George Trumbull Ladd.

Essays on the higher education online

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tion, and the extremely varied interests represented
in modern culture, are the more obvious causes of
the prevalent disturbance.

Thus far it has been the schools of the higher
and the highest learning which have chiefly felt
the pressure of the oncoming of the so-called u new


education." Under this pressure these schools
have largely changed the nature, increased the
amount, and developed in variety the studies of
their curricula. But the signs are only too plainly
manifest that similar demands will be made upon
the schools which lie lower down in the stratum
of the secondary education.

Indeed, as it seems to me, upon no other stage
of education is the burden of making all things
" new " destined to fall more heavily than upon
the fitting-schools of the country. By " fitting-
schools " I mean such as fit pupils for the colleges
and first-class scientific schools ; and any educa-
tional institution or more private enterprise, in so
far as it undertakes such preparatory work, is en-
titled to be called by this name. The intermediate
position which every such school is, by its very
nature, compelled to occupy cannot fail to confront
it in the near future with a number of most serious
problems. Back of the fitting-school, or rather at
its base, lies the primary education, with all its
many flaws, accumulated follies, and marked de-
ficiencies. In this earlier stage we can expect
little yielding to the pressure of the new ideas of
compass, variety, and choice in education. The
limits of change possible in such matters for the
primary schools of the country will remain com-
paratively small. No variety of elective courses,
and very little attempt at increased breadth, can


enter here. Whatever improvement is made at
this stage must simply be in the way of securing
more thorough and genial training of the child in
the few subjects with which all education begins,
and which every pupil is alike required to know.
These schools, then, may be spoken of as the
nether-stones of our mill of education ; they will
stand immovable on the lower side of the instruc-
tion of the preparatory schools. Or, to change the
figure of speech, they will entail upon the prepara-
tory schools all the deficiencies, follies, and weak-
nesses, of which they are themselves seized.

I have just spoken of the primary schools, with
their imperfect but very stable work of laying the
foundations of a common education, as the nether
mill-stone on which the fitting-schools have to lie.
But on the other side are the colleges and higher
scientific schools ; these have for years been stead-
ily increasing the gross amount of their demands
upon the fitting-schools, and now, under the influ-
ence of the new ideas of education, they seem
likely to impose yet heavier burdens by a corre-
sponding increase in the variety of these demands.
The higher institutions may, then, not inaptly, be
compared to the upper mill-stone in the educa-
tional mill. What is to prevent the preparatory
schools from being ground fine between the nether
and the upper stones ? And yet between the two is
the natural and only place for these schools.


Their difficulty is also greatly increased by the
fact that they can scarcely hold most of their
pupils long enough to do a thoroughly good work
with them. The fact that the pupils come crude
and unformed to such schools, even in all matters
of the most elementary training, is coupled with
the greatest haste on the part of the same pupils
to pass through the intermediate stage of educa-
tion, into the freer, larger, and more varied intel-
lectual (and social and athletic) activity of the

And now let us consider separately each one of
the three kinds into which the general grade of
schools called " preparatory " may be divided.
The case of the public high-school as a fitting-
school is, under the present circumstances, exceed-
ingly peculiar. Indeed, the very existence in the
future of the public high-school in this country,
not only as a fitting-school, but also in any shape
whatever, cannot be predicted with much confi-
dence. But at present the attitude and relations
of the different schools of this grade toward the
colleges vary greatly. In a few public schools the
preparation given for college or for the scientific
school is as good as can be obtained anywhere ; in
a somewhat larger number the influences are on
the whole in favor of a truly liberal education.
But in a very large and, I fear, increasing number
of cases, especially in the West, the influence of


the public schools is decidedly adverse to a truly
liberal education. In some places the teachers of
the public schools constitute as a body a kind of
organized monopoly, secretly or actively employed
in keeping out of all vacated positions every col-
lege-bred man, and exercising all possible influence
to depreciate a college education. I have person-
ally been cognizant of a system of public education,
inaugurated in a large city, where, in the higher
grade of instruction the pupils were taught at the
public expense to dissect cats, to accept in toto
Bain's psychology, and to despise the Christian
religion ; but not one of them could learn a word
of Greek without the expense of a private tutor.

With the present uncertainty touching the ulti-
mate fate of the high-school before my mind, I
have only two remarks to make upon its use as a
fitting-school. First: The tax-payers and voters
are not likely to consent much further to multiply
the variety of optional courses to be taught in the
high-schools at the public expense. Second: If
they are not forced by political influences greatly
to restrict the amount and variety of instruction
which they at present aim to impart, the high-
schools of the better quality in the larger places
will probably see the propriety of continuing in-
struction in the classical languages.

