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The Yale Report of 1828 · Part I
Liberal Education and Collegiate LifeRobert J. O’Hara (email@example.com)
One of the most influential documents in the history of American higher education was “The Yale Report of 1828.” The report consisted of two parts: a general discussion of the nature of liberal education, and an argument for the retention of Greek and Latin literature in the college curriculum. This transcript of the first part of the Yale Report has been prepared for the Collegiate Way website because one of the report’s themes is the importance of collegiate life itself to student development. The second part of the report, on Classical languages, is more narrowly focused but has also been transcribed for the sake of completeness. Editorial insertions in both transcripts are enclosed in .
The historical context in which the Yale Report was written was complex. It included the rise of Jacksonian democracy in the United States, the growing economic power of the young American republic, the increasing prestige of the universities of Germany, and the founding of the University of London. The report functioned as both a public target for critics of American colleges, and as a sword and shield for college defenders. Frederick Rudolph’s classic work The American College and University: A History examines the influence of the Yale Report in detail and is an excellent source of additional information.
What may be lost in detached analysis, however, is the extent to which the report reveals that collegiate life today—the corporate life of small academic societies—is not all that different in many respects from what it was 175 years ago. Have times changed? Of course they have—for one thing, modern students rarely enter a university at age sixteen. But anyone who has taught college students today and who has listened to laments about how terribly hard it is for them to study a subject they don’t like, such as mathematics (or biology, or philosophy, or history, or poetry, or French, or chemistry), will feel right at home among the Yale faculty of 1828 who were “well persuaded, that our students are not so deficient in intellectual powers, as they sometimes profess to be.” And while it has been fashionable for many years to deride the doctrine of in loco parentis as obsolete and oppressive, any unprejudiced reading of the Yale Report will show that the attitude of the faculty toward the students at that time was affectionate, humane, and practical. Times have changed, but as they have changed many aspects of collegiate life have remained the same. Residential college members looking for a provocative document to read for a student discussion group or a freshman tutorial may find in this old report an ideal selection.
COURSE OF INSTRUCTION
COMMITTEE OF THE CORPORATION,
PRINTED BY HEZEKIAH HOWE.
At a Meeting of the President and Fellows of Yale College, Sept. 11th, 1827, the following resolution was passed:
That His Excellency Governor Tomlinson, Rev. President Day, Rev. Dr. Chapin, Hon. Noyes Darling, and Rev. Abel McEwen, be a committee to inquire into the expediency of so altering the regular course of instruction in this college, as to leave out of said course the study of the dead languages, substituting other studies therefor; and either requiring a competent knowledge of said languages, as a condition of admittance into the college, or providing instruction in the same, for such as shall choose to study them after admittance; and that the said committee be requested to report at the next annual meeting of this corporation.
This committee, at their first meeting in April, 1828, after taking into consideration the case referred to them, requested the Faculty of the college to express their views on the subject of the resolution.
The expediency of retaining the ancient languages, as an essential part of our course of instruction, is so obviously connected with the object and plan of education in the college, that justice could not be done to the particular subject of inquiry in the resolution, without a brief statement of the nature and arrangement of the various branches of the whole system. The report of the faculty was accordingly made out in two parts; one containing a summary view of the plan of education in the college; the other, an inquiry into the expediency of insisting on the study of the ancient languages.
This report was read to the committee, at their meeting in August. The committee reported their views to the corporation, at their session in September; who voted to accept the report, and ordered it to be printed, together with the papers read before the committee, or such parts of them as the prudential committee and the faculty should judge it expedient to publish.
REPORT OF THE FACULTY.
Containing a summary view of the plan of education in the college.
The committee of the corporation, to whom was referred the motion, to inquire into the expediency of dispensing with the study of the ancient languages, as a part of the regular course of instruction in this college, having requested the views of the faculty on the subject, we would respectfully submit the following considerations.
We are decidedly of the opinion, that our present plan of education admits of improvement. We are aware that the system is imperfect: and we cherish the hope, that some of its defects may ere long be remedied. We believe that changes may, from time to time be made with advantage, to meet the varying demands of the community, to accommodate the course of instruction to the rapid advance of the country, in population, refinement, and opulence. We have no doubt that important improvements may be suggested, by attentive observation of the literary institutions in Europe; and by the earnest spirit of inquiry which is now so prevalent, on the subject of education.
