
be said in favour of the elective system, I shall try to show you a little bit
of the other side.

" A considerable number of men, in choosing their courses, look only to
the convenience of the hour set for the recitations [lectures], and select
a course because it chances to fall in with their arrangements, without any
regard to its subject. Fellows have often come to me and said : ' Tell
me a good course in the second half year, I do not want a nine o'clock or
an afternoon lecture.' This naturally does not apply to Freshmen, whose
choice is limited and directed by advisers.

^ Annual Reports, 1884-5, P- 4- ^ Catalogue, pp. 206-8.


" Again, a great many fellows take pains to look for courses known in the
College slang as suaps — that is, easy courses. These are now far more
difficult to find than they were even when I came to College, five years ago;
for it very soon comes to the ears of an instructor, that his course has the
reputation of being a snap, and he takes steps to correct the impression.

" In default of a snap an easy-going fellow will often choose a very
largely attended course, knowing that convenient arrangements for cram-
ming can be made before examinations. There are a number of men in
Cambridge, who make it their business to do such work, either by private
instruction, or at rather high rates — generally two dollars [eight shillings
and two pence] an hour — or by seminars, that is, a general review of the
course, given in the form of a lecture the night before the examination.
I have repeatedly seen cases of men receiring a respectable mark, after no
further preparation than attendance at a seminar. At these, I am told,
the instruction is very efficiently given.

" There are a certain number of courses, which are taken by a very
large majority of every class at some time or other. Men are attracted to
them by the personal reputation of the Professor, and by a sort of tradi-
tion : every one has taken them, and it is the proper thing to do. Such
courses are those given by Professors Norton i and Shaler.^ The exagger-
ated attendance at these courses reacts unfavourably upon them; notably
those of Professor Norton, where the class is so large that no suitable room
can be found to accommodate it.

" On the other hand, there are certain courses which are taken, I sus-
pect, largely from a sense of duty. The best examples of these are the
courses in the United States History and elementary Political Economy.
These, without being exceedingly difficult, are by no means snaps. I fancy
that they are largely taken by the advice of fellows' fathers; not unfre-
quently, however, because a man wants to read the newspapers intelli-
gently and the like.

" A great danger of our system, even to industrious fellows, is the ten-
dency to early specialization. A boy comes to college with a strong dis-
like for, say Mathematics, and is not likely ever to take any courses in that
department. On the other hand, he may be rather good at the Classics and
fond of general reading, and so he drifts into Greek and Latin, or Litera-
ture, and finds on graduation that he has a quantity of special information
in one line, that may, or may not, be of use to him, and is wofuUy de-
fective in general information. The burden of the lamentation of all my

1 Professor of the History of Art. ^ Professor of Geology.


classmates during their Senior year was, * Oh, that I had my college
course to arrange over again ! '

" In spite of all the evil I have said of the elective system, it still appears
to me to be infinitely better than that followed in our other universities."

Professor G. H. Palmer, who was a soinewhat late convert
to the merits of this system, who in advocating it, describes
himself as " that desirable persuader, the man who has himself
been persuaded," put the following question "to some fifty re-
cent graduates : ' In the light of your present experience, how
many of your electives would you change ? ' I seldom," he con-
tinues, " find a man who would not change some ; still more
rarely one who would change one-half. As I look back on my
own college days, spent chiefly on prescribed studies, I see that
to make these serve my needs, more than half should have been
different. There was Anglo-Saxon, for example, which was re-
quired of all, no English literature being permitted. A course
in advanced chemical physics, serviceable no doubt to some of
my classmates, came upon me prematurely, and stirred so in-
tense an aversion to physical study that subsequent years were
troubled to overcome it. One meagre meal of philosophy was
perhaps as much as most of us Seniors could digest, but I went
away hungry for more. . . . Prescribed studies may be ill-
judged or ill-adapted, ill-timed or ill-taught, but none the less
inexorably they fall on just and unjust. The wastes of choice
chiefly affect the shiftless and the dull, men who cannot be
harmed much by being wasted. The wastes of prescription
ravage the energetic, the clear-sighted, the original — the very
classes who stand in greatest need of protection." ^