In speaking of the public high-school as a fitting-
school, it is not necessary to espouse either of two


tenable theories as to the basis on which our sys-
tem of public education rests. If this system rests
solely on the principle of self-preservation, one
must hold that the high-schools of the country, as
at present constituted, have no right to existence
whatever. It may be argued that the preservation
of the state requires that every citizen should have
an elementary education ; but it cannot be shown
that to impart a little algebra, and a little chem-
istry, and a little music, and a little drawing, etc.,
is a measure of public safety.

But suppose one to hold (as I have little hesita-
tion in holding) that states, like noble individuals,
and like God himself, should not be satisfied with
doing what is necessary to the bare preservation of
existence. Let our theory be, that states, in the
long run and wide extent of their being, should
strive by collective action to nurture intelligence,
intellectual variety, and beauty of multiform and
high development, in as many as may be of their
citizens. This they should do, both because it
pays and because it is intrinsically noble. Let the
theory of public education be a generous paternal
theory. But even with this theory the work of ex-
pensive specialization of education at the public
cost cannot be carried beyond a certain limit.
That limit, it is the opinion of most thoughtful
and observing persons, has been already reached,
and perhaps passed. Still, it is my contention that


if the generous theory is to triumph, and the highly
specialized high-school is to stay, no other of its
courses have any better right to remain than those
in the classical languages. There is no good rea-
son why a high-school should teach its pupils to
dissect cats, to accept Bain's or any other psychol-
ogy, to read music and draw a little, etc., and at
the same time banish Greek and Latin from its

The case of the largest and best-equipped acade-
mies needs, in the prospect of largely increased
demands that they shall furnish a more extended
and varied preparation for college, scarcely any de-
tailed consideration. Such schools will probably
in time succeed in meeting well whatsoever de-
mands are made upon them. If it should become
necessary, they may perhaps develop into minia-
ture colleges with curricula composed of several
score of different courses, among which the youths
who frequent them, of ages from twelve to eigh-
teen, may exercise their option. That they would
in this way really lay more satisfactorily the foun-
dations of a truly liberal education, or even of one
likely to fit men for success in the different busi-
nesses and professions, I cannot believe. And
surely the burden of meeting these new demands
would be very great, too great for more than a
very few of the more fortunate fitting-schools to
succeed m carrying it.


The case of those more private enterprises which
have hitherto furnished some of the best candi-
dates for admission to our colleges requires even
less of detailed consideration. This class of fit-
ting-schools simply cannot comply with the condi-
tions required by the full and consistent develop-
ment of the " new education." The demand for
instruction in German or French staggers a school
of this kind ; the demand for a curriculum includ-
ing various percentages of physics, chemistry, more
advanced mathematics, etc., would destroy it.

In general it is pretty obvious that the evolution
of the new education, if it goes on in the directions
in which its present indications are pointing, will
bring upon the fitting-schools of the country such
a severe application of the laws of natural selection
that only a few of the fittest to survive will really
succeed in surviving. At the same time, if they
all survived, and were ultimately found reorganized
in a form best to exhibit the type followed by this
process, the result would, in my judgment, be far
from satisfactory. For the true principle of the
secondary education does not call for the offer of a
great variety of studies, either prescribed or elective,
but for a thorough and long -continued discipline in
a very few judiciously selected and representative

The relief which the fitting-schools require, in
order to attain their true place in the system of


American higher education, must come mainly
from the accomplishment of two results. The first
of these is the careful organization of our entire
system of education, upon the basis of an improved
primary education, and in accordance with the
principle of a natural twofold division of courses
of prescribed studies in the secondary education.
The second is a closer and more intelligent alli-
ance between the two parts of the secondary

One thing greatly to be desired and striven after,
as affording needed relief to the preparatory
schools, is an improvement in the primary educa-
tion. No one acquainted with the facts needs to
be told how faulty is the knowledge of the most
elementary subjects possessed by the average child
of twelve or fourteen, whether he has been trained
in a public or a private school. How blundering
is his use, in speech, reading, or writing, of his
mother-tongue! With how little real notion
of what our good planet is, in structure and
aspect, has he learned long lists of unpronounce-
able names of mountains, rivers, and cities not
to say hamlets and villages ! For how many years
has he struggled with the fundamental mysteries
of number, and spent his time wearisomely in
doing "sums," the like of which are not to be
found in real life upon this earth, and, as we trust,
not in the heavens above! And yet how often


does he stand stupid before the first demand to
answer any practical question in arithmetic that
requires a new combination of the " rules " !

As touching the general interest of the people,
and the salvation of the nation so far as its
education tends to its salvation nothing is more
important than the proper and efficient conduct of
the primary education ; and, as well, in the partic-
ular interest of the preparatory schools, few things
are more important.

