Popular Science Monthly/Volume 82/January 1913/The Socialization of the College




THE expression socialization of the college is here used not to indicate a process to be set going at some time in the future, but to denote a development which can be observed in the history of institutions of higher learning and which educational leaders as the conscious guides of evolution may now further, direct, and render consistent with itself. A comparison of the Oxford clerk of the fourteenth century, ascetic, other-worldly, sententious, immersed in scholastic logic, with some of the alert, yet philosophical, public men produced by the English universities of to-day, shows the line that academic evolution has followed during the intervening centuries. On this continent these contrasted types of university man find their analogies in the Harvard man of the middle of the seventeenth century, a clergyman trained by the clergy for the clergy, and the Harvard man of the twentieth century, educated under more democratic and less clerical influences.

The tendency of colleges to change in adapting themselves to changed social conditions is obvious enough. At the same time it is generally admitted that through economic and other changes society is marked by greater and greater complexity. How must we shape the college curriculum, methods, administration, etc., in order that our graduates may prove themselves efficient in the complex social conditions of the present day? This is the problem whose solution we and all interested in the progress of higher education have to discover. To the settlement of this question as it presents itself at this time I wish to offer a slight contribution from the standpoint of the college professor of pedagogy.

In the first place, for an American college to-adopt at this time the narrow curriculum that two centuries ago introduced the student to professional studies would be a reversion dictated by despair. Fundamental as Latin, Greek and mathematics are to our civilization, our culture, our science, they do not of themselves afford an adequate preparation for life under modern conditions. Helpful as Latin and Greek are to our esthetic appreciation and sense of ethical values, filled with illumination and bristling with suggestions as are the ancient literatures, they could not mean so much for us had our minds not been formed and informed by other studies. Even as a step toward the differentiation of colleges the adoption of the old curriculum would seem unwise, for the preparation needed for professional study to-day is quite other than it was in the seventeenth century.

One change entailed in the college curriculum by the growing complexity of modern social conditions is some recognition in the courses of instruction of those conditions themselves. In a democratic country we should all know how the other half lives. Social problems and needs must be learned. I wish to emphasize the truth that if they are to be known they must be taught. People who appear callous and cruel, indifferent to private needs and public welfare, are often merely uninformed. That the undergraduate years offer the opportunity for the presentation of such matter there is sufficient evidence.

During the last few years my department has taken up with the students in pedagogy the educational aspects of the university settlement, child-labor legislation, juvenile crime, the home, defectives, primitive peoples, eugenics, morals and hygiene, the immigrant, the new schools, open-air schools, etc. The work is conducted in seminar style, each student choosing a topic for intensive treatment. The response to these subjects from juniors, seniors and graduates is very cordial and very immediate. They cover, if you like, the romantic and sentimental phases of social activity, and the appeal is no less powerful on that account. On the other hand, there is no attempt on my part to suppress a discussion of the futility of some forms of philanthropy. I think the ultimate effect of such a course is to give content to the idea of good citizenship, to check latent snobbishness, and to increase a sense of the sanity and worth of the ordinary daily activities, especially the activities of the teaching profession.

There are other approaches to this same end, of which our professors are availing themselves. Courses in ethics are being given in many of the American colleges with excellent effects, and in these courses particular pains are taken to study the relation of the college to the complex social conditions in which we live. The teacher of ethics has the advantage that he can treat with authority the question of moral standards, such as the relative claims of benevolence and justice, trained, hard-headed thinking on which is one of the present needs of the democracy. But from what particular department the advocacy of the social claim comes, is a matter of indifference so long as it comes with conviction and force. History, sociology, economics, ethics, pedagogy, English, other modern languages, Latin and Greek in a marked degree, as I have implied, offer the mature mind an opportunity of broadening the social sympathy and deepening the moral consciousness of the students. It is impossible, without going into the details of class work, to indicate fully the intimate, subjective value to character of the quiet presentation of social facts. We are enlisting the interest, the thought, the sympathy and ultimately the activity of the students in the cause of social progress and public welfare. That the students recognize and cordially respond to the changing tone of college instruction many gratifying signs indicate. The excellent article in the number of The Atlantic Monthly for November, 1911, on "The College: an Undergraduate View" saves me from the need of bearing further testimony on this point. If I might state the educational problem of the college instructor as it here presents itself to my mind, I should say: How can the esthetic appreciations of adolescents be transformed into the ethical judgments of the manly and womanly mind?

