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McCormick, Bart E. (ed.) / The Wisconsin alumni magazine
Volume 28, Number 2 (Dec. 1926)

Frank, Glenn
An experiment in education,   pp. [51]-53


Page 53


THE WISCONSIN ALUMNI MAGAZINE
reaction.  But we can not meet the
contemporary educational challenge by
negotiating another, strategic, retreat.
We must contrive to-effect a successful
advance toward a more adequate cor-
relation of modern,' knowledge and a
more adequate comprehension of mod-
em life.
  During the last century our civiliza-
tion as a whole has got increasingly out
of hand. We are citizens of a runaway
world. We are like a nervous spinster
clutching convulsively at the reinsof a
runaway team as we try to manage a
civilization that has become. too compli-
cated. And as an organic part of this
aritting civiization, tne elective sys-
tem seems to me to have been the result
far, more of drift than of design. Edu-
cators allowed the sudden, inrush of new
knowledge to drive them to the adop-
tion of an extreme elective freedom be-
fore they had thoroughly thought out
many of its implications or devised ways
and means to insure, as far as' could be
insured, a rounded educational result.
And it is within the range of possibility,
I think, that disillusionment may drive
modern educators to re', ert prematurely
to a dictated curriculum that will repre-
sent just as much of a surrender in the
face of complicated facts as the elective
system represented. I suggest, therefore,
that we need to deal with extreme care
with the now widespread demand for
curricular synthesis in a world in which
analysis has shattered knowledge into so
many unrelated fragments.
                  IV
   If I may againgeneralize very roughly,
the gist of the historic transfer from the
old tightly organized and dictated cur-
ricu~um to the- freedom of the elective
system   is this: Confrofited .with new
facts and new knowledge, growing .at a
speed that outstripped the possibility of
prompt correlation aftthe time, the edu-
cational world adopted as its funda-
mental method of handling knowledge
the method that was producing knowl-
edge, namely, sp~cializatibn.    It is
measurably accurate,.I think, to say that
the principle of specialization to-day
dominates and. directs almost entirely
both curriculum content and teaching
method. Few will' dispute that the pri-
macy of the principle of specialization is
9o per cent. inevitable. This 9o per cent.
inevitability -need not, however, blind us
to some of the bad by-products of
specialization. And I suspect that it is
in devising ways and means for prevent-
ing these bad by-products of specializa-
tion that the next fruitful advances.' in
educational policy and procedure are
most likely to be made.'
   Let me suggest, in passing, a few of the
unhappy results of specialization as they
affect scientists, men of affairs, students,
and teachers.
   First, as respects scientists. It is the
 common uncritical assumption of the
 layman that while extreme specializa-
 tion in education is the undoubted foe
 of broad culture-it is the unquestioned
 friend of science. But it is obvious, I
 think, that the relatively unrestricted
 application of the principle of speciali-
 zation to education may result in our
.,producing generation after generation
scientists of narrower and    narrower
intellectual equipment, until a time may
come    .when we shall be producing
scientific workers too narrow either to
conceive or to comprehend those brave
flights of imagination, those far-visioned
generalizations, those creative hypo-
theses which have heretofore preceded
and played'a 'decisive part in producing
every really epochal scientific advance.
We may find it necessary to protect the
specialists against specialization so that
they may be better specialists.
  It-may be worth while also to ask,
  whether a failure to counterbalance the
  results of extreme specialization by a
  greater insurance than we now have of
  breadth and liberality of culture may not
  in time scale down the present wide-
  spread interest of students in science to
  Something  approaching  the   present
  interest in the classics. In his current
  presidential report, Nicholas Murray
  Butler discusses this possibility in a
singularly  convincing  fashion.   The
study of the classics was crippled if not
killed by class-room pedants who forgot
the meaning of the classic literatures in
their absorption in the minutiae of the
classic languages. Did William James
nave tnis in mina wnen ne saul to P. k.
S. Schiller that "the natural- enemy of
any subject is the professor thereof!"?
At any rate, specialization in the classics
has about succeeded in sealing the tomb'
of one of the richest sources, if not' in-
deed- the richest source, of intellectual
and. esthetic stimulation and discipline.
May not a too extreme specialization in
the teaching of the sciences work a
similar result?
  Second, as respects'men of affairs. Re-
gardless of the content of our curricula
or the methods of teaching we employ,
we can be sure that in every generation
a handful of intellectuals will manage
to keep their perspective and succeed in
a measure in seeing knowledge steadily
and seeing it whole, but in the absence of
special provision by educators for the cul-:
tivation of coherence and range of basic
culture, the rank and file of men of
affairs who have gone out of our colleges
will suffer from a fragmentation of
background that will-when they begin
to function as business men, bankers,
railroad presidents, governors, senators,
and president.s--prevent their keeping
the  social, economic, and    political
policies of the nation in peripective.
The control and correction of the bad
by-products of specialization is, there-
fore, not only a technical problem of
educational policy, but a national prob-
lem of first magnitude, the problem of
the safety and sanity of our social order.
   We can not preserve the safety and
 promote the sanity of our social order by
 the simple devices of adopting brass-
 band tactics for getting out the vote on
 election day and employing muckrakers
 to ride the black horse of envy against
 the successful,. even when their success is.
 achieved by anti-social tactics. This
 high end can be achieved only by making
 our colleges training grounds for political'
 and industrial statesmen with perspec-
 tive as well as power.
 Third, as respects students. It might
 be possible effectively to equip students
 for life in the modern world by simply
 making them masters of specialisms,
 if they were to live and work in a
 society that was socially stratified along
 more or less unalterable lines, a society
 in which men would stay put in the class
 and craft into which they were born,
 and if the tempo 'of the society in which
 they were to live and work was slow both
 in the production of its knowledge and
 in the pursfiits of its enterprises.
 But this is not the sort of stage on
 which our students must live their lives
 and pursue their professions. The mod-
 ern world is socially fluid. We can not,
 in the education of any given student,
 assume that we are equipping him to re-
main throughout his life in any given
class or craft status. And in addition to
this, the tempo of modern life is swift
and is being yearly accelerated. By the
time a student has mastered the facts
in a specialized field, -many or most of
the facts may have become obsolete, or
developments in other fields of thought
and investigation upon which' his
specialism impinges have profoundly
altered the valuation the student was
taught to place upon his field or the
facts he has mastered in his field.
   If, therefore, we are to equip the
student for the continuing mastery of his
specialism, we must see to it that he
becomes acquainted with the larger
streams of thought and life of which his
specialism is only an eddy or part. There
must be deliberate provision against the
danger of tearing a specialism out of the
common texture of the whole human
research.
  Fourth, as respects teachers. There is
always involved in an education that is
dominated by the principle of specializa-
tion the temptation to' permit speciali-
zation to become the master instead of
the servant of the scholar. The-teacher
who succumbs to this temptation finds
himself becoming more and more a slave
to subject-matter, and finds, his teaching
          (Continuel on page 55)
DeceĆ½mber. r926
53


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