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put him into the shop without that knowledge, to let him
learn by imitation, pick up the rule of thumb, follow the
ways of master workmen of the trade to do that would
be to make him only a workman, one who can do what



WHAT THE LIBERAL COLLEGE IS NOT 27

has been done, can do what he is told to do. But the
father is not content with this. His boy must understand
and know the trade so that he may be the leader and the
guide, may give the orders rather than obey them. But
how often the same father is unwilling that his boy attempt
to understand his own religion, his own morals, his own
society, his own politics! In these fields, surely the father's
opinions are good enough! Keep the boy's mind at rest
regarding his religion and his economics; what has been
believed before had better still be believed! It may be
bad for business, may interfere with a boy's success if he
becomes too much interested in the fundamental things of
life! And so such parents invite us to leave the universal
things, the things most sacred and significant, to blindness,
to the mere drift of custom, to tradition, and rule of thumb.
And here it is that the liberal college again asserts its loyalty
to the men who founded the older institutions. Those men
had intellectual faith; they believed that it is worth while
to know the life of man, and so they studied it and taught
it to their pupils. I know that I speak for the teachers
and the administrators of the liberal college here represented
to-day when I pledge anew our loyalty to the men in whose
footsteps we follow. So far as we can bring it about, the
young people of our generation shall know themselves, shall
know their fellows, shall think their way into the common
life of their people, and by their thought shall illumine
and direct it. If we are not pledged to that, then we have
deserted the old standard; we are apostates from the
faith. But I think that a good many of us are still loyal.
We welcome every new extension of vocational instruction.
We know that every man should have some special task
to do and should be trained to do that task as well as it
can possibly be done. The more the special trades and
occupations are guided and directed by skill and knowledge
the more will human life succeed in doing the things it
plans to do. But by the same principle we pledge ourselves
to the study of the universal things in human life, the



28 THE LIBERAL COLLEGE

things that make us men as well as ministers and tradesmen.
We pledge ourselves forever to the study of human living
in order that living may be better done. We have not
yet forgotten that fundamentally the proper study of man-
kind is Man.



II

WHAT THE LIBERAL COLLEGE IS

IN the discussions concerning college education there is
one voice which is all too seldom raised and all too often
disregarded. It is the voice of the teacher and the scholar,
of the member of the college faculty. It is my purpose
to devote this address to a consideration of the ideals of
the teacher, of the problems of instruction as they present
themselves to the men who are giving the instruction.
And I do this not because I believe that just now the teachers
are wiser than others who are dealing with the same ques-
tions, but rather as an expression of a definite conviction
with regard to the place of the teacher in our educational
scheme. It is, I believe, the function of the teacher to
stand before his pupils and before the community at large
as the intellectual leader of his time. If he is not able to
take this leadership, he is not worthy of his calling. If the
leadership is taken from him and given to others, then the
very foundations of the scheme of instruction are shaken.
He who in matters of teaching must be led by others is not
the one to lead the imitative undergraduate, not the one
to inspire the confidence and loyalty and discipleship on
which all true teaching depends. If there are others who
can do these things better than the college teacher of to-
day, then we must bring them within the college walls.
But if the teacher is to be deemed worthy of his task, then
he must be recognized as the teacher of us all, and we must
listen to his words as he speaks of the matters entrusted
to his charge.

In the consideration of the educational creed of the
teacher I will try to give, first, a brief statement of his

29



3 o THE LIBERAL COLLEGE

belief; second, a defense of it against other views of the
function of the college; third, an interpretation of its
meaning and significance; fourth, a criticism of what seem
to me misunderstandings of their own meaning prevalent
among the teachers of our day; and finally, a suggestion
of certain changes in policy which must follow if the belief
of the teacher is clearly understood and applied in our
educational procedure.



First, then, What do our teachers believe to be the aim
of college instruction? Wherever their opinions and con-
victions find expression there is one contention which is
always in the foreground, namely, that to be liberal a college
must be essentially intellectual. It is a place, the teachers
tell us, in which a boy, forgetting all things else, may set
forth on the enterprise of learning. It is a time when a
young man may come to awareness of the thinking of his
people, may perceive what knowledge is and has been and
is to be. Whatever light-hearted undergraduates may say,
whatever the opinions of solicitous parents, of ambitious
friends, of employers in search of workmen, of leaders in
church or state or business, whatever may be the beliefs
and desires and demands of outsiders, the teacher
within the college, knowing his mission as no one else can
know it, proclaims that mission to be the leading of his
pupil into the life intellectual. The college is primarily
not a place of the body, nor of the feelings, nor even of the
will; it is, first of all, a place of the mind.