The guardians of the college appear to have ever acted upon the principle, that it ought not to be stationary, but continually advancing. Some alteration has accordingly been proposed, almost every year, from its first establishment. It is with no small surprise, therefore, we occasionally hear the suggestion, that our system is unalterable; that colleges were originally planned, in the days of monkish ignorance; and that, “by being immovably moored to the same station, they serve only to measure the rapid current of improvement which is passing by them.”
How opposite to all this, is the real state of facts, in this and the other seminaries in the United States. Nothing is more common, than to hear those who revisit the college, after a few years absence, express their surprise at the changes which have been made since they were graduated. Not only the course of studies, and the modes of instruction, have been greatly varied; but whole sciences have, for the first time, been introduced; chemistry, mineralogy, geology, political economy, &c. By raising the qualifications for admission, the standard of attainment has been elevated. Alterations so extensive and frequent, satisfactorily prove, that if those who are intrusted with the superintendence of the institution, still firmly adhere to some of its original features, it is from a higher principle, than a blind opposition to salutary reform. Improvements, we trust, will continue to be made, as rapidly as they can be, without hazarding the loss of what has been already attained.
But perhaps the time has come, when we ought to pause, and inquire, whether it will be sufficient to make gradual changes, as heretofore; and whether the whole system is not rather to be broken up, and a better one substituted in its stead. From different quarters, we have heard the suggestion, that our colleges must be new-modelled; that they are not adapted to the spirit and wants of the age; that they will soon be deserted, unless they are better accommodated to the business character of the nation. As this point may have an important bearing upon the question immediately before the committee, we would ask their indulgence, while we attempt to explain, at some length, the nature and object of the present plan of education at the college.
We shall in vain attempt to decide on the expediency of retaining our present course of instruction, unless we have a distinct apprehension of the object of a collegiate education. A plan of study may well be well adapted to a particular purpose, though it may be very unsuitable for a different one. Universities, colleges, academical, and professional seminaries, ought not to be all constituted upon the same model; but should be so varied as to attain the ends which they have severally in view.
What then is the appropriate object of a college? It is not necessary here to determine what it is which, in every case, entitles an institution to the name of a college. But if we have not greatly misapprehended the design of the patrons and guardians of this college, its object is to lay the foundation of a superior education: and this is to be done, at a period of life when a substitute must be provided for parental superintendence. The ground work of a thorough education, must be broad, and deep, and solid. For a partial or superficial education, the support may be of looser materials, and more hastily laid.
The two great points to be gained in intellectual culture, are the discipline and the furniture of the mind; expanding its powers, and storing it with knowledge. The former of these is, perhaps, the more important of the two. A commanding object, therefore, in a collegiate course, should be, to call into daily and vigorous exercise the faculties of the student. Those branches of study should be prescribed, and those modes of instruction adopted, which are best calculated to teach the art of fixing the attention, directing the train of thought, analyzing a subject proposed for investigation; following, with accurate discrimination, the course of argument; balancing nicely the evidence presented to the judgment; awakening, elevating, and controlling the imagination; arranging, with skill, the treasures which memory gathers; rousing and guiding the powers of genius. All this is not to be effected by a light and hasty course of study; by reading a few books, hearing a few lectures, and spending some months at a literary institution. The habits of thinking are to be formed, by long continued and close application. The mines of science must be penetrated far below the surface, before they will disclose their treasures. If a dexterous performance of the manual operations, in many of the mechanical arts, requires an apprenticeship, with diligent attention for years; much more does the training of the powers of the mind demand vigorous, and steady, and systematic effort.