At the Commemoration in 1886, the President of the Alumni
Association indulged in a boast which, well-founded though it

1 The New Education, by G. H. Palmer, pp. 14, 37.


was, has of late years been a source of mischief to the cause
of education in America. Self-complacency is none the less
dangerous when it is found in a whole nation. Speaking of the
first settlers, he said : " One great principle they contributed
to the science of government, and the greatest of states and
statesmen might well be proud of the contribution. That the
education of the people is a public duty ; that there is a right
in every child and youth in the land to its nuliments, and to
the opportunity for a larger and more liberal culture ; that the
provision for this is a legitimate public expenditure, — are
principles of the greatest importance, and for these the world
is indebted to them. The monuments to their own just fame
which they reared by the establishment of this College and
their provision for public schools are not to be found alone in
these halls, . . . but equally in the humblest village schoolhouse
wherever in the broad land it nestles in the valley or by the
wayside." ^

If it is true that America in public education was once ahead
of all the nations, that lead she has lost. Cobden and Bright,
were they living, would no longer point to her as an example
for England to follow. In elementary education, in which we
were so backward, we have now not only caught her up, but
outstripped her. In the secondary schools, moreover, where
university students receive most of their early training, she lags
still farther behind. Instead of advancing, as we have greatly
advanced of late, she has not, we are told, even maintained her
former standard.

" It is a notorious and discreditable fact," writes Professor
Goodwin, "that our students now come to college at the age
of nineteen with no more knowledge than an English, French,

1 Harvard College, 2joth Anniversary, p. 251.


German, or Swiss boy has at seventeen, and — what is more
discreditable still — with no more than our own New England
boy had at seventeen fifty or sixty years ago. One of the
greatest of the many great services which the President of the
University has rendered to the cause of education is the com-
plete demonstration which he has given, not only of these facts,
but also of their causes. . . . The real waste of time seems
to be effected chiefly in schools of the lower grades, where the
skill sometimes shown in spreading the elements of learning
thin would be laughable were it not pathetic. . . . Boys enter
Exeter Academy now older than they once left it for college ;
and at this age (sixteen or seventeen) they are required merely
to 'have some knowledge of Common School Arithmetic, writ-
ing, spelling, and the elements of English Grammar.' I select
Exeter as an example, not by way of censure, but honoris causa.
We are sure that she does her best with the material which
comes to her from the lower schools. And this is the best
which one of the oldest and most ambitious New England
academies can now demand from boys of sixteen and seven-
teen, hardly as much as she could once have demanded and
obtained from boys of twelve and thirteen."^

Two years ago a Committee on Secondary School Studies
was appointed by the National Education Association. The
Chairman was President Eliot. The Committee nominated
nine " Conferences," each composed of men of great experience
in the subject which it was to investigate. In the nine reports
which they issued, one common desire was found running
through all : "That the elements of their several subjects should
be taught earlier than they now are."^ The Latin Conference

1 The Present and Future of Harvard College, pp. 36-39.

2 Report of the Committee on Secondary School Studies, Washington,
1893, p. 14.


reported : " In the United States the average age at which the
study of Latin is begun is about fifteen years, and probably
above the number rather than below it. In England and on
the Continent the study is seldom begun so late as at the age
of twelve, and much oftener between the ages of nine and eleven ;
in other words, from four to six years earlier than with us." ^ In
a footnote on this passage there is seen the curious change
which has come over the words Grammar School in America.
" In Michigan," we read, " successful experiments have been
made in introducing the study of Latin into the Grammar
School ; and the trial is also being made in certain Grammar
Schools in Massachusetts." In England, Grammar School
almost everywhere retains the sense in which Johnson defines
it : "A school in which the learned languages are grammatically
taught." Such a school no doubt once was " The Faire Gram-
mar School" in the American Cambridge, now, by an unhappy
change, known as the Washington School. So much has even
the tradition of the older education passed away, that " in a
recent Convention of Teachers, not far from Boston, a story of
some English schoolboys, who appeared to be as far advanced
in their studies as most Sophomores or Juniors in New England
colleges, was received with many expressions of astonishment
and with some of incredulity."^

Of this general neglect to lay the foundations of the higher
learning at an early age, there are doubtless many causes of which
I know nothing. I have been told that many an American
father, whose youth had been one hard struggle, is bent on
letting his children have what he calls "a good time." "There

^ Report of the Committee on Secondary School Studies, Washington,
1893, P- 60.

