Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 3.djvu/247

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To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly:

THE press has recently occupied itself to an unusual degree with matters which concern our system of higher education; and a point on which the widest diversity of views has been expressed, and on which the argument on both sides has been maintained with the greatest ability and earnestness, is the question whether mental training is a process which can only be successfully conducted by assuming that its subjects will not in general receive it voluntarily, and whether, therefore, it is or is not necessary to proceed upon the plan of coercing them to their own good. This discussion originated in an intimation thrown out by President Eliot, of Harvard University, in his last annual report, to the effect that it might possibly be thought expedient in that institution hereafter to abolish the rules which make the attendance of students upon scholastic exercises compulsory, holding them, nevertheless, to rigorous examination upon the subjects taught, and conferring degrees in arts only upon satisfactory evidence of proficiency. This suggestion encountered a prompt and vigorous response and expostulation from the Rev. President McCosh, of Princeton, in a communication addressed, in January last, to the New-York Evening Post. Other writers took up the argument at greater or less length on both sides of the controversy; but nowhere has there appeared a more able or conclusive vindication of the wisdom of the principle involved in President Eliot's suggestion than that which was put forth in the March number of The Popular Science Monthly. I cannot but thank you for your bold and free treatment of a subject in regard to which prescriptive usage, and the bias in the public mind which long prescription always carries with it, are against you; but which concerns in a very high degree the influence of our systems of education on the formation of the moral no less than the intellectual character of the youth who are subjected to it.

Immediately on the appearance of the article of Dr. McCosh, it was my design to offer a slight contribution to the literature of this subject, founded on my own personal observation of different educational methods during a thirty years' connection with the administration of colleges; but, owing to unforeseen interruptions, my labor remained unfinished on my hands until the favorable moment had passed by. My attention has been recently drawn to the subject again by the publication (also in the Evening Post) of a letter from Prof. Venable, Dean of the Faculty of the University of Virginia, describing the educational system of that institution, of which compulsory attendance is an essential feature, but referring in respectful terms to the plan proposed by President Eliot. This letter is presented by the Post as one of unusual importance and interest; yet it adds nothing to what has been universally known of the Virginia system for the past forty years, although it sets forth the leading features of this system with clearness and conciseness. In commending it, I understand the Post to be once more commending, though indirectly, the compulsory system; and this brings back to me my nearly-forgotten purpose above referred to, to have my word in this matter also.

I will commence, therefore, by remarking that all that Dr. McCosh has said, or that anybody may say, as to the importance of regular drill to the efficiency of any system of mental discipline, will be readily admitted by every experienced educator of youth. Whether, as that learned gentleman assumes, the undergraduate student is to be regarded as being too immature to be intrusted with a freedom which he may possibly abuse, or whether, with President Eliot, we suppose that he is as likely to attend to his collegiate exercises from a just appreciation of their value to himself, and a