In laying the foundation of a thorough education, it is necessary that all the important mental faculties be brought into exercise. It is not sufficient that one or two be cultivated, while others are neglected. A costly edifice ought not to be left to rest upon a single pillar. When certain mental endowments receive a much higher culture than others, there is a distortion in the intellectual character. The mind never attains its full perfection, unless its various powers are so trained as to give them the fair proportions which nature designed. If the student exercises his reasoning powers only, he will be deficient in imagination and taste, in fervid and impressive eloquence. If he confines his attention to demonstrative evidence, he will be unfitted to decide correctly, in cases of probability. If he relies principally on his memory, his powers of invention will be impaired by disuse. In the course of instruction in this college, it has been an object to maintain such a proportion between the different branches of literature and science, as to form in the student a proper balance of character. From the pure mathematics, he learns the art of demonstrative reasoning. In attending to the physical sciences, he becomes familiar with facts, with the process of induction, and the varieties of probable evidence. In ancient literature, he finds some of the most finished models of taste. By English reading, he learns the powers of the language in which he is to speak and write. By logic and mental philosophy, he is taught the art of thinking; by rhetoric and oratory, the art of speaking. By frequent exercise on written composition, he acquires copiousness and accuracy of expression. By extemporaneous discussion, he becomes prompt, and fluent, and animated. It is a point of high importance, that eloquence and solid learning should go together; that he who has accumulated the richest treasures of thought, should possess the highest powers of oratory. To what purpose has a man become deeply learned, if he has no faculty of communicating his knowledge? And of what use is a display of rhetorical elegance, from one who knows little or nothing which is worth communicating? Est enim scientia comprehendenda rerum plurimarum, sine qua verborum volubilitas inanis atque irridenda est. Cic. Our course, therefore, aims at a union of science with literature; of solid attainment with skill in the art of persuasion.
No one feature in a system of intellectual education, is of greater moment than such an arrangement of duties and motives, as will most effectually throw the student upon the resources of his own mind. Without this, the whole apparatus of libraries, and instruments, and specimens, and lectures, and teachers, will be insufficient to secure distinguished excellence. The scholar must form himself, by his own exertions. The advantages furnished by a residence at a college, can do little more than stimulate and aid his personal efforts. The inventive powers are especially to be called into vigorous exercise. However abundant may be the acquisitions of the student, if he has no talent at forming new combinations of thought, he will be dull and inefficient. The sublimest efforts of genius consist in the creations of the imagination, the discoveries of the intellect, the conquests by which the dominions of science are extended. But the culture of the inventive faculties is not the only object of a liberal education. The most gifted understanding cannot greatly enlarge the amount of science to which the wisdom of ages has contributed. If it were possible for a youth to have his faculties in the highest state of cultivation, without any of the knowledge which is derived from others, he would be but poorly fitted for the business of life. To the discipline of the mind, therefore, is to be added instruction. The analytic method must be combined with the synthetic. Analysis is most efficacious in directing the powers of invention; but is far too slow in its progress to teach, within a moderate space of time, the circle of the sciences.
In our arrangements for the communication of knowledge, as well as in intellectual discipline, such branches are to be taught as will produce a proper symmetry and balance of character. We doubt whether the powers of the mind can be developed, in their fairest proportions, by studying languages alone, or mathematics alone, or natural or political science alone. As the bodily frame is brought to its highest perfection, not by one simple and uniform motion, but by a variety of exercises; so the mental faculties are expanded, and invigorated, and adapted to each other, by familiarity with different departments of science.
A most important feature in the colleges of this country is, that the students are generally of an age which requires, that a substitute be provided for parental superintendence. When removed from under the roof of their parents, and exposed to the untried scenes of temptation, it is necessary that some faithful and affectionate guardian take them by the hand, and guide their steps. This consideration determines the kind of government which ought to be maintained in our colleges. As it is a substitute for the regulations of a family, it should approach as near to the character of parental control as the circumstances of the case will admit. It should be founded on mutual affection and confidence. It should aim to effect its purpose, principally by kind and persuasive influence; not wholly or chiefly by restraint and terror. Still, punishment may sometimes be necessary. There may be perverse members of a college, as well as of a family. There may be those whom nothing but the arm of law can reach.
