Page images
PDF
EPUB

PAPERS AND DISCUSSIONS.

WHAT HAVE THE PEOPLE A RIGHT TO ASK FROM THE

COLLEGES ?

CHARLES A. BLANCHARD, WHEATON, ILLINOIS.

I omit from this discussion the self-evident, and seek bring to the surface certain considerations which, perhaps, tacitly admitted, are also tacitly omitted, until they are in certain quarters denied.

It requires no argument to show that the people, having devoted large sums of money to the purpose of higher education, and having put these funds under the control of boards of trustees, have a right to ask that these boards shall furnish the instruction for which provision is thus made. All that patience, energy, foresight, and zeal can do to convey to our young people a thorough knowledge of books, the colleges are bound in common honesty to perform.

But if the college stop here, it becomes a sort of a phonograph, slavishly repeating voices of once living, but now dead men. Each

age

has its own problems; and while knowledge of the past will aid in their solution, the great need of each generation is a set of leaders who know how to lead, and dare to do it.

In business, the love of gain stirs men to the depths of their being; so that there is little need for anxiety as to the efficiency of methods. The great problem of reducing the profits by increasing the output and multiplying sales, is grinding the minds of American merchants to a razor-edge. The colleges have no call to interfere in this field. Laboratories of scientists will be equipped by capitalists interested in inventions; and no man who has an idea which can be turned into dollars will long want for dollars with which to give that idea a local habitation and a name.

It is natural that in such a nation and in such an age as ours there should be, for a time, a chaotic state of public opinion on the subject of education; and one of the first duties of the college is to teach the nation what a liberal education is, what it is for, and how it can be obtained. We are in an age of short courses, electives, manual training, technical schools, and normal universities. The high-school room has imitated the college commencement, diploma, thesis, and course of study, in part. The “practical" men on the boards which handle school taxes have largely omitted Greek and Latin, occasionally inserted German, and have furnished on the whole an illy-balanced course of study.

It is easy for the college to drop into line with this crude and undigested mass of educational notions, fads, and follies. Men who do know how to make money, but who have never enjoyed a thorough education, can see the value of obviously practical studies, the saving of time involved in short courses, and the increased skill secured by early specialization. These men are frequently generous. They desire to do a good thing for the young people of their own age, and if the college-men wish enlargement without reference to the real interests of society it will not be difficult to secure sums of money for various lines of work that may be helpful to commercial life, but which at the same time will injure the educational interests of the nation.

This leads me to say that the first thing which the people have a right to ask from the colleges is a clear, consistent educational theory. If men who spend their entire time and thought on education do not know what it is, what it requires, and how it is to be attained, it is asking a great deal of business men to expect that they should know; and if college men do understand what education is, the men who furnish the money to carry it forward have a right to ask that these college-men tell the public what they know on this subject so many times and in such forceful fashion as may be needful in order that taxes and gifts for education may not be uselessly expended.

We are not yet out of the experimental stage of our civilization, and it will be many years before we arrive at settled views on many subjects. Nevertheless, progress is being made. There will be few to write hereafter on “Sex in Education.” It will not be long before men will cease to debate the propriety of expending public money to prevent national assimilation in speech. The line between the education which should rest upon taxation and that which should be at the expense of those who desire it, is certain to be drawn. And by-and-by all intelligent men will understand that the purpose of education is not to help men to get a living so much as to make men fit to live.

In bringing order out of the present chaos the people have a right to expect college-men to bear a leading part. Mere specialists are not expected to see the whole field, but those who have laid a broad foundation for the particular department in which they are engaged and who teach in schools devoted, not to the particular notion of some well-meaning, narrow-minded person, but in a school which recognizes the complete nature of man and seeks to develop it harmoniously, these men are expected to teach the people what they have a right to demand in return for the taxes and gifts which are lavished in ever-increasing millions upon education.

Men ignorant of the history of constitutional government may imagine that they can render children patriotic by giving a flag to the school which they attend. College-men know that the springs of patriotism lie altogether too deep to be struck by such surface digging. We banish the word of God from our schools, we cut down devotions, we enlarge athletics, we improve on buildings, we develop a college yell, we dilate on the "Socratic Element" in Modern Methods,” and then seem to hope to make sterling men by contact with a bit of bunting.

Of course no one objects to the American flag on a public or other school. The star-spangled banner is a beautiful sight when it does not suggest slavery, the nationalized liquor trade, the exclusion of one foreigner at the command of another, or the demagogism that undertakes to secure the booty of public office by pandering to all the commanding selfishness of the populace. But college-men know that integrity, patience, self-denial, courage, industry, and, above all, the Christian religion, are the only foundations upon which permanent national prosperity can be builded; and the people have a right to expect that they shall come out from the class-room and study into the busy marts of men and establish a standard on educational questions upon

which busy men may rely. Their position makes this imperative. If they do not let the people know what education ought to be, they will sooner or later find that false notions prevail, and that in the true sense of the word there is no education, no matter how many schools and teachers there may be.

That this note of warning is not premature, is clearly indicated in the examination of college triennials by Charles McIntire, jr., M.D., entitled, “The Percentage of College-Bred Men in the Medical Profession.” He shows that out of thirty-eight thousand and fifty-four graduates from fifty-eight American colleges, nine and two-tenths per cent. became physicians, twenty-six and two-tenths per cent. became ministers, and nineteen and seven-tenths per cent. became lawyers;- fifty-five and one-tenth per cent. for these three professions, while forty-five per cent., nearly, turned to other lines of life.

