Alexander Meiklejohn.

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without determining also the admission requirements.
My own suggestion would be that we require for admission
six year courses in language, three in an ancient language
and three in a modern language. We could then require
that the ancient language be continued in the Freshman
year, and that the student be required to show by exami-
nation his reading command of the modern language.
Before this matter is decided, however, we need more
information concerning the value of different entrance
subjects. Such information we hope to secure before
another year has passed.

In the Sophomore year, European history traces through
the civilization of Europe the development of the institu-
tions revealed in the course in social and economic institu-
tions. The course in philosophy, chiefly logic and ethics,
studies the human motives and beliefs which underlie those
institutions and have found expression in them. The work
in science continues that already begun. In literature,
the student continues one of the literatures of the Freshman
year, English or foreign, according to his choice.

In the Junior year, the first course continues the historical
study from Europe into the development of our own insti-
tutions. Meanwhile, the history of thought attempts to
reveal in their successive forms the beliefs and purposes
which have dominated our civilization^ and correlates with
these the scientific interpretations and, so far as possible,
the literary representations in which human life has been
portrayed. This course would be, in its own measure,
an account of the intellectual and moral elements in the
development of our civilization.


In the Senior year, the student would be expected to
bring together the contributions of the two required Junior
courses in order that he may face the characteristic and
significant problems of his time and people. The study
of European and American institutions in their develop-
ment, and of the thought elements underlying and deter-
mining them, should have prepared him to form some
opinions of his own about human living. I do not mean
that he should be given a course in dogmatic citizenship,
but I do mean that the religious, moral, political, social and
economic issues of our day should be so presented and
interpreted that a young man may begin to understand
them, may begin to define his own thoughts on human
problems in relation to the thoughts which other men have
made and are making. Such a course could not be given
by one teacher. It would be necessary to place in charge
of it a number of teachers who might supplement each
other, teaching by their differences as well as by their

On the elective side, the plan allows one free elective in
the Sophomore year in order that a student may be free to
carry on some special interest from the Freshman to the
later years. Thus he may take a second language or con-
tinue his mathematics, or go on with his work in some other
department within which his special interest lies. In the
Junior year, which is divided into four courses, two of these
are open to choice without limitation. In the two earlier
years, all the different lines of study have been opened up
and the student may now select two of them for careful
and detailed study under close supervision and in small
classes. In the Senior year, the major, taking two thirds
of the student's time, must be a continuation of one of the
four subjects of the Junior year. Here again the work
would be done in small groups in close association with a
teacher or group of teachers. In the two years taken
together it would amount practically to a full year's work
in a subject to which the student had already been intro-


duced in the early part of his college life. If the student
has within him capacity for any special interest he should
find in such genuine "majoring" at the end of his college
course, conditions favorable for awakening the interest to
full activity and for developing power in furthering it so
far as we may fairly expect it to go during the undergraduate

Before proceeding to speak of the relations of courses,
may I stop to note the omission of two subjects for which
some provision must be made. I refer to the teaching of
the fine arts, including music, and to practice in public
speech. These subjects are left out because the plan is as
yet a mere sketch. In any definite scheme they must be
firmly established in some way or other.

With regard to relations between courses, may I call
attention to the continuity in the series of required courses
and in the sequence of elective courses as well. The re-
quired studies running through the four years form one
continuous intellectual inquiry. The courses in history
treat of the institutions revealed in the Freshman year,
and the Senior course discusses the problems for which
history has furnished material. The Freshman courses in
institutions and mathematics and logic lead directly into
the study of logic and ethics, which in turn leads into the
history of thought, which again gives another body of con-
tent for the Senior course in problems. The courses in
science lead into the history of thought, and the studies
in literature give content for both historical subjects of the
Junior year. In the Senior year, the entire curriculum,
with its information, its problems, its methods, should be
brought to bear upon the interpretation of a group of prob-
lems which are all bound together by their common human
interest. In the field of electives, the same relationship
holds so far as possible. The Senior major continues one
of the Junior subjects, which is itself a continuation of work
done in the earlier years.

It would be essential to the working out of such a plan


that the college student should, at the beginning of his
studies, be informed of the general plan and outline of the
curriculum. To the Freshman class there should be given
a series of lectures which would sketch the course of study
as a whole, giving its essential purposes and determining
the relations of each study to the other studies and the
curriculum of which they are parts. Such lectures if
properly given would illumine and direct the instruction
and study from beginning to end. They would provide
a plan which every teacher and every pupil might be ex-
pected to keep in mind.

