Richard, George (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 59, Number 11 (March 1958)
Havighurst, Robert J.
Forerunner of ILS, p. 
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.
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