Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/491

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IS THIS A DEGENERATE AGE?.

cussion. So-called scientific courses were added in many cases, but usually they were so ill-adjusted as to be laughing-stocks for those taking the formal courses.

But mere makeshifts could not suffice; the country's material development was advancing rapidly but not always profitably. Competent men were too few; the successful pit-boss was a poor mining superintendent amid novel conditions; the land-surveyor was helpless in a new region; the iron-founder of high repute proved himself a hopeless blunderer when tried on strange ores and furnaces. The successful men were those who had been trained in the American technical schools or in those of Germany. Their success marked out the line of needed preparation and emphasized the demand for men broadly educated in principles as well as in practical applications of science. Schools were established and courses planned to meet the requirements. The number of scientific and technical students increased rapidly, and, in not a few institutions, soon exceeded, as it does still, that of students adhering to older so-called literary courses. Certainly this condition affords good ground for the complaint respecting college education.

Yet not so. The desertion of the, so to speak, unapplied side is apparent, not real. There is no such desertion. Unquestionably, of the students now in American colleges and high schools, the percentage taking modified courses of the older type is much smaller than it was forty years ago; but that is not the proper percentage for use in comparison. Not relation to the total number of students but relation to the total population is the basis for comparison. From this standpoint one sees that the proportion adhering to the unapplied side has increased more rapidly than the population—indeed, one may make a greater restriction and say that the number of those taking classical courses has increased out of proportion to the population. There has been no decrease, on the contrary there has been an increase, of interest in literary study, while, on the other hand, thousands are acquiring mental training and much of mental culture by pursuing difficult courses almost unknown to our colleges of forty years ago. Formerly, the majority of college men had professional life in view; now it is 'the thing' to have a college degree, without reference to one's intended calling.

But this avails nothing. The proof of the pudding is in the eating; and we are told that no great poet now lives among English-speaking peoples and that in our country no eminent writer has arisen within two decades—this, because 'every man's mind is turned to material things.' Recently our patriotic pride was wounded by the announcement that America has produced no Shakespeare, no Newton, no Copernicus, no men of some other kinds—and this, too, because of our devotion to gross things. One may remark here, parenthetically, that