With respect to inclusiveness, the required content is
intended to be representative of the system of human
knowledge as a whole. Recognizing the limitation of time
in four years of undergraduate study, it attempts to select
the significant intellectual inquiries and to so relate them as
to keep the unity of the whole while establishing acquaint-
ance with the parts. The task is not an easy one and there
is wide room for differences of opinion. But to do it in
some way is better than not to do it at all. One can simply
formulate one's notion and then submit it to friends and
colleagues for rending and reconstruction.

The fundamental purpose of the plan is to ensure that
every student who receives a liberal degree shall have gone
through an intellectual procedure by which a liberal educa-
tion may be secured. We are not content with the assur-
ance that he has been for four years in an institution within
which the opportunities of liberal culture are available. We
prefer an arrangement by which those opportunities are
made requirements. Then, recognizing the artificiality of
our tests, we may teach and test in the hope that what
is intended may be accomplished.

The same principle may be stated by saying that the
liberal college has a definite intellectual mission and it has
no right to give its degrees unless that mission has been
achieved. It is not enough that a student know a little of
everything; so far as it is possible, he should be given a


knowledge of the world, so extensive and so unified that by
means of it he may get a fair understanding of human
experience. It is not enough that he should have studied
one subject three years; he should go into one field and
learn how thinking is done in that field. I would define
the intellectually educated man as one who can bring a
unified interpretation of the world to bear on the problems
of human experience, and who also appreciates how thought
has achieved those results which have made his interpre-
tation possible.

From the arrangement of courses here proposed there
would follow a number of advantages which are perhaps
worthy of mention.

One discouraging feature of our present work is that,
each course being regarded as complete in itself, the student
holds himself, or is held by us, responsible for being in-
formed concerning its content only on the day of exami-
nation. If at some later time we should call on him for
evidence of his knowledge of it, he would accuse us of
injustice and violation of all the presuppositions on which
his curriculum is built. But in the plan proposed, each
course given is itself an examination in the courses which
have been given before. If the teaching be properly done,
it will be taken for granted that the results of previous
courses are actually available for use, and if they are not
available, then the work of the later year cannot be
properly done. It would be interesting to see in this way
each professor examining the teachers who have preceded
him as well as the students immediately under his

Again, this arrangement would make it possible to take
cognizance of differences in content and method between
courses. As we have spread before students lists of courses
and have invited them to choose, we have inevitably come
to regard every course on the list as a substitute for every
other, and, therefore, as equivalent to it. The inevitable
result of this has been the establishment of false uniformities


in methods of teaching. The teacher of literature and the
teacher of mathematics are each expected to take the same
amount of the student's time for study, to require classroom
attendance for the same number of hours per week, to give
the same kind of tests and examinations, to require the
same sort of "scholarly" work to make sure that the
record of intellectual achievement in one course is a fair
substitute for the record in another. But I think it is
obvious that such uniformities and substitutions are alto-
gether illusory. Valuable instruction may be given in
subjects which admit of little work on which the student
can be "tested." And there are other lines of study in
which the teacher's activity may be practically limited to
examining what the student has done. Some courses
should claim little of a student's time outside the classroom;
others can make use of far greater assignments than are
now possible under our system of equivalents. But if we
were teaching under such a system of requirements as is
here proposed, the total demand upon the student might
be compounded of whatever parts might seem best. One
would give students work to do, not to keep them busy,
but because the work is worth doing. And if one had noth-
ing for them to do at any specific time, one could arrange
with one's colleagues to fill up the gap.

Still another advantage for the teacher would appear
in the uniformity of his class. Under the usual elective
scheme, one may find Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors
in the same classroom. And again, within each of these
groups there may be every possible variation of previous
study and preparation. It follows from this that in the
conduct of the work neither teacher nor pupil can take
anything for granted. And in this way it comes to pass that
each subject is taught without regard to any other, as a
thing complete in itself, except as each teacher attempts by
way of introduction some hasty establishment of relations.
This may be the teaching of "subjects" but it does not
give knowledge in any genuine or fundamental sense.