II

Against this intellectual interpretation of the college
our teachers find two sets of hostile forces constantly at
work. Outside the walls there are the practical demands
of a busy commercial and social scheme; within the college
there are the trivial and sentimental and irrational mis-
understandings of its own friends. Upon each of these



WHAT THE LIBERAL COLLEGE IS 31

our college teachers are wont to descend as Samson upon
the Philistines, and when they have had their will, there
is little left for another to accomplish. .

As against the immediate practical demands from with-
out, the issue is clear and decisive. College teachers know
that the world must have trained workmen, skilled oper-
atives, clever buyers and sellers, efficient directors, re-
sourceful manufacturers, able lawyers, ministers, physicians
and teachers. But it is equally true that in order to do
its own work, the liberal college must leave the special and
technical training for these trades and professions to be
done in other schools and by other methods. In a word,
the liberal college does not pretend to give all the kinds of
teaching which a young man of college age may profitably
receive; it does not even claim to give all the kinds of in-
tellectual training which are worth giving. It is com-
mitted to intellectual training of the liberal type, whatever
that may mean, and to that mission it must be faithful.
One may safely say, then, on behalf of our college teachers,
that their instruction is intended to be radically different
from that given in the technical school or even in the pro-
fessional school. Both these institutions are practical in
a sense in which the college, as an intellectual institution, is
not. In the technical school the pupil is taught how to do
some one of the mechanical operations which contribute
to human welfare. He is trained to print, to weave, to
farm, to build; and for the most part he is trained to do
these things by practice rather than by theory. His pos-
session when he leaves the school is not a stock of ideas,
of scientific principles, but a measure of skill, a collection
of rules of thumb. His primary function as a tradesman
is not to understand but to do, and in doing what is needed
he is following directions which have first been thought out
by others and are now practised by him. The technical
school intends to furnish training which, in the sense in
which we use the term, is not intellectual but practical.
In a corresponding way the work of the professional



3 2 THE LIBERAL COLLEGE

school differs from that of the liberal college. In the
teaching of engineering, medicine, or law we are or may be
beyond the realm of mere skill and within the realm of
ideas and principles. But the selection and the relating
of these ideas is dominated by an immediate practical
interest which cuts them off from the intellectual point
of view of the scholar. If an undergraduate should take
away from his studies of chemistry, biology and psychology
only those parts which have immediate practical appli-
cation in the field of medicine, the college teachers would
feel that they had failed to give to the boy the kind of
instruction demanded of a college. It is not their purpose
to furnish applied knowledge in this sense. They are not
willing to cut up their sciences into segments and to allow
the student to select those segments which may be of
service in the practice of an art or of a profession. In one
way or another the teacher feels a kinship with the scientist
and the scholar which forbids him to submit to this domi-
nation of his instruction by the demands of an immediate
practical interest. Whatever it may mean, he intends to
hold the intellectual point of view and to keep his students
with him if he can. In response, then, to demands for
technical and professional training our college teachers
tell us that such training may be obtained in other schools;
it is not to be had in a college of liberal culture.

In the conflict with the forces within the college our
teachers find themselves fighting essentially the same battle
as against the foes without. In a hundred different ways
the friends of the college, students, graduates, trustees and
even colleagues, seem to them so to misunderstand its
mission as to minimize or to falsify its intellectual ideals.
The college is a good place for making friends; it gives
excellent experience in getting on with men; it has excep-
tional advantages as an athletic club; it is a relatively safe
place for a boy when he first leaves home; on the whole
it may improve a student's manners; it gives acquaintance
with lofty ideals of character, preaches the doctrine of



WHAT THE LIBERAL COLLEGE IS 33

social service, exalts the virtues and duties of citizenship.
All these conceptions seem to the teacher to hide or to
obscure the fact that the college is fundamentally a place
of the mind, a time for thinking, an opportunity for know-
ing. And perhaps in proportion to their own loftiness
of purpose and motive they are the more dangerous as
tending all the more powerfully to replace or to nullify
the underlying principle upon which they all depend,
Here again when misconception clears away, one can have
no doubt that the battle of the teacher is a righteous- one.
It is well that a boy should have four good years of athletic
sport, playing his own games and watching the games of
his fellows; it is well that his manners should be improved;
it is worth while to make good friends; it is very desirable
to develop the power of understanding and working with
other men; it is surely good to grow in strength and purity
of character, in devotion to the interests of society, in
readiness to meet the obligations and opportunities of
citizenship. If any one of these be lacking from the fruits
of a college course we may well complain of the harvest.
And yet is it not true that by sheer pressure of these, by
the driving and pulling of the social forces within and
without the college, the mind of the student is constantly
torn from its chief concern ? Do not our social and practical
interests distract our boys from the intellectual achieve-
ments which should dominate their imagination and com-
mand their zeal? I believe that one may take it as the
deliberate judgment of the teachers of our colleges to-day
that the function of the college is constantly misunderstood,
and that it is subjected to demands which, however friendly
in intent, are yet destructive of its intellectual efficiency
and success.