It is, however, to a systematic arrangement of
all the courses of instruction taught in the years
of the secondary education that I look with most
confidence for lessening the difficulties and enlarg-
ing the success of the fitting-school. At present
there appears to be no little danger of bringing the
same trials and defects upon all the work of our
academies and high-schools as those under which
fell the orthodox college curriculum of some years
since. But are there no principles which may
enable us to classify the bewildering number of
possible studies, and thus to select a few which
shall alone serve to form the staple of a sound
secondary education ? I believe that such prin-
ciples exist.

There are four classes of subjects about which
the human mind strives to obtain, and a wise
system of education aims to impart, a truly scien-
tific knowledge. These are : first, the world of


" nature," so called in the restricted meaning of
the term; next, language, as the vehicle of the
mind, and that product of choice thought and
language which is literature ; third, man as mind,
with his ethical, religious, aesthetical, social, and
political being all included ; and fourth, human
history, as the complex resultant of all the inter-
acting forces involved in the first three classes of
subjects. Now the secondary education should
impart a goodly amount of clear knowledge of
each of these four great subjects ; and, of course,
also of the peculiar mental discipline derived from
the pursuit of each.

It should be at once admitted, however, that the
aptitudes and tastes of human beings differ, and
that some of their differences are very persistent,
radical, and sure perpetually to recur among great
multitudes of individuals. It can perhaps scarcely
be claimed that men are born with an aptitude and
a taste for geology, for astronomy, or for psychol-
ogy and ethics. But it seems likely, if not certain,
that some men do more naturally incline to those
pursuits which require objective observation, to
the studies of external nature, and others to the
studies of the mind as known in self-consciousness
or as expressing itself in language. This fact
suggests, at least, the necessity for a bifurcation of
the prescribed studies of the secondary stage of
education. Not far from the beginning of this


stage, therefore, I would have an opportunity pro-
vided for a division in the courses of prescribed
study. On the one hand, I would have the em-
phasis laid upon the study of language and of the
so-called humanities ; on the other hand, the
emphasis should be laid upon mathematics and
the natural and physical sciences.

But one thing more of this same general kind is
sadly needed. Perhaps the most serious defect of
the system of liberal education now prevalent in
this country is its lack of a truly progressive char-
acter. It is full of fits and starts. It is too dis-
jointed and fragmentary. This is partly because
there are no settled principles of procedure, fixing
the order and amounts of the studies ; and partly
because there is no power which can secure
teachers that know precisely what they are ex-
pected, fitted, and permitted to teach. The conse-
quence is that the different years of school-life too
much resemble the different successive sessions of
our legislatures. Milton somewhere describes the
process of legislation as " hatching a lie with the
heat of jurisdiction." Fortunately, the process
also consists in killing the brood of lies already
hatched by previous legislation. Now the process
of education in this country is by no means so
bad in this regard as the process of legislation ;
but in certain respects the former too much re-
sembles the latter.


Let it now be supposed that we have so far made
progress toward the millennium as to have some
of these evils largely remedied. And surely this
is not an extravagant or hopeless supposition.
The preparatory schools would then receive their
pupils, thoroughly well instructed in certain ele-
mentary branches, at the average age of twelve or
thirteen years ; that is to say, their pupils would
already read, write, and spell in the English lan-
guage easily and correctly ; they would have fin-
ished arithmetic ; they would have learned the
principal facts touching the structure and position
of the earth as a planet, and touching the natural
and political divisions of its surface ; they would
be familiar with the outlines of the history of their
own country. The instruction of the preparatory
school should then extend over a period of about
six years more ; that is, from about the age of
twelve to about the age of eighteen. It should be
thoroughly organized, not with a view to furnish a
large number of courses, whether prescribed or
elective, but with a view to impart a thorough and
progressive training in a few great and representa-
tive subjects. It should be bifurcated so as to pre-
pare men with a general scientific culture which
places the emphasis either upon a knowledge of lan-
guage and the humanities, or upon a knowledge of
mathematics and the facts and laws of nature.