On the side of the students, the plan has an advantage
which is very important. It would unite all the college
in a common intellectual enterprise. The modern college
has lost for its study and teaching the tremendous social
sanction which in the old college was given by the sense
of intellectual solidarity. Under the elective scheme, no
subject is essential. Why study physics hard when other
students are getting an education without it? Why, if
you are seeking for a liberal education, devote yourself to
a subject, without which other men are reaching the same
goal for which you strive? The argument is bad but none
the less convincing. But we must bring back to our stu-
dents the conviction that they have a common intellectual
task, that the college has a definite and compelling mission,
to which as members of the group they owe loyal and
enthusiastic devotion. Let us say it again our work is
as definite as that of technical or professional school; it
can rightly claim equal earnestness and greater eagerness
and enthusiasm.

On the purely mechanical side, the plan has the advan-
tages of simplicity. It reduces the number of courses and
so makes much more easy the arrangement of schedule
and all related matters. It would enable us to adjust the
sizes of divisions for instruction on some reasonable basis.
At present the size of a class is commonly dependent simply
on the number of students electing the subject. But if
courses were required of all students, divisions could be
arranged in each case to suit the nature of the work done.
One of our popular fallacies is that there is a certain proper
size for a college class. But it is clearly untrue. If a
teacher is merely lecturing or reading there is virtually no
limit of numbers except the extent of the teacher's personal
power. If one is directing a piece of investigation, each
student must be taken separately. And between these
limits there are many adjustments to be made varying with
the nature of the subject and the method of the teacher. It
would conduce both to economy and to efficiency if these


adjustments could be made by choice and not by the mere
chance of student election.

My impression is that in every phase of our intellectual
work teachers and pupils alike would be helped by greater
definiteness in understanding of the work in which we are
engaged. It would help us all to realize that we are not
simply giving or taking courses, but are engaged in a process
of education. In the face of a real unity in that process,
many of our distinctions, in the ranks of the faculty as well
as among the students, would seem arbitrary and artificial.

On the elective side, the plan would have two advan-
tages. It would put an end to the mere gathering up of
unrelated courses from which can be gained little more than
a smattering of knowledge. For this it would substitute
the choice of a definite intellectual field and would try to
ensure that in this field the student should do a piece of
thorough, sustained, and systematic study. Such a "major-
ing" in the Junior and Senior years might be expected to
establish (i) habits of intellectual work, and (2) an intel-
lectual interest which, whether or not sustained by pro-
fessional activity, would remain as a permanent element of
culture and inquiry.

As I leave this proposed plan for your consideration, I
must apologize for saying so much concerning its supposed
advantages. May I say again that the plan is presented
simply for criticism, and its claims have been set forth in
the hope that counter claim and attack may reveal its
defects. The plan does express certain principles in which
I believe. But those principles are open to challenge.
And even if they were valid, it is clear that this embodiment
of them is a mere sketch which can become a plan only as
it is torn apart, put together again in new forms and with
needed supplementation, subjected to all the generous in-
terpretation and criticism which men give each other when
they are working together in a common cause which is
more important to them than is their own discussion of it.



THE longer one attempts to devise a liberal training by
the additions and combinations of courses, the more
one becomes convinced that addition is an illusion
and that courses are the chimeras of an imagination pervert-
ed by the categories of mechanics. Twenty courses do not
make a college education any more than twenty legs make
a man, or twenty heads, or even ten hearts, two legs and
eight fingers. And in the same way three courses do not
make an intellectual interest, an experience of the actual
process of the working mind. Something is wrong with the
terms, something is radically wrong with the process of
combining them.

What is the trouble? It seems to me very clear that the
concepts of quantity and measurement have wrecked the
organic unity of the college course. In making elective
courses we have felt the genuine need of uniformity and so
have established units in terms of which to measure. And
having established our separate units of subjects, courses,
departments, we have felt free to pluck them out of the
living organism one by one, to substitute one for another,
and then to put them back supposing the life process to be
still rushing on in spite of all our interruptions.

If this be true, then no re-sorting of the courses will gain
the ends we seek. Rather, it seems to me, we must re-
think our terms and reconsider our procedure. I am
inclined, therefore, to recommend to the Trustees and
Faculty of the college a fairly fundamental transformation
of its organization. You will not find in this suggestion



the slightest hint of any change of purpose. You will,
however, find a strong conviction that the college organiza-
tion in which that purpose finds expression is quite inade-
quate. I am proposing, therefore, that a new one take its

As we have postulated two aims in the defining of a
liberal education, so I would, in good mechanical form,
propose the division of the college into two separate colleges,
a Junior and a Senior College. And if it be at once retorted
that this is a vicious mechanical separation in purpose and
in method, then I would reply that the division into two,
if discreetly made, is not so bad as a division into twenty,
and further that, in spite of bad appearances, this division
of ours is not to be mechanical never shall we take these
colleges apart or try to substitute them for one another in
any known relationship.