Naturally, in a really educational process such as I am briefly outlining the personality and ideals of the instructor must play a large part, and the change in the social efficiency of the college toward which some of us are groping our way seems to imply a shifting in the conception of academic culture. It is difficult to arraign any type of culture, and almost ungrateful to imply that the eighteenth-century idea that the finest type was secured by reading a little good poetry, hearing some good music and speaking just a few words of sense daily is from our present point of view untenable. A comparison of two Oxford men of the nineteenth century, Lewis Carroll and T. H. Green, will help me in my statement. Lewis Carroll was a thoroughly cultured gentleman, presentable in the best society, a delightful companion, an ingenious writer, whose pages have delighted thousands in need of innocent entertainment. In addition he was for long years a college instructor and a contributor to the literature of mathematics. Green was a man of different stamp. He lacked something of the grace and charm of Lewis Carroll. He was less popularly known, but no less socially important. His contributions to the literature of philosophy were weighty. He was the leader of a great movement in the history of the thought of our race. He exerted an immense influence on the minds and conduct of the college men with whom he came in contact. Through Mrs. Humphry Ward's presentation of him as the Mr. Grey of "Robert Elsmere," he gained recognition with the reading public as one of the great forces in modern social progress. Lewis Carroll was extremely conservative, opposed to the rights of women, complacent about children's acting on the stage, hostile to the advance of science study at the university. Green succeeded in the conciliation of town and gown, became a member of the municipal council, was instrumental in establishing a local secondary school, and had his university duties permitted it, might have become representative of the city in the councils of the nation. He extended his sympathy to the cause of human liberty beyond the sea, and received the news of Gettysburg and Vicksburg with the enthusiasm becoming a large man. Can we not say that he represents a type of culture as worthy as any, and increasingly desirable in the colleges of a democratic country and race? The changed conception of culture I have tried here to indicate as increasingly characteristic of the academic mind must impress college students with the reality, the robustness, of our ethical aims, and make of great educational value any instructor, no matter in what department, who holds and embodies it.

When young people leave college halls with dreams of the betterment of the human race, they should in the first place make sure that they do not prove a burden to their own families. An up-to-date, democratic culture should not interfere with their earning their own living. In fact, if properly educated, they will see in the choice of a calling a question of the greatest moral moment. To fit oneself for a vocation, to adapt oneself in a business way to society, is not hostile to true culture. It is in recognizing the real bearings of our daily task, and taking satisfaction in it that we grow into the only culture that seems worth while to the adult mind. Is it too much to say that one of the dangers of our age is the dilettante pursuit of scraps of the arts, and crumbs of the foreign languages? In the years of maturity the cultivation of these interests has something of the pathos of arrested development recurring to the styles and ideals of the teens.

The change in the attitude of professors and students towards the needs of the people and the welfare and progress of society, so intimately educational in its nature, seems to me the most promising factor in the movement for college and university reform. As a professor of pedagogy I would here lay the chief emphasis; but this change in the conception of academic culture implies further changes to which I must hasten.

Space does not permit me to speak of all that American colleges are doing, all that is still left them to do, in laying the cultural foundation, as I understand the term, for the learned and other professions. If our doctors were all true guardians of the public health, if all our engineers were bent on furthering hygienic conditions, if all lawyers were zealous in the cause of social justice, if all clergymen appreciated the larger aspects of the people's needs, the cause of human welfare would be secure. I must pause a moment, however, to say something concerning the relation of the college to the schools.

In the American college that I know most intimately about four hundred students are received annually from the secondary schools and other colleges. About one hundred and fifty are graduated every June. Of the graduates, seventy or seventy-five return as teachers to the schools. The secondary school affords the college, therefore, one of its most important points of social contact. It is largely through the high schools and academies, which in turn influence the grades, that the college makes its culture tell on the lives of the poor and common people, from whom the majority of us are sprung. If we seek an aim, and are not blinded by academic pride, here is one right at hand. You will not be surprised to hear that the policy of the modern department of pedagogy is to help, not to exploit, the high school. The social point of view is capable, perhaps to a greater degree than one might at first expect, of modifying our procedure in dealing with the lower schools. The chief function of a college department of pedagogy is to turn out well-prepared teachers, enthusiastic, and with the right attitude toward their work. It should not, in my judgment, lend itself to cheap advertising, or drumming up students, or making a hit with the high schools and academies. Those imbued with the social spirit will find the hundred problems of adjustment of the college to the secondary schools too vital to be dealt with in a narrow or commercial spirit.