2 School and College, February, 1892, p. 99.


must," writes Professor Goodwin, "be a thorough awakening
and change of heart on the part of indulgent parents, so that
they shall no longer consent to the long periods of idleness
which now interrupt their children's study, or, at least, shall no
longer encourage and seek to extend them." ^ Schoolmasters
seem almost as weak as parents are indulgent. "Another evil,
one peculiar to this country, but a most unnecessary one, is the
constant interruption of study by calls of society, and by a
thousand other distractions which in other countries would
never be allowed to break in upon study in school." ^ But
who can look for strictness in schoolmasters, who hold their
office by an uncertain tenure, and who might be cast adrift by
the votes of a it^v touchy parents ? " Some of the conditions
of the public school service in this country," writes President
Eliot, " particularly the uncertain tenure of office, and the fluc-
tuating quaUty of school committees or boards, are unfortunately
averse to the creation of a class of highly educated and ex-
perienced schoolmasters ; but custom, if not statute, makes
some public school offices fairly permanent, the endowed
schools of the country already offer a considerable number of
desirable posts, and the large cities support many profitable
private schools of great merit." ^ That hateful system of "the
spoils to the victors," has been allowed, it seems, to cast its
taint even on the education of children.

The money which is laid out freely on schools is not always
laid out wisely. " The same profuse liberality which spends a
quarter or a half million of dollars on a schoolhouse would be
equally ready to equip the school within on a corresponding

1 School and College, February, 1892, p. 104.

2 The Present and Future of Harvard College, p. 37.
8 Reports, 1891-92, p. i6.


scale, if it only knew how this could be wisely done." ' Bad
systems of teaching, moreover, " which are imposed on the
teachers by standing rules, and often compel a good teacher to
waste nearly as much time as a poor one," are answerable for a
great part of the general backwardness. The quick and eager
boy is sacrificed to the dull and sluggish, the hard worker to the
idler. "Classes often have an amount of work given them
for a year which any bright boy or girl can do in three months,
while there is no regular provision by which those who can do
it in less time shall as a matter of course go on toother work." ^
It is this dead level at which the pupils are kept, added to the
extraordinary delay in setting them to study Greek and Latin,
which brings the most promising lads to the University so far
behind our highest standard. There are no scholars of Balliol
or of Trinity, Cambridge, to be found among them. "It is
now a familiar truth to most of us," writes Professor Goodwin,
" that students come to Harvard College at nineteen, in most
cases badly prepared to pass an examination which boys of
sixteen or seventeen would find easy work in England, Germany,
France, or Switzerland. Most of these young men have spent
the preceding three, four, or five years in doing boys' work,
which should all have been finished before they were sixteen.
At their age time is precious, at least in their parents' eyes, and
there is generally a struggle to finish their work in the shortest
possible time. The preparatory schools, therefore, devote their
chief energies to ' fitting ' candidates for the examination, which
the College mercifully divides between two years to temper its
severity. It is, after all, a mere ' pass ' examination, which
seldom gives any opportunity to display real scholarship ; and

^ School and College, February, 1892, p. 100.
^ Present and Future 0/ Harvard College, p. 37.


yet it is held to be a distinction to attain three-quarters of the
mark in any subject ; and this attainment is paraded as an
' honour,' which reflects glory on the pupil and on the school
which sent him." ^ After giving an account of the classical
authors studied in the higher forms at our Westminster School,
Professor Goodwin continues : "These boys need very little of
this to enter either Cambridge or Oxford, where, in most colleges,
hardly as much is required for admission as at Harvard or Yale ;
but they know that those who bring only the absolute require-
ments for admission are practically excluded from all the better
instruction at both Universities, where no scholar of distinction
gives his time to * pass men.' " How little the highest kind of
instructioh is generally given in the American High Schools is
shown by the fact that, " although Harvard draws rather more
than one-third of her students from States outside New Eng-
land, the whole number of students who have come to her from
the High Schools of these States during a period of the last
ten years is but sixty-six. Fitting for college is becoming an
alarmingly technical matter, and is falling largely into the hands
of private tutors and academies." -

