Crane, Frank D.; Emmerling, Margaret; Smith, Louise (ed.) / The Wisconsin literary magazine
Volume XXII, Number 7 (June 1923)
Crane, Frank D.
The stimulus of the college curriculum, pp. 195-198
WISCONSIN LITERARY ,MAGAZINE cemeteries may vary, the road rules are practi- cally the same for all; very seldom will the move- ment of the cortege have any tendency to recall the swiftness of mortality. The curriculum is admittedly adapted to the supposed abilities of the large majority of its students, that is to say, to all but the hopelessly indolent and the incurably dull. If the propor- tion of students dropped on account of scholastic deficiency increases perceptibly, alarm is taken at once, and the standard hastily lowered another notch. Only in a few of the endowed institutions is any endeavour made to maintain a fixed stand- ard of scholarship, irrespective of the percentage of students that fails to attain it. A state insti- tution cannot escape its political character; it must cater to the tax-payers,-must "give the people what they want." And what they want, in the way of higher education, is a place where the sufficiently opulent, and who are neither half- witted nor totally inert, can spend four years at college in perfect safety and complete peace of mind. Taking for granted that the annual welcome sees a large number of sheep admitted to the fold, it will not be difficult to ascertain the stimulatory effect upon them of the college curriculum. The- oretically, in maintaining its fixed rate of pro- gression, the university not only holds back the more intelligent but spurs and stimulates the lag- gards. Actually it but partially succeeds in the former, and fails egregiously in the latter. Those whose faculties still languish in sloth at the time of their matriculation, who have been vainly prodded in grade school, and unavailingly spurred in high school, are not likely to respond to any stimulus which can be offered by the curri- culum of a college. They have already tried the pursuit of scholarship and found it wanting; they have tasted of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and found it sour. The university, in its liberal courses, offers little that is entirely new to its incoming students; it simply gives advanced instruction in subjects which, in a more elementary form, are familiar to all high school graduates. Unless the student has already found his stimulus in algebra, calculus has little chance of arousing his interest; if he has been indifferent to Virgil, Lucretius will not in- spire him. It is true that a new and practically unknown field is opened before the professional student, often resulting in an appreciable stimulation. One whom a smattering of French has left cold may be intensely aroused by Shop Drawing, Genetics, or Common Law Pleading. This, I suppose, is what is generally referred to as the stimulus of the college curriculum;-the inspiring vision of new vistas of knowledge and thought which should challenge the eager interest of the student, the prospect from Mount Nebo, the showing as from a high mountain of the intellectual king- doms of the earth, productive of that exaltation expressed in the well known lines of Keats: "Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He stared at the Pacific-and all his men Looked at each other with a wild surmise- Silent, upon a peak in Darien." It is a curious and somewhat disheartening circumstance that this feeling, in so far as it is aroused by the college curriculum, should be so largely confined to students who are learning to design boilers or to breed hogs. Educators who have recognized the greater zeal and intensity with which vocational attainments are pursued have been inclined to ascribe this exceptional ardor to materialistic inclinations rather than to curricular stimulus. But unquestionably a field which arouses the curiosity of the jaded student, which has the illusory greenness of distance, is more likely to afford him stimulation than a mere extension of the bounds of his accustomed mead- ow, the pasturage of which he has found not to his taste. If knowledge of Homer is to produce on a student the effect which it did upon Keats, it will have done so long before arrival in college; he is by then, in respect to Homer, either already stimulated or immune. And the same may be said regarding the liberal curriculum as a whole. Turning from the sheep to the goats, let us con- sider the case of those who have found a stimulus, an incentive to learn, in the course of their pre- university education. These few, surely, the col- lege curriculum will at least suffer to remain in a state of stimulation, presenting to them an m- spiring and constantly clearer view of the intel- lectual regions which they have already glimpsed with some degree of eagerness. Even to this end the curriculum is poorly adapted in several respects. In the first place, there is the funereal pace of the average class, which is as intolerable to one who is really inter- (Continued on page 212) June, 1923 198
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