Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 76.djvu/608

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

By Professor J. McKEEN CATTELL


THE free elective system, three years of college in preparation for the professional school, personal freedom for the student, these are tenets that Harvard has made familiar to us all. But the pendulum now swings backward. It is already decided that the work of the student is to be concentrated and dispersed by faculty decree; that preparatory schools are to be established for freshmen. We are told that the four-year college course should not be shortened, that "every college graduate ought to be equipped to enter any professional school" and that "the professional schools ought to be so ordered that they are adapted to receive him." "College students are amateurs, not professionals"; they should study "a little of everything," and though each should also have" a firm grasp of some subject," it should lie "outside of his vocation." "The college may be regarded as the last period of play."

The scheme on which the president, fellows, overseers and faculty of arts and sciences of Harvard University have united has one merit; they announce that they do not intend to enforce it. Compulsory concentration is useless and compulsory dispersion is bad. Neither good students nor those who do not want to study will be helped. Any such scheme breaks down under the load of its artificiality. The field of knowledge is divided into four divisions for purposes of dispersion, but no faculty can put asunder what God has joined together. According to his interests and needs the student may find his concentration scattered through the four divisions and his dispersion within a single department, as well as the reverse. In my own subject he can find boundless dispersion—witness the fields tilled at Harvard by Professors James, Münsterberg, Royce, Palmer, Santayana and Yerkes—or he can choose a unified and consistent course by innumerable combinations of studies.

Ten years ago a committee from the Harvard department of education made a detailed study of the programs of study of 372 members of the class of 1901. It was concluded that only 7.8 per cent, appeared open to the charge of undue specialization, of whom one third

  1. An address read after the annual dinner of the Harvard Teachers' Association in the Harvard Union on March 12, 1910.