This would be no cause for regret were it not for the fact that these three professions which are so intimately connected with the well-being of society are being filled up with thousands of untrained men. If there is anything that a man needs to be sure of, it is that his physician is not a quack, that his lawyer is not a thief, and that his minister is not a liar nor a coward. I am not affirming that the boys who are rushing into these professions with almost no training make unworthy men. I simply say what everyone knows to be true, that the less complete their training the more will be the danger that they will rely upon short cuts to success; will take the shorter rather than the longer view; will be like the tramp who wanted "something to have, not something to do."

Mr. McIntire above quoted shows that in 1880 710 per cent. of over nine thousand medical students had a college degree; 2614 per cent. of over five thousand theological students had such degrees, and 241 per cent. of over three thousand law students possessed them. This means that ninety-three per cent. of those intending physicians, seventy-three per cent. of those intending clergymen, and seventy-five per cent. of those intending lawyers had pursued no extended course of study. Is it any wonder that these professions are commanding the respect of communities to a less extent than in former days? Then, no man could enter these vocations without long-continued, careful study of his own, and other arts; now, there is a rush of untrained or half-trained men into them, and at the same time the standard of intelliyence and scholarship in industrial and mercantile lines is steadily rising. Yet in the face of such facts as these, we at times hear it said by collegemen that the position of the college of the future is to be determined by its facilities for original scientific investigation; i. e., the American college belongs to a past age, and chemistry, geology, mineralogy, botany, biology, etc., etc., are to constitute the future education. Against such misleading doctrine as this it becomes all those to protest who value a complete training.

The other demand which the people have a right to make of the colleges is for leaders in social, industrial, political, and religious reformation. Wendell Phillips, in one of the last addresses which he made, declared in substance that college-men were generally cowardly, following, not leading their own age in the respects above indicated.

It would not be difficult to present a list of college-men whose faithful and courageous meeting of the questions of their age would seem to contradict this declaration. Yet on the other hand, it is well known to all intelligent men that there is a reason for the charge which the eloquent son of Harvard brought, in sorrow, not in anger, against his Alma Mater. Not long since the president of one of our largest universities, being requested to do a little something to stay the Sabbath desecration which is defying God and oppressing men, replied: “It is the rule of our Faculty to act only on academic subjects. The president of another powerful university, when asked for the position of his Faculty on the temperance question, replied: “We leave those questions to our students.” A letter asking for a college protest against the Sunday newspaper, was recently sent to fifty-five college presidents. Three responded favorably; and in response to a second letter, four more replied. These are straws showing the direction of the current. The college is dependent, in great measure, upon public opinion for its outward and material prosperity. Is it not in danger of bartering its true glory for mere earthly and perishing riches?

Is it not true that a careful avoiding of all truths likely to awaken the hostility of worldly men is one of the means sometimes adopted to secure college prosperity?—and is not the degradation of the college from its true position as the conservator and friend of a broad, symmetric culture to the position of a sounding-board for popular opinion, another?

If there be danger in these directions -- and I think that there are few thoughtful men who will not agree that there is —ought not there to go forth from such a body as this a kindly, earnest protest that should demand and secure a change? The world of business is one where the margins are narrow, the competition intense, and the strain on both brain and heart severe. The college-man is in large measure set aside from this grapple with man and nature, by his very profession. He is a student of the past as well as of the present. He is acquainted with the causes which have lifted nations to power and hurled them to destruction.

Have not the people a right to demand from such men leadership in all great causes of social, political, industrial and religious reform ? And if they have, shall this demand be satisfied ? Shall political corruption, social degeneracy, industrial demoralization, and religious apostasy proceed until every office has its price, every marriage altar its divorce side, every wage-worker his gospel of dynamite, and every church its itching ear; and all this with no clear, effective protest from the college-man? Shall we be content to teach a few facts and processes in science, a few pages in ancient or modern languages, a few texts in mental and moral science, while all about us the foundations are unsettled, and the men and women to whom our education should render is useful are living without solid comfort and dying without rational hope?

We should teach books, no doubt; but this is by far the smallest part of our work. It is not difficult to admire perfect versification, or to be thrilled by the orator's appeal. The peasant can appreciate, to a certain extent at least, the dome of St. Peter's, or the story of Marathon. Nay, more; it is not hard to see many evils about us, and to sympathize, in a self-indulgent fashion, with the sons and daughters of sorrow and sin, of shame and want.

But in all the past, progress has been gained by battle. Men who profit by the weakness, folly and crime of their fellows do not easily loosen their grip. The rights of men have been secured in all ages as the Magna Charta was wrested from King John, by men with sword in hand. The tobacco plague, the liquor curse, the secret lodge, the greed of the monopolist, and the whip of the party boss who is in politics "for revenue only”—these iniquities that would begrar the people for the benefit of a paltry handful of paltry men, are armed and insolent, coarse and brutal. They will not cease to fatten on the blood of their brethren at the pat of some lily hand or the cooing voice of some turtle-dove.

They are to be grappled by men of clear brain, honest heart, steadfast purpose, and lusty sinews. They are to be driven from their refuges of lies, and stripped of their disguises, until they shall appear to be what they actually are. In that day the common people will rise in their honest indignation and bury them along with the slave trade, the Tweed ring, the duel, polygamy, and piracy upon the high seas. The college-man is permitted leisure for investigation and exalted to a place of leadership, in order that he may see evils in the far distance and give warning before they become instant and irresistible.

In olden time our fathers had signal stations on all the coast, so that, should an enemy approach, the blazing beacons might rouse the nation to arm in self-defense. No matter how brave of heart or stout of arm her people, the white cliffs of old England would have been polluted by many a hostile foot but for those beacons flashing from her hills.

This duty in our age is committed to college-men. The farmers are raising the bread of the world; the mechanics are preparing the instruments of

« PreviousContinue »