Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 27.djvu/282

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

LIBERTY IN EDUCATION.

DR. McCOSH has published an argument on freedom in the higher education. He had discussed the subject with President Eliot before the Nineteenth Century Club, and he has since issued a pamphlet, entitled "The New-Departure in College Education, being a Reply to President Eliot's Defense of it in New York, February 24, 1885." The traditional collegiate system which has descended to us from old mediaeval and monastic times, so little impaired in its essential method, is now brought to the test of modern ideas. Not only is it a question of introducing and organizing modern studies in place of the classical studies, that are losing their hold upon the cultivated mind of the age, but this involves an inquiry into the theories and principles of the older and the newer education as to how far we should go in the direction of a more pliant, adaptive, and liberal system, and how far students are to have liberty of choice among the subjects of collegiate study.

Dr. McCosh argues against freedom in the higher education, taking the ground that has ever been taken against the progress of liberty—that it will be abused and run into license. As political liberty was resisted because it would destroy government, and lead to anarchy; as religious liberty was resisted because it would destroy the Church and put an end to religion; and as the liberty of the press was resisted because it would subvert public order—so the liberty of study is now opposed because it will degrade education and destroy the colleges. To all this, the reply dictated by the world's experience is simply that, while there are undoubted objections to liberty, its advantages outweigh its drawbacks. Dr. McCosh maintains that, if the students are left free to elect their subjects, they will choose those which are easiest, and therefore most worthless for purposes of mental cultivation. But this is contrary to both reason and experience. President Barnard, of Columbia College, in a passage appended to this article, testifies that students left free do not choose the easier subjects. But the reason of the case is, that what is hard to one student is easy to another; and this fact, with its implications, is the key to the movement in behalf of greater liberty in the choice of studies. Dr. McCosh makes little concession to those rights of individuality which originate in personal aptitudes and diversities of mental constitution, and which impel students to different lines of effort. He would enforce a common method upon all under a theory of mental discipline, rejected by reason and experience, and fortified only by long tradition. Dr. McCosh protests that he is not behind the age or an obstructive, and is "for freedom quite as much as Dr. Eliot is," and he allows "a certain amount of choice of studies," but this is in strict subjection to the classical ideal and the old college practice.

There is talk in this option controversy about a great number of things, but the issue is over compulsory Greek and Latin. It is a fight of the classicists, and, so long as they can force the dead languages, they care very little what else comes or goes. Classical education knows nothing of this modern spirit of liberty. It has ever been closely associated with priestly domination, with religious intolerance, with despotic collegiate authority, and arbitrary state regulation. In the old and powerful English universities the dead languages are the one thing that has