The parental character of college government, requires that the students should be so collected together, as to constitute one family; that the intercourse between them and their instructers may be frequent and familiar. This renders it necessary that suitable buildings be provided, for the residence of the students:—we speak now of colleges in the country, the members of which are mostly gathered from a distance. In a large city, where the students may reside with their parents, public rooms only are needed. This may be the case also, in professional institutions, in which the students are more advanced in age, and, therefore, do not require a minute superintendence on the part of their instructers.
Having now stated what we understand to be the proper object of an education at this college, viz. to lay a solid foundation in literature and science; we would ask permission to add a few observations on the means which are employed to effect this object.
In giving the course of instruction, it is intended that a due proportion be observed between lectures, and the exercises which are familiarly termed recitations; that is, examinations in a text book. The great advantage of lectures is, that while they call forth the highest efforts of the lecturer, and accelerate his advance to professional eminence; they give that light and spirit to the subject, which awaken the interest and ardor of the student. They may place before him the principles of science, in the attractive dress of living eloquence. Where instruments are to be explained, experiments performed, or specimens exhibited; they are the appropriate mode of communication. But we are far from believing, that all the purposes of instruction can be best answered by lectures alone. They do not always bring upon the student a pressing and definite responsibility. He may repose upon his seat, and yield a passive hearing to the lecturer, without ever calling into excercise the active powers of his own mind. This defect we endeavor to remedy, in part, by frequent examinations on the subjects of the lectures. Still it is important, that the student should have opportunities of retiring by himself, and giving a more commanding direction to his thoughts, than when listening to oral instruction. To secure his steady and earnest efforts, is the great object of the daily examinations or recitations. In these exercises, a text-book is commonly the guide. A particular portion of this is assigned for each meeting. In this way only, can the responsibility be made sufficiently definite. If it be distributed among several books upon the same subject, the diversity of statement in these, will furnish the student with an apology for want of exactness in his answers. Besides, we know of no method which will more effectually bewilder and confound the learner, on his first entrance upon a new science, than to refer him to half a dozen different authors, to be read at the same time. He will be in danger of learning nothing effectually. When he comes to be en-gaged in the study of his profession, he may find his way through the maze, and firmly establish his own opinions, by taking days or weeks for the examination of each separate point. Text-books are, therefore, not as necessary in this advanced stage of education, as in the course at college, where the time allotted to each branch is rarely more than sufficient for the learner to become familiar with its elementary principles. These, with a few exceptions, are not new and controverted points, but such as have been long settled; and they are exhibited to the best advantage, in the consistent and peculiar manner of some eminent writer.
Opportunity is given, however, to our classes, for a full investigation and discussion of particular subjects, in the written and extemporaneous disputes, which constitute an important part of our course of exercises. So far as the student has time to extend his inquiries, beyond the limits of his text-book, first faithfully studied, his instructer may aid him greatly, by referring to the various authors who have treated of the more important points in the lessons; and by introducing corrections, illustrations, and comments of his own. In this way, no small portion of our daily exercises become informal and extemporaneous lectures. But the business of explaining and commenting is carried to an extreme, whenever it supersedes the necessity of effort on the part of the learner. If we mistake not, some portion of the popularity of very copious oral instruction is to be set to the account of the student’s satisfaction, in escaping from the demand for mental exertion. It is to secure the unceasing and strenuous exercise of the intellectual powers, that the responsibility of the student is made so constant and particular. For this purpose, our semi-annual examinations have been established. These, with the examination of thr Seniors in July, occupy from twelve to fourteen days in a year. Each class is divided into two portions, which are examined in separate rooms at the same time, seven or eight hours a day. A committee is present on the occasion, consisting of gentlemen of education and distinction from different parts of the state. The degree of correctness with which each student answers the questions put to him in the several branches, is noted on the spot, and entered in a record, permanently kept by the Faculty. But to the instructers, the daily examinations in the recitation rooms are a more unerring test of scholarship than these public trials. The latter answer the purpose of satisfying the inquiries of strangers.