in

But now that the contention of the teacher has been
stated and reaffirmed against objections, it is time to ask,
What does it mean? And how can it be justified? By



34 THE LIBERAL COLLEGE

what right does a company of scholars invite young men
to spend with them four years of discipleship? Do they,
in their insistence upon the intellectual quality of their
ideal intend to give an education which is avowedly un-
practical? If so, how shall they justify their invitation,
which may perhaps divert young men from other interests
and other companionships which are valuable to them-
selves and to their fellows? In a word, what is the under-
lying motive of the teacher, what is there in the intellectual
interests and activities which seems to him to warrant their
domination over the training and instruction of young men
during the college years ?

It is no fair answer to this question to summon us to
faith in intellectual ideals, to demand of us that we live
the life of the mind with confidence in the virtues of in-
telligence, that we love knowledge and because of our pas-
sion follow after it. Most of us are already eager to accept
intellectual ideals, but our very devotion to them forbids
that we accept them blindly. I have often been struck
by the inner contradictoriness of the demand that we have
faith in intelligence. It seems to mean, as it is so commonly
made to mean, that we must unintelligently follow intelli-
gence, that we must ignorantly pursue knowledge, that we
must question everything except the business of asking
questions, that we think about everything except the use
of thinking itself. As Mr. F. H. Bradley would say, the
dictum, "Have faith in intelligence" is so true that it con-
stantly threatens to become false. Our very conviction
of its truth compels us to scrutinize and test it to the end.

How then shall we justify the faith of the teacher? What
reason can we give for our exaltation of intellectual training
and activity? To this question two answers are possible.
First, knowledge and thinking are good in themselves.
Secondly, they help us in the attainment of other values
in life which without them would be impossible. Both
these answers may be given and are given by college teachers.
Within them must be found whatever can be said by way



WHAT THE LIBERAL COLLEGE IS 35

of explanation and justification of the work of the liberal
college.

The first answer receives just now far less of recognition
than it can rightly claim. When the man of the world
is told that a boy is to be trained in thinking just because
of the joys and satisfactions of thinking itself, just in order
that he may go on thinking as long as he lives, the man of
the world has been heard to scoff and to ridicule the idle
dreaming of scholarly men. But if thinking is not a good
thing in itself, if intellectual activity is not worth while
for its own sake, will the man of the world tell us what is?
There are those among us who find so much satisfaction
in the countless trivial and vulgar amusements of a crude
people that they have no time for the joys of the mind.
There are those who are so closely shut up within a little
round of petty pleasures that they have never dreamed of
the fun of reading and conversing and investigating and
reflecting. And of these one can only say that the differ-
ence is one of taste, and that their tastes seem to be rela-
tively dull and stupid. Surely it is one function of the
liberal college to save boys from that stupidity, to give
them an appetite for the pleasures of thinking, to make
them sensitive to the joys of appreciation and understand-
ing, to show them how sweet and captivating and whole-
some are the games of the mind. At the time when the
play element is still dominant it is worth while to acquaint
boys with the sport of facing and solving problems. Apart
from some of the experiences of friendship and sympathy
I doubt if there are any human interests so permanently
satisfying, so fine and splendid in themselves as are those
of intellectual activity. To give our boys that zest, that
delight in things intellectual, to give them an appreciation
of a kind of life which is well worth living, to make them
men of intellectual culture that certainly is one part of
the work of any liberal college.

On the other hand, the creation of culture as so defined
can never constitute the full achievement of the college.



3 6 THE LIBERAL COLLEGE

It is essential to awaken the impulses of inquiry, of experi-
ment, of investigation, of reflection, the instinctive cravings
of the mind. But no liberal college can be content with
this. The impulse to thinking must be questioned and
rationalized as must every other instinctive response. It
is well to think, but what shall we think about? Are there
any lines of investigation and reflection more valuable
than others, and if so, how is their value to be tested?
Or again, if the impulse for thinking comes into conflict with
other desires and cravings, how is the opposition to be
solved? It has sometimes been suggested that our man
of intellectual culture may be found like Nero fiddling with
words while all the world about him is aflame. And the
point of the suggestion is not that fiddling is a bad and
worthless pastime, but rather that it is inopportune on
such an occasion, that the man who does it is out of touch
with his situation, that his fiddling does not fit his facts.
In a word, men know with regard to thinking, as with
regard to every other content of human experience, that it
cannot be valued merely in terms of itself. It must be
measured in terms of its relation to other contents and to
human experience as a whole. Thinking is good in itself,
but what does it cost of other things, what does it bring
of other values? Place it amid all the varied contents of
our individual and social experience, measure it in terms
of what it implies, fix it by means of its relations, and then
you will know its worth not simply in itself but in that
deeper sense which comes when human desires are rational-
ized and human lives are known in their entirety, as well
as they can be known by those who are engaged in living
them.