It is not the duller students at Harvard, or even perhaps the
average students, who are below the standard of the same two
classes of men at our Universities. Nothing could surpass the
grossness of the ignorance of many of the undergraduates who
come from our most famous schools. I used to hear one of the
first mathematicians in Oxford piteously lament the hard fate
which condemned him to try to put a little arithmetic into
the heads of young men whose understandings had been hope-

^ Harvard Gradtiates' Magazine, January, 1893, p. 190.
2 The A-ew Education, by G. H. Palmer, Professor of Philosophy in
Harvard University, p. 75.


lessly disordered by bad teaching. " Why, sir, do you not use
your common sense?" he one day impatiently asked one of
his pupils. " I did not know that common sense had anything
to do with arithmetic," was the reply. We are not, however,
quite so bad as we were. We have made some advance since
the day — forty years or so ago — when a promising classical
scholar, fresh from Eton, was seen by his tutor adding up a
column in which he had entered 2S. dd. six times over. He
was thus laboriously arriving at the cost of half a dozen pairs of
stockings which he had just bought. " Why do you not do it
by multiplying? " asked the tutor. " I do not know what you
mean," the youth modestly answered. When he was shown the
process and had had explained to him all the mystery of the
multiplication table, he was so much taken with the extraordi-
nary facilities which it afforded, that in less than a week he had
it by heart.

In America, it is clear, a better classification is needed both
in the schools and in the Universities. Democratic equality has
been allowed, it seems, to invade even the province of the mind.
All the realm of learning is in common. It is felony, not to
drink small beer, but to ask for stronger ale than most heads
can stand. In the school there should be that sixth form which
the dull and backward are never suffered to encumber ; and even
in this sixth form there should be no absolute equality of study.
The ablest scholars, while they did all that was done by the
others, should have a wider range of subjects. In the University
there should be established that division between " passmen "
and " classmen " which is for the benefit of the slow and
ignorant almost as much as of the well-trained scholar. He
must no longer be made to work on the same lines as the dunce
and the idler, merely doing well what they do ill. It is on a


higher level he should study, and at a greater pace that he should
advance. At Harvartl, as I am informed by one of the most
eminent of the Professors, " it is perfectly possible for the best
scholars (in rank) to earn their rank and their scholarships too
in courses of study in which the lowest in rank can pass without
censure. This is intolerable ; and yet it would require a severe
wrench to break us off from it. Our higher courses, it is true,
give students an opportunity to study on a higher level ; but we
still give our rank and our scholarship to those who stand
highest in the general competition ; and it is much easier to
stand high in a lower course than in a higher." To attain the
highest success the student has to reach the top in each one of
the sixteen courses through which he has passed in his four
years at College. Whether he has stood on the summit of
sixteen mole-hills or sixteen mountains matters not a whit.

These evils, great as they undoubtedly are, have happily
been lessened by the elective system. Real scholars would not
sacrifice rank to knowledge, but would choose the higher courses.
Thus by a natural process they would classify themselves. It is
in the Graduate School, however, free as it is from all artificial
rewards, that the Professor who has the cause of learning deeply
at heart finds his greatest comfort and hope. In it, I am told,
there are students as good as the best in Oxford and Cambridge
— not perhaps so ready and versatile, for they have not passed
through a long and often harmful course of systematic training,
but nevertheless nowise inferior to them in knowledge and in
a love of learning.

In our ancient Universities, though of late years far greater
freedom has been given than of old, nevertheless, the battle of
" elective studies " — to use the American term — is still going
on. At Oxford and at Cambridge no one can take his degree

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Online LibraryGeorge Birkbeck Norman HillHarvard college, by an Oxonian; → online text (page 18 of 26)