The relation of the college to the rich is no less important than the question just discussed, if the college is to preserve the right tone towards the social needs and aspirations of the whole people. The history of European universities shows that these institutions have been used to further the political views of their founders. In Prance and Germany, for example, universities have been used almost like fortresses to hold territory gained in war, as can be shown by reference to Breslau, Strasburg, Bonn, Bordeaux, Caen and Poitiers. The numerous universities organized by Napoleon were designed to carry out his policy of government. In view of this background afforded by history one can not be indifferent to the influence of founders and patrons upon their universities. Just how the millionaire founder or the millionaire trustee affects the social relations of the college calls for more extended statement than space here permits. In a few glaring instances in this country there have been serious infringements by the wealthy supporters of a university upon the spirt of academic freedom. But the predominance of the rich in the councils of the college has acted more insidiously in the social ideals that they perhaps unconsciously put upon the institution. One might mention briefly the expenditure of money from the business standpoint of the advertiser rather than from the educational standpoint of the professor; the treatment of the instructors as employees rather than as a body of self-respecting gentlemen working in a great social cause; and finally, the character of the officers likely to be chosen by trustees filled with a commercial rather than an academic spirit. A glance at the constitutions and administration of the universities in monarchical Europe as compared with these features of American universities causes no small wonder that in this country institutions of higher learning are comparatively aristocratic, not to say autocratic. The University of Oxford, for example, is governed by three bodies, council, congregation and convocation. The first, council, is made up of six heads of colleges, six leading professors, and six representatives of the alumni. This is the cabinet of the academic state. The second, congregation, consists ideally of the teaching force of the university. It has important legislative powers. Convocation is made up of the M.A. alumni who have maintained close relations with their alma mater. This body chooses the chancellor of the university, exercises the right of veto, elects members of Parliament. Even this scheme is now undergoing reform along even more democratic lines. How far behind we are, with many of our colleges and universities governed by a secret conclave of wealthy men and a president not responsible to the teaching force or to the alumni!

To prepare citizens for a democracy the organization of the college itself must be democratic. If it be true that we learn to do by doing, the student should learn at college to be a citizen of a free state, not alone by precepts or academic instruction, but by the experience of membership in a free college community. Wherever there is an absence of social aim and organization on the part of college officers it is little wonder that the student body is lacking in purpose and does not rise above a community consciousness of a very primitive sort. With the colleges filled with the right social spirit the students feel themselves the members of a great republic of letters, or rather, of a democracy of science, possessed of a truth too vital to be merely individual and academic. The utilization of the ethical and social life of the school as a means of moral education, which, since Arnold's day, has been a recognized feature of the great English public schools, where, as Haklane remarks, English boys are permitted and encouraged to govern one another, is still almost unknown in some of the American colleges. If the president and the professors take the students into their confidence in the discussion of general aims as regards the welfare and progress of the people, then the corporate life of the school can be organized on a higher basis, discipline becomes more and more self-discipline, and anti-social types feel themselves condemned by the judgment of their peers in academic standing.

A measure of the change for want of which many American institutions of higher learning are suffering to-day was wrought out in the German universities by Fichte and others over one hundred years ago. It can be described briefly as a greater measure of freedom, spontaneity, self-activity. One should not, however, forget that increased freedom must mean an increased sense of responsibility and that self-activity must be activity of social import under social stimulation. When the members of the college understand their true social end and aim, athletics will occupy a more subsidiary place, and our institutions of higher learning will be more than mere clubs for wealthy young men. It is only in the absence of the enunciation of serious purposes that the college shows the tendency to triviality and puerility of which some complain. The youngest freshman knows that success on the athletic field is not the chief end of man, and he is quick to note the falsetto in the football enthusiasm of the middle-aged and elderly professors when they pretend that the scores of the teams are the chief topic of academic interest.

Lack of appreciation of the educational value of college organization has blinded some educators to the merits of college fraternities. These organizations have a long and interesting history which can be traced back to the medieval nations at Bologna, Paris and the other early European universities. At present the college officer is likely to regard them rather as an administrative danger than as an educational opportunity. In our present system the fraternities are in effect if not in fact the vestigial remains of a university constitution in which the student body and the alumni played a vastly more important part than they do with us. A revival of academic freedom would restore the fraternities to their healthy functions. Now, as Birdseye and others too plainly show, a college fraternity, like other rudimentary organs, is liable under unfavorable conditions to deterioration and disease.

Again, if the students and the college in general with a fuller measure of academic freedom and an increased sense of their social responsibility would reconsider the curriculum and methods of instruction in the light of democratic principles, many wholesome changes could be brought about.