In this consideration we find the second answer of the
teacher to the demand for justification of the work of the
college. Knowledge is good, he tells us, not only in itself,
but in its enrichment and enhancement of the other values
of our experience. In the deepest and fullest sense of the
words, knowledge pays. This statement rests upon the



WHAT THE LIBERAL COLLEGE IS 37

classification of human actions into two groups, those of
the instinctive type and those of the intellectual type. By
far the greater part of our human acts are carried on without
any clear idea of what we are going to do or how we are
going to do it. For the most part our responses to our
situations are the immediate responses of feeling, of per-
ception, of custom, of tradition. But slowly and painfully,
as the mind has developed, action after action has been
translated from the feeling to the ideational type; in wider
and wider fields men have become aware of their own
modes of action, more and more they have come to under-
standing, to knowledge of themselves and of their needs.
And the principle underlying all our educational procedure
is that on the whole, actions become more successful as
they pass from the sphere of feeling to that of understanding.
Our educational belief is that in the long run if men know
what they are going to do and how they are going to do it,
and what is the nature of the situation with which they are
dealing, their response to that situation will be better
adjusted and more beneficial than are the responses of the
feeling type in like situations.

It is all too obvious that there are limits to the validity
of this principle. If men are to investigate, to consider, to
decide, then action must be delayed and we must pay the
penalty of waiting. If men are to endeavor to understand
and know their situations, then we must be prepared to see
them make mistakes in their thinking, lose their certainty
of touch, wander off into pitfalls and illusions and fallacies
of thought, and in consequence secure for the time results
far lower in value than those of the instinctive response
which they seek to replace. The delays and mistakes and
uncertainties of our thinking are a heavy price to pay,
but it is the conviction of the teacher that the price is as
nothing when compared with the goods which it buys.
You may point out to him the loss when old methods of
procedure give way before the criticism of understanding,
you may remind him of the pain and suffering when old



38 THE LIBERAL COLLEGE

habits of thought and action are replaced, you may reprove
him for all the blunders of the past; but in spite of it all
he knows and you know that in human lives taken separately
and in human life as a whole men's greatest lack is the lack
of understanding, their greatest hope to know themselves
and the world in which they live.

Within the limits of this general educational principle
the place of the liberal college may easily be fixed. In
the technical school pupils are prepared for a specific work
and are kept for the most part on the plane of perceptual
action, doing work which others understand. In the pro-
fessional school, students are properly within the realm of
ideas and principles, but they are still limited to a specific
human interest with which alone their understanding
is concerned. But the college is called liberal as against
both of these because the instruction is dominated by no
special interest, is limited to no single human task, but is
intended to take human activity as a whole, to understand
human endeavors not in their isolation but in their relations
to one another and to the total experience which we call
the life of our people. And just as we believe that the
building of ships has become more successful as men have
come to a knowledge of the principles involved in their
construction; just as the practice of medicine has become
more successful as we have come to a knowledge of the
human body, of the conditions within it and the influences
without; just so the teacher in the liberal college believes
that life as a total enterprise, life as it presents itself to each
one of us in his career as an individual, human living,
will be more successful in so far as men come to understand
it and to know it as they attempt to carry it on. To give
boys an intellectual grasp on human experience this, it
seems to me, is the teacher's conception of the chief function
of the liberal college.

May I call attention to the fact that this second answer
of the teacher defines the aim of the college as avowedly
and frankly practical? Knowledge is to be sought chiefly



WHAT THE LIBERAL COLLEGE IS 39

for the sake of its contribution to the other activities of
human living. But on the other hand, it is as definitely
declared that in method the college is fully and unre-
servedly intellectual. If we can see that these two demands
are not in conflict but that they stand together in the
harmonious relation of means and ends, of instrument and
achievement, of method and result, we may escape many
a needless conflict and keep our educational policy in single-
ness of aim and action. To do this we must show that the
college is intellectual, not as opposed to practical interests
and purposes, but as opposed to unpractical and unwise
methods of work. The issue is not between practical and
intellectual aims but between the immediate and the
remote aim, between the hasty and the measured procedure,
between the demand for results at once and the willingness
to wait for the best results. The intellectual road to suc-
cess is longer and more roundabout than any otKer, but
they who are strong and willing for the climbing are brought
to higher^evets""of~achievenTeiTt than they could possibly
have attained had they gone straight forward in the path-
way of quick returns. If this were not true the liberal
college would have no proper place in our life at all. In


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Online LibraryAlexander MeiklejohnThe liberal college → online text (page 3 of 13)