University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The University of Wisconsin Collection

Page View

McCormick, Bart E. (ed.) / The Wisconsin alumni magazine
Volume 28, Number 3 (Jan. 1927)

Frank, Glenn
An experiment in education,   pp. [87]-91


Page [87]


Vol. XXVIII                                    Madison, Wis., January, 1927
                                    Number 3
                        An Experiment in Education
                                         By PRESIDENT GLENN FRANK
                                               (Continued from December Issue)
NOW is there anything we can do that
     we are not now doing about the
various blights that have accompanied
the blessings of specialization? -It may
                      be that there is
no It a areat deal
that can be done.
I am not seduced
by any extrava-
gant hope that
educators can as-
semble 'any single
-bag oftricks that
will swiftly and
sweepingly    re-
verse what' may
be the irresistible
tenadency of mod-
                      ern  civilization
to  create burdens it can not carry
and set up a suicidal complexity of
organization. Our civilization and the
educational system it has produced may
have to run their cycle until they break.
But even if we suspect ourselves to be
the victims of a process we can not con-
trol, it is dangerous to admit. it, and to
surrender to: it is simply to set ahead the
date of our debacle. There is probably
a therapeutic value, at least, in enter-
taining the hope that physical, social and
intellectual' evolution may prove sus-
ceptible to conscious human control. I
suggest, therefore, that we should, de-
spite the apparently insuperable ob-
stacles, consider the possibility of devis-
ing ways and means of making liberal:
education the master instead of the vic-
tim of the mighty mass and mercurial
movement of modem knowledge. We
must not rest cor~tent with a. coward's
refuge in unrelated specialisms.
   Is there in existence any comprehen-
 sive and coherent proposal of educa-
 tional policy to which we could turn with
 assurance that it would solve even the
 major difficulties which, by more or less
 common consent, inhere in our present
 college program which is so largely a
 product of accident, accretion, and ac-
 commodation? We-shall agree, I think,
 that there is not. I content myself,
 therefore, with .suggesting a few hypo-
 theses and raising a few questions.
   Let me first suggest, without even the
 'most obvious qualifications, what might
 prove two points of departure for a con-
 sideration of the present plight of liberal.
education-the first dealing with the
form and content of the curriculum, the-
second-with the technique of teaching.
Let me, then, with no attempt at a
closely coordinated argument, present-
a miscellaneous list of doubts and quer-
ies and alternatives respecting these two
suggestions.
                  VI
  We might, I suggest, undertake to
prevent the abuse and to promote the
ultimate utility  of specialization by
making an effort to insure, as far as pos-
sible, that students shall at least be ex-
posed   to  a  broadly  conceived  and
coherently organized body of general
knowledge during some definite- period
of the college years that precede the in-
tensive specialization :of graduate study
and professional tiaining. This sugges-
tion obviously rests on the assumption-.
that may not go unchallenged-that
there is a minimum of general knowl-
edge that is necessary if men are to be
able to keep their special tasks in per-
spective and to relate, them intelligently
to the life of their time.
   As a general proposition all this ig, of
 course, platitudinous in the extreme;
 but in snecific relation to the"existing,
curricula of our colleges I suspect that it
would   necessarily imply   an  almost
wholly fresh organization of subject-
matter in some important section of the
four college years. Maybe in the fresh-
man year onlj..Maybe in both the fresh-
man and sophomore years.
   Such a new organization of subject-
'matter could be made possible only by
the courageous willingness of educators
to be tentatively dogmatic in- saying
'what subject-matter will best induct the
student into an understanding of his
contemporary world, of the forces that
have gone into its making from the past
and of the livinig forces that are most
likely to determine its future. Special-
ization has converted our universities
into intellectual department stores, or,
more accurately, into a series of intel-
lectual specialty shops housed under a
common     administrative roof.    Afid
any attempt to effect a new synthesis of
knowledge even in an important section
of the college years encounteres as a
stubborn obstacle the otherwise healthy
hesitancy of the scholar to generalize.
But no such fresh organization of sub-
ject-matter 'as 'I have suggested would
'be possible save at the hands of edu-
cators who refused to be awed by the
mere bulk of modern knowledge, edu-
cators who were willing to undertake a
frankly tentative but nevertheless defin-
i te synthesis of the major findings ot
modern knowledge. Such a section of the
four college years would obviously have
to be given over to the larger outlines
and leading ideas of modern knowledge
and of modern society. The advantages
of specialization would   have to be
sacrificed to gain the advantage of scope.
  It may be 'said that the orientation
courses at. the beginning and the sum-
mary courses at the end of the college
years, with which educators have been
experimenting, meet the situation into
which specialization has plunged edu-
cation. I doubt it. They are manifestly
things tacked on to the regular college\
procedure.. I suggest that any genuine
orientation of the student to his world
must be reached, if reached at' all, in
the regular college procedure, not out-
side i t.  Orientation and summary
courses, as in most instances admin-
istered, seem to me to be little more than
'porous plasters applied to the curriculum
to reduce, its incofterence. L nere is no
need dodging the fact' that our 'best
scholars smile rather tolerantly at what
they regard as the superficiality of the
average orientation course. And genu--
ine education can not funcion in the
atmosphere of cynicism that smile sug-
gests.
   I suggest, in passing, that a definite
 part of the four college years devoted to
 such a coherently organized picture of
 the fiving. backgrounds, of the world in
 which the student.must live and make
 his-living might, in addition to providing
 the necessary basis for later specializa-
 tion by superior students, prove to be
 the best possible means for capturing
 the interest and stimulating the intel-
 lectual activity of those students who
 are to-day roughly classified   as in-
 different, lazy or maediocre. I suggest
 this in view of 'the obvious fact that the
 average mind -becomes more readily
 interested in a coherently organized'ac-
 tivity that has in it dearly apparent
 drama movement and meaning than it
 does in the study of the inert and iso-
 lated elements of an activity.


Go up to Top of Page