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

Richard, George (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 59, Number 11 (March 1958)

Havighurst, Robert J.
Forerunner of ILS,   p. [19]

Page [19]

The Wisconsin Experimental College
forerunner of ILS
            By Robert J. Havighurst
            Professor of Education, U. of Chicago
            Noted author on educational psychology
            .Former Assistant Professor of Physics
                Wisconsin Experimental College
N SEPTEMBER, 1927, the Ex-
   perimental College started in
Adams Hall an adventure which
was, from the beginning, a focus
of controversy 'among students and
faculty of the University of Wis-
consin; and when the experiment
closed in 1932, after carrying four
classes through the two-year cur-
riculum, the University faculty in
general was not sure what had
been proven by the experiment.
  The Wisconsin    Experimental
College had grown out of the dis-
content felt by certain educators
with the free elective system which
they thought had become over-
grown and gone to seed in the
1920's. Alexander Meiklejohn, as
president of Amherst college, had
written about his ideas for a new
kind of college, and his ideas had
made more of an impression on
people in the middle west than
upon the faculty and trustees of
Amherst. Then, when       Glenn
Frank went from editorship of
the old Century Magazine to the
presidency of the University of
Wisconsin, one of his earliest acts
was to invite Dr. Meiklejohn to
come to Wisconsin and to put his
ideas into practice.
  The main features of the Ex-
perimental College were three:
* The college was to be small,
from 200 to 250 in size, with a
faculty of 15 to 20 people who
would teach part-time in the col-
lege, part-time in regular depart-
ments, and who would work out
the college's program of studies.
* The   college students would
spend most of their time study-
ing two "human situations", fifth
century Athens in the first year,
and 19th-20th century America
in the second year. They were to
study the ways in which the peo-
ple of these two civilizations un-
derstood and tried to solve their
problems as a human society.
* The students were to read the
same books together, discuss them
in small groups with their faculty
"advisers," write papers on what
they had read and discussed, and
hold weekly tutorial conferences
with their "advisers."
  Probably every student and fac-
ulty member of the Experimental
College would add a fourth major
feature-the fact that Alexander
Meiklejohn  was its leader. A
measure of his greatness was the
fact that people of diverse views
about education, politics, religion,
and morality worked happily and
creatively with him as teachers and
students. He once -said in a Col-
lege meeting, "the aim of the Col-
lege is not to turn Republicans
into Democrats, or Democrats into
Republicans, or both into Progres-
sives, but to make each student a
more   intelligent Republican,
Democrat, or Progressive."
  A   most controversial subject
was that of grades in the Experi-
mental College. There were no
grades given until the end of the
-two-year term, and then the stu-
dent's grade for two years' work
was based on two pieces of work,
both due in the second year. One
was a Regional Study of the stu-
dent's home town, on which he
was expected to work in the sum-
mer between his first and second
year. The second required work
.was a long paper analyzing and
criticizing the book, The Educa-
tion of Henry Adams. Thus the
student was graded for his two
years' work, not on what he had
learned about Greece and -Amer-
ica, but on what. he knew and how
his home community and about an
important book.
  What did the Experimental Col-
lege do to American higher edu-
cation? Certainly its structure and
curriculum were not adopted in
total anywhere. Yet it was a pio-
neer which powerfully influenced
the experiments in higher educa-
tion which immediately followed
in the 1930s, especially at Wis-
consin, Chicago and St. Johns.
These experiments in turn gave
rise to the general education move-
ment which swept the colleges in
the late 1930's and the 1940's,
and which now is going through
a period of reassessment which
will probably lead to new forms
of higher education in the 1960's.

Go up to Top of Page