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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/585

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579
FUNCTION OF THE AMERICAN COLLEGE

standard which the college is called upon to maintain. The motive is a good one, though one may suspect that intermixed with it one less defensible also plays a part. Interpreted by the professorial mind, it too often takes the form of an illiberal prejudice against admitting to the benefits of learning any one who has not gone through with a particular sort of officially recognized initiation, and thus complied with all the regulations of the guild. The need for some sifting out process is, however, very real, and it has seemed the easiest way to erect a strongly picketed fence, and take great pains to see that no objectionable person gets inside. This has advantages, but at least it is unfortunate that it seems to place the emphasis on exclusion rather than on the offering of opportunity—a result which will show itself in pretty nearly any college faculty, where a question of the stricter interpretation of entrance conditions can be counted on to arouse more enthusiasm than is ever called forth by the case of the ambitious and possibly quite capable student who can not meet the academic tests.

It is scarcely to be expected, perhaps, that the college will turn back from a policy so apparently settled. But it may at least be noted that there is an alternative program. The only condition that is really essential for permitting a student to take a given piece of work, is his ability to do it with profit, and without detriment to the proper workings of class-room efficiency. And to substitute for this the record of past attainment, often merely nominal, is not only to erect a fetich which may become obstructive, but it is largely to fail of the end in view; for every teacher knows that the possession of "credits" is almost no indication that a boy is ready to go on with a new task. If instead of making a test which precedes actual trial, the college were to make this trial itself the test, were to let every one have his chance who wished to take it, and then expeditiously and firmly exclude him so soon as it became apparent that he was a misfit, not waiting until the end of the year or of a term, but acting the moment there was no reasonable question, not only might the real end be attained much better than it now is attained, but it would be secured without danger of turning the college into a thing of mechanism and red tape, and without restricting the advantages of education beyond absolute necessity. The reason why this would not work can only be in terms of the instructor himself. If he will not take the responsibility of using his judgment, but will allow things to drag along without remedy, he will soon be in trouble. But whereas there are institutions doubtless in which it is advisable to discount as much as possible the defects of the human factor by machinery, education is emphatically not one of these; and the tendency to make it such is one of its greatest present dangers. As a matter of fact there seems nothing so far beyond the powers of the average man who is competent enough to deserve a job on a college