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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/586

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

faculty, in the supposition that he should have enough judgment to sift out those who are not likely to profit by his work, and consequently should have the power to exclude them from his classes. If such a demand upon him were to compel a more direct personal relationship with his students, that would not be an unmixed evil. As a matter of fact, the trouble does not lie so much in the inherent difficulty of the task as in its lack of harmony with academic precedent. Our system rather presupposes that since past attainment is the claim to recognition, when once a man has got inside he has a prescriptive title to remain, unless some extraordinary reason forces his expulsion.

It might very well be that such a system would modify to an extent also the place of the degree in education. But the sacredness of the degree is in any case open to question. It is now a title to intellectual respectability of the peculiarly unfortunate sort which combines with a claim to superiority, denied to its non-possessor, a thinly veiled recognition by the informed that its real content is merely nominal, and that it can be counted on to stand for little more than the fact that its holder has passed four years at a given locality, with enough attention to his books in the intervals of more important occupations to prevent naturally lenient instructors from condemning him as beyond question unfit. The justification of the degree is solely the aid it renders in the desperate enterprise of inducing in the general mind a sense that scholarship has its points; it marks therefore a failure of more fundamental motives, and its claims can not be pressed too hard until other efforts have been exhausted. Probably it will have to be retained along with other relics of medievalism, though there is no reason why at the same time there should not exist a large increase of students without full technical preparation, or the ability to pursue their academic work at length, who will cease to be regarded as so much dead weight, and be recognized as having human if not scholastic claims. And at least if the degree is to hold its place, this apparently can only be on condition of the already strong tendency to make its meaning exceedingly elastic. The endeavor to keep the degree true to what traditionally has constituted the education of a gentleman, disguised under the name of liberal, is really the attempt to keep up the fiction of a learned class marked off by formal insignia, under the pretence that there is only one royal road to culture.

And if now we turn in conclusion to the second aspect of the social purpose of education—the equipping of the narrower class of intellectual leaders on whom will always depend the initiation and the steering of social progress, I venture to think that this is a much less important problem than the former one, for the simple reason that here the root of the matter lies in large measure beyond the province of educational machinery in the lap of nature. The exceptional man is pretty