We deem it to be indispensable to a proper adjustment of our collegiate system, that there should be in it both Professors and Tutors. There is wanted, on the one hand, the experience of those who have been long resident at the institution, and on the other, the fresh and minute information of those who, having more recently mingled with the students, have a distinct recollection of their peculiar feelings, prejudices, and habits of thinking. At the head of each great division of science, it is necessary that there should be a Professor, to superintend the department, to arrange the plan of instruction, to regulate the mode of conducting it, and to teach the more important and difficult parts of the subject. But students in a college, who have just entered on the first elements of science, are not principally occupied with the more abstruse and disputable points. Their attention ought not to be solely or mainly directed to the latest discoveries. They have first to learn the principles which have been in a course of investigation, through the successive ages; and have now become simplified and settled. Before arriving at regions hitherto unexplored, they must pass over the intervening cultivated ground. The Professor at the head of a department may, therefore, be greatly aided, in some parts of the course of instruction, by those who are not as deeply versed as himself in all the intricacies of the science. Indeed we doubt, whether elementary principles are always taught to the best advantage, by those whose researches have carried them so far beyond these simpler truths, that they come back to them with reluctance and distaste. Would Sir Isaac Newton have excelled all others of his day, in teaching the common rules of arithmetic? Young men have often the most ardor, in communicating familiar principles, and in removing those lighter difficulties of the pupil, which, not long since, were found lying across their own path.
In the internal police of the institution, as the students are gathered into one family, it is deemed an essential provision, that some of the officers should constitute a portion of this family; being always present with them, not only at their meals, and during the business of the day; but in the hours allotted to rest. The arrangement is such, that in our college buildings, there is no room occupied by students, which is not near to the chamber of one of the officers.
But the feature in our system which renders a considerable number of tutors indispensable, is the subdivision of our classes, and the assignment of each portion to the particular charge of one man. Each of the three junior classes is formed into two or three divisions; and each division is committed to the superintendance of a tutor. Although he is not confined to the instruction of his own division; but makes such exchanges with the other tutors as will give to each the opportunity of teaching his favorite branch; yet by meeting them in the recitation rooms two or three times every day, and by minutely inspecting their conduct on other occasions, he renders a service to the police of the institution, which could be secured in no other way. It is intended that the government should be, as much as possible, of a parental character; a government of mild and grateful influence. But the basis of this must be mutual attachment; such as can spring only from daily and peculiar intimacy. If the same teacher instructs eight or ten different divisions, in rapid succession, it will be difficult for him to feel, that he stands in a very near relation to them all. If the same student attends on a dozen different instructers, in rotation, he may respect them all; but can hardly be expected to view them with any particular affection.
The tutor of a division has an opportunity, which is enjoyed by no other offcer in the college, of becoming intimately acquainted with the characters of his pupils. It is highly important that this knowledge should be at the command of the Faculty. By distributing our family among different individuals, minute information is acquired, which may be communicated to the Board, whenever it is called for. Upon this plan also, the responsibility of the several instructers is rendered far more definite, than when it rests upon the whole collectively. Each Professor is accountable for the judicious arrangement of his own department; and for the success with which it is conducted, so far as this depends on his personal efforts and talents. Each tutor is responsible, to a certain extent, for the progress and correct deportment of his division. But responsibility is little felt, when held as common stock among numbers, without a distinct appropriation to individuals. By a due proportion of professors and tutors, we may unite the advantages of experience, with ardor and activity; of profound investigation, with minute attention to elementary principles; of personal attachment and individual responsibility, with such an adjustment of the different parts of the system, as will give unity and symmetry to the whole.
The collegiate course of study, of which we have now given a summary view, we hope may be carefully distinguished from several other objects and plans, with which it has been too often confounded. It is far from embracing every thing which the student will ever have occasion to learn. The object is not to finish his education; but to lay the foundation, and to advance as far in rearing the superstructure, as the short period of his residence here will admit. If he acquires here a thorough knowledge of the principles of science, he may then, in a great measure, educate himself. He has, at least, been taught how to learn. With the aid of books, and means of observation, he may be constantly advancing in knowledge. Wherever he goes, into whatever company he falls, he has those general views, on every topic of interest, which will enable him to understand, to digest, and to form a correct opinion, on the statements and discussions which he hears. There are many things important to be known, which are not taught in colleges, because they may be learned any where. The knowledge, though indispensable, comes to us as freely, in the way of our business, as our necessary supplies of light, and air, and water.