In the foregoing way it would be possible, I con-


tend, for the fitting-schools of the country to
accomplish much more and better work than is
now possible. Indeed, if the results reasonable to
hope for in the future were secured, these schools
could send out their pupils as well educated at
eighteen as they are now at twenty, that is, after
being two years in college. Thus at least two
entire years could be saved in the secondary

The valid objection to our present system of
education, that it compels young men to wait too
long before entering upon their more strictly
university or professional studies, would be ob-
viated in this way. The study of theology, law,
and medicine, or that free pursuit of science which
accords with the university idea, could thus begin
at the average age of twenty, instead of twenty-
two or twenty-four, as the case now is. But the
university and professional education would then
rest on a much better basis than is now laid at
a later age. Moreover, the two or more years
of time which would be saved could go where
they ought to go namely, into university and
professional studies. This would give us far
better-equipped teachers, physicians, lawyers, and

There is one other matter of practical impor-
tance which needs much careful attention in order
to lessen the burdens and increase the efficiency


of the fitting schools of the country. A closer
and more intelligent alliance must somehow be
effected between the earlier and the later parts
of the secondary education. As the case now
stands, this is equivalent to saying that the col-
leges and advanced scientific schools on the one
hand, and the preparatory schools on the other
hand, must enter into a closer and more intelligent
alliance. The connections existing in reality be-
tween the instruction of the last years of the pre-
paratory school and the instruction of the first
years of college are much more intimate than
those existing between any other parts of our en-
tire system of education. As the courses of instruc-
tion in almost all our colleges are now arranged,
and as they probably will be arranged for a long
time to come, the youth passes from the prepara-
tory school to the college with no break whatever
in the character of his education. He continues
the study of the same subjects, in about the same
way, for two years or more longer. His staple
daily tasks in the earlier part of the secondary
education were the classical languages and math-
ematics; they are the same now that he has
achieved the distinction of passing under the col-
lege curriculum.

And indeed there is no good reason why the
character of the instruction should be greatly
changed when the youth enters college. There is


nothing magical about the age of eighteen, or
about the fact that the youth has got into a school
called by a different name from the one he has
left. The real determining factors in the question
of the subjects and the method of his study are
the amount of his maturity and of his general
scientific training.

The details of an orderly and progressive ar-
rangement of the entire course of study during the
years of the secondary education might fitly occupy
the attention of a committee of experts. Such a
committee should be chosen in part from the col-
leges, and in part from those fitting-schools that
are most influential and most interested in the
improvement of classical and scientific study.
Any plan proposed by such a committee would be
an incitement, though not a mandate, to better
things. Moreover, it would be likely in time to
commend itself to other colleges and fitting-schools
not participating at first in the plan. It might
result in affording great relief to the fitting-
schools, and in largely increasing the efficiency of
their instruction.

In conclusion it is well to notice that some such
plan as has just been proposed seems to afford the
only rational relief obtainable from the growing
evils of that system of " cramming " which every-
where prevails in modern education. A "bitter
cry " is being raised on all sides, not of the " out-


cast" but of those who are gathered into our
elaborate, hard-working educational institutions.
Parents, teachers, pupils, all join in the cry. The
excessive specialization of modern life has invaded
the schools of the land from lowest to highest.
There is no doubt of the existence of a certain
evil, and of more or less suffering under it. But
whence is the remedy to come ? Not from fewer
hours of study per day, or months per year, or
years spent during the entire process of education.
Certainly not from attempting to impart a yet
more shallow knowledge of the great number of
studies already entering into the courses of instruc-
tion in all our schools. The remedy must be
sought in the removal of such of those causes of
the evil as admit of removal ; and these are mainly
two : the variety of subjects unnecessarily crowded
into the few years devoted to education, and the
poor character of the instruction.

That much of the school-time of youth is now
wasted through excessive variety and injudicious
arrangement of the studies, and on account of
unskilful teaching, is proved, alas ! only too well,
by the experience of every intelligent observer.
An illustration or two may not be out of place at
this point. Not long since, an educated man made
the attempt to assist his son in the preparation of
the daily lesson in English Grammar. For some
time the boy, who was twelve years of age, and


nearly ready for the high-school, had been settling
into a condition of despair over this particular
study. Meanwhile the boy's use of the English
language had been, under the influence of the pub-
lic school, steadily deteriorating. After rummag-
ing a big text-book for more than an hour the
father succeeded in discovering among the so-
called " exceptions " what he considered the prob-
ably correct answers to most of the questions
composing the lesson of the following day. These
questions were afterward taken to a distinguished
scholar, a student and teacher of language and
philology. He could not answer them in any terms
which would have satisfied the teacher of the boy
or the author of the text-book on Grammar. They
were then shown to the very highest authority on
such subjects to be found in this country, to a
gentleman whose attainments in the science of
language are celebrated by the world of scholars.
His answer to these questions was a strain of un-
mixed invective against teacher, text-book, and
school-system which could tolerate such wasteful
folly in instruction.

But such waste is by no means confined to the
primary stage of education. Some years ago a
professor of Greek in an Eastern institution vis-
ited the recitation-room of a Western college,
where a class of sophomores were reading a play
of Aristophanes. Only one of the class and this

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Online LibraryGeorge Trumbull LaddEssays on the higher education → online text (page 4 of 9)