McCormick, Bart E. (ed.) / The Wisconsin alumni magazine
Volume 28, Number 3 (Jan. 1927)
An experiment in education, pp. -91
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.
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