The course of instruction which is given to the undergraduates in the college, is not designed to include professional studies. Our object is not to teach that which is peculiar to any one of the professions; but to lay the foundation which is common to them all. There are separate schools for medicine, law, and theology, connected with the college, as well as in various parts of the country; which are open for the reception of all who are prepared to enter upon the appropriate studies of their several professions. With these, the academical course is not intended to interfere.
But why, it may be asked, should a student waste his time upon studies which have no immediate connection with his future profession? Will chemistry enable him to plead at the bar, or conic sections qualify him for preaching, or astronomy aid him in the practice of physic? Why should not his attention be confined to the subject which is to occupy the labors of his life? In answer to this, it may be observed, that there is no science which does not contribute its aid to professional skill. “Every thing throws light upon every thing.” The great object of a collegiate education, preparatory to the study of a profession, is to give that expansion and balance of the mental powers, those liberal and com-prehensive views, and those fine proportions of character, which are not to be found in him whose ideas are always confined to one particular channel. When a man has entered upon the practice of his profession, the energies of his mind must be given, principally, to its appropriate duties. But if his thoughts never range on other subjects, if he never looks abroad on the ample domains of literature and science, there will be a narrowness in his habits of thinking, a peculiarity of character, which will be sure to mark him as a man of limited views and attainments. Should he be distinguished in his profession, his ignorance on other subjects, and the defects of his education, will be the more exposed to public observation. On the other hand, he who is not only eminent in professional life, but has also a mind richly stored with general knowledge, has an elevation and dignity of character, which gives him a commanding influence in society, and a widely extended sphere of usefulness. His situation enables him to diffuse the light of science among all classes of the community. Is a man to have no other object, than to obtain a living by professional pursuits? Has he not duties to perform to his family, to his fellow citizens, to his country; duties which require various and extensive intellectual furniture?
Professional studies are designedly excluded from the course of instruction at college, to leave room for those literary and scientific acquisitions which, if not commenced there, will, in most cases, never be made. They will not grow up spontaneously, amid the bustle of business. We are not here speaking of those giant minds which, by their native energy, break through the obstructions of a defective education, and cut their own path to distinction. These are honorable exceptions to the general law; not examples for common imitation. Franklins and Marshalls are not found in sufficient numbers to fill a college. And even Franklin would not have been what he was, if there had been no colleges in the country. When an elevated standard of education is maintained, by the higher literary institutions, men of superior powers, who have not had access to these, are stimulated to aim at a similar elevation, by their own efforts, and by aid of the light which is thus shining around them.
As our course of instruction is not intended to complete an education, in theological, medical, or legal science; neither does it include all the minute details of mercantile, me-chanical, or agricultural concerns. These can never be effectually learned except in the very circumstances in which they are to be practiced. The young merchant must be trained in the counting room, the mechanic, in the workshop, the farmer, in the field. But we have, on our premises, no experimental farm or retail shop; no cotton or iron manufactory; no hatter’s, or silver-smith’s, or coach-maker’s establishment. For what purpose, then, it will be asked, are young men who are destined to these occupations, ever sent to a college? They should not be sent, as we think, with an expectation of finishing their education at the college; but with a view of laying a thorough foundation in the principles of science, preparatory to the study of the practical arts. As every thing cannot be learned in four years, either theory or practice must be, in a measure at least, postponed to a future opportunity. But if the scientific theory of the arts is ever to be acquired, it is unquestionably first in order of time. The corner stone must be laid, before the superstructure is erected. If suitable arrangements were made, the details of mercantile, mechanical, and agricultural education, might be taught at the college, to resident graduates. Practical skill would then be grounded upon scientific information.
The question may be asked, What is a young man fitted for, when he takes his degree? Does he come forth from the college qualified for business? We answer, no,—if he stops here. His education is begun, but not completed. Is the college to be reproached for not accomplishing that which it has never undertaken to perform? Do we complain of the mason, who has laid the foundation of a house, that he has done nothing to purpose; that he has not finished the building; that the product of his labor is not habitable; and that, therefore, there is nothing practical in what he has done? Do we say of the planter, who has raised a crop of cotton, that he has done nothing practical, because he has not given to his product the form of wearing apparel?