Besides instruction in sociology and the social aspects of pedagogy, economics, history, English and foreign literature already spoken of, I wish to mention here only one other subject, namely, physiology. Recent developments in natural science, above all, progress in bacteriology, have made the pursuit of this subject in college a pressing need. In addition to courses in scientific physiology we should have in every college popular courses on applied physiology for all the students, dealing with the vital questions of hygiene. Such courses are necessary for the guidance of the undergraduates in reference to diet, sleep, habits of study and of personal health in general. For, keeping our social purpose in view, it is not hard to see that one of the chief endeavors of the college should be to disseminate through the schools and in the homes the knowledge of hygienic science that is so necessary for the comfort and welfare of the people.

The social test of college culture would suggest many changes in the content and method of other college courses. The spirit of pedantry, to which all academic life is liable at times to fall victim, would be rectified by the challenge: "What is the social value and import of this?" If every college course were in its content socially important, then the students taking part would work more spontaneously, and the present methods of dictation and exact prescription would give way to greater activity and initiative on the part of the student and greater freshness of response and cooperation in general.

The best methods, however, and the best results from college work can only be obtained when all college students and professors are engaged on some real, useful work instead of busying themselves with mere exercises. The tragedy of college life as seen by the up-to-date educator is that we in many cases are attempting to train for life activity by a series of exercises that can be regarded only as remote approximations to actual activities. This fault shows not merely in the college of liberal arts, but, where one would least expect it, in professional, and in spite of the rapid introduction of practical work, even in many engineering schools. In four or five years the engineering school as a rule does not undertake to teach engineering, but only to give preliminary exercise work to form in the future the basis for acquiring the profession of engineer. The remoteness of academic training from the real goal to be attained is naturally more marked in the other departments. One phase of this weakness is found in the endless theme work produced by students in compulsory English composition. As has been wittily said, there is a great difference between having something to say and having to say something, and in the work of composition the student is, indeed, placed in a notoriously artificial attitude. This serves here, however, merely as an illustration of a general defect observed in college work, which in the opinion of the writer results from our failure to demand for our work a social aim and purpose. How to provide real work and real activities for a thousand students on the college campus is a matter calling for some exercise of ingenuity. I must content myself with a single illustration of the work that might engage the scholarly activities of our undergraduates. The need of good translations of French, German, Italian, Spanish and other scientific works, our college and university men will readily join with me in recognizing. With, let us say, five hundred students in French, six hundred in German and a proportionate number in the other foreign languages, something of social value could surely be done in this matter under the direction of capable instructors. The translation last semester by eleven students in one of my classes of a complete French book of over three hundred pages opens up a vista of possibilities of real cooperative work of public importance.

If we held consistently to a distinct social purpose, most of the valid criticisms one hears of the college would be met. One of the severest critics of higher schooling of all sorts complains especially of the lack of effort at moral improvement. He emphasizes the futility of the college in helping the young man of limited means in the fundamental social matter of earning his own living. Others join him in pointing out the tendency of some of the colleges to become mere playgrounds for the leisure classes. Many critics within and without the college comment on the lack of serious purpose among the students, the failure of the heads of colleges to formulate for their institutions a definite aim and program. Others concentrate their attention on administrative questions, the lack of responsibility of the trustees, the helplessness of the faculties, the autocracy of the president. Finally, it is admitted by an eminent educational authority that a fair equivalent of a college training can be gained through correspondence or even a brief course of reading. Such pessimistic comment falls away from a college or university animated by such social spirit as I have sought here to indicate and advocate. Such a spirit will entail not a narrow, but a broad curriculum to answer the needs of an increasingly complex civilization, and a more liberal discipline with more guidance, and less repression, more freedom and an increased sense of responsibility, in order to fit for citizenship in an enlightened and self-disciplined democracy. Great changes in administration are inevitable, an autocratic university is incompatible in a free democracy, but the essential change needed is an educational rather than an administrative one.

The typical American college has been necesarily denominational to maintain the doctrines and faith that to its constituency seemed vital. In the present great diversity of belief many of the colleges show little or no sectarian bias. Unless these institutions are, with increased liberalism, to be marked by laxity of principle, and flabbiness of moral purpose, they must gain a new motivation worthy of the times, they must work under the inspiration that a hope and faith in human progress gives. To show how the minds of students can be affected educationally so that the college may be touched with this spirit of modern democratic culture is the main purpose of these pages.

In conclusion we may say that the change we seek to further in harmony with an evolution already under way is designed to make the college responsive to the social need of the present, to render it more publicly significant, possibly less denominational, certainly not less religious. In a word, one might say, more democratic and less sectarian.