But now to state our plan in sober, honest terms! Our
purpose is, we say, to set men on the road toward liberal
education. And liberal education seems to have two
aspects: (i) that of general apprehension of the culture of
one's race and (2) that of feeling of the actual process of the
mind by which that culture has been made and still is in
the making. These aims are always present wherever a
liberal college is. But they are often obscure in content and
so hazy in outline as to be mistaken one for the other. Men
say "any course of study properly pursued is liberal" and
so they take some ten or twenty courses, each of necessity
improperly pursued and call the process liberal. Men
say "a little of everything and everything of something
that gives a liberal education." But they forget that
knowledge when made up of "everythings" and "some-
things " is not real knowledge at all not knowledge in
the sense of wisdom or of understanding, nor even knowl-
edge in the actual process of its making.

It seems to me essential that these two aims should be
kept clear and kept apart for fear that either may be lost
or either substituted for the other. I would propose,


therefore, that we establish them and build them into the
very structure of the college course. Let us have two
colleges instead of one, or better two in one, the first ex-
plicitly devoted to the general aim, the second, in greater
part at least, given up to special studies, and both together
mastered by the common aim of trying to understand and
share the labor and ecstacy of human knowledge and
human apprehension.

How shall it be done? In its most external aspect the
college is, of course, an institution which, having instructed
students, or perhaps not having instructed them, examines
them in order to determine whether or not to give them a
degree which certifies that they are, in some sense agreed
upon, educated men. In this external sense, one college is
one set of examinations with all that thereunto belongs.
If then we should establish two examinations, two sets of
tests, we should in this external sense divide the four year
college into two parts, each of two years. From this
would follow various results as to our methods of teaching,
methods of study, methods of life. According as men are
to be examined so will their modes of living be. Two aims,
two sets of examinations; hence two colleges that is
the program.

I would propose then that at the end of the sophomore
year we establish a set of tests or one comprehensive test
to determine whether or not in their two years of college
work our students have been making headway toward
intelligence, toward culture, toward an apprehension of
human knowledge as a whole. And at the end of the
senior year we should have a second test which, taking
the first for granted, should try to discover what students
know of some one field of knowledge, what work is done
within it and what it means. Passing the first examination
would give admission to the Senior College. Passing the
senior test would qualify a student for his degree.

It would be essential, I think, that such examinations be
set, not by the teachers who have given the instruction but


by an examining board appointed for the purpose. Teachers
would still continue to give their tests at the endings of
courses, and passing one's courses might be made a pre-
requisite for admission to the general examination. And
the Board of Examiners might perhaps include some of the
teachers of the college whose work is being examined.
But in principle it seems to me courses and examinations
should be kept far apart. The Board should set its tests
not on the basis of courses taken but by the guidance of an
end to be achieved, a type of education to be realized. We
should examine the student, not his knowledge of the
courses he has taken.

I should like now to suggest some of the advantages
which it seems to me such an arrangement would bring
about in the two colleges which are established by it.


The first advantage of the arrangement in the Junior
College would be the clarifying and validating of what the
college community means by culture. It would give to the
younger members of the community a compelling sense of
something that must be done, some quality that must be
taken on, some power that must be gained, some sensitive-
ness that must be won. There is now no such compelling
sense of common purpose and requirement in our conglom-
erate arrangement of courses. In a recent pronunciamento
of the largest association of colleges in the United States,
it was argued that since the concept of liberal education
has no generally accepted meaning, a given subject might
just as well be included in the college course as any other;
apparently no one could tell the difference in the result.
And if our college authorities are in a haze like this, there
is no wonder that freshmen and sophomores feel no com-
pulsion of a clear and definite purpose driving them on.
But we must have just that to make our college work
worth while a recognition by us all that there are certain


things which one must know, must feel, must see, must
understand if he desires to be regarded as a member of this
community. Unless he does the things we do and loves
the things we love, he is not one of us. I think perhaps we
might regard the Junior College examinations as a matric-
ulation test, the college having given a man two years in
which to show that he may rightly claim a place as one who
is her own.

And may I hasten to say that the merit of such an exami-
nation as this would lie not in a great severity. I see
no reason why it should be in general quality harder than
any of the tests we give at present. The elimination of

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Online LibraryAlexander MeiklejohnThe liberal college → online text (page 12 of 13)