In education, as well as in morals, we often hear the suggestion, that principles are of no consequence, provided the practice is right. Why waste on theories, the time which is wanted for acquiring practical arts? We are aware, that some operations may be performed, by those who have little or no knowledge of the principles on which they depend. The mariner may set his sails to the wind, without under-standing the laws of the decomposition of forces; the carpenter may square his frame-work, without a knowledge of Euclid’s Elements; the dyer may set his colors, without being indoctrinated in the principles of chemistry. But the labors of such an one, are confined to the narrow path marked out to him by others. He needs the constant superintendence of men of more enlarged and scientific information. If he ventures beyond his prescribed rule, he works at random, with no established principles to guide him. By long continued practice, he may have attained a good degree of manual dexterity. But the arranging of plans of business, the new combinations of mechanical processes, the discoveries and improvements in the arts, must generally come from minds more highly and systematically cultivated. There is a fertility in scientific principles, of which the mere artist has no apprehension. A single general law may include a thousand or ten thousand particular cases; each one of which is as difficult to be learned or remembered, as the law which explains them all. Men of mere practical detail are wanted, in considerable numbers, to fill the subordinate places in mechanical establishments; but the higher stations require enlightened and comprehensive views.
We are far from believing that theory alone, should be taught in a college. It cannot be effectually taught, except in connection with practical illustrations. These are necessary in exciting an interest in theoretical instructions; and especially important in showing the application of principles. It is our aim therefore, while engaged in scientific investigations, to blend with them, as far as possible, practical illustrations and experiments. Of what use are all the sublime discoveries which have immortalized the names of Newton, Archimedes, and others; if the principles which they have unfolded, are never to be taught to those who can reduce them to practice? Why do we bestow such exalted encomiums on inventive genius, if the results of original investigations, are to be confined to a few scientific men, and not diffused among those who are engaged in the active duties of life? To bring down the principles of science to their practical application by the laboring classes, is the office of men of superior education. It is the separation of theory and practice, which has brought reproach upon both. Their union alone can elevate them to their true dignity and value. The man of science is often disposed to assume an air of superiority, when he looks upon the narrow and partial views of the mere artisan. The latter in return laughs at the practical blunders of the former. The defects in the education of both classes would be remedied, by giving them a knowledge of scientific principles, preparatory to practice.
We are aware that a thorough education is not within the reach of all. Many, for want of time and pecuniary resources, must be content with a partial course. A defective education is better than none. If a youth can afford to devote only two or three years, to a scientific and professional education, it will be proper for him to make a selection of a few of the most important branches, and give his attention exclusively to these. But this is an imperfection, arising from the necessity of the case. A partial course of study, must inevitably give a partial education.
This, we are well convinced, is far preferable to a superficial education. Of all the plans of instruction which have been offered to the public, that is the most preposterous, which proposes to teach almost every thing in a short time. In this way, nothing is effectually taught. The pupil is hurried over the surface so rapidly, that scarce a trace of his steps remains, when he has finished his course. What he has learned, or thinks he has learned, is just sufficient to inflate his vanity, to expose him to public observation, and to draw on him the ridicule of men of sound judgement and science. A partial education is often expedient; a superficial one, never. Whatever a young man undertakes to learn, however little it may be, he ought to learn it so effectually, that it may be of some practical use to him. If there is any way in which every thing worth knowing may be taught in four years, we are free to acknowledge, that we are not in possession of the secret.
But why, it is asked, should all the students in a college be required to tread in the same steps? Why should not each one be allowed to select those branches of study which are most to his taste, which are best adapted to his peculiar talents, and which are most nearly connected with his intended profession? To this we answer, that our prescribed course contains those subjects only which ought to be understood, as we think, by every one who aims at a thorough education. They are not the peculiarities of any profession or art. These are to be learned in the professional and practical schools. But the principles of science, are the common foundation of all high intellectual attainments. As in our primary schools, reading, writing, and arithmetic are taught to all, however different their prospects; so in a college, all should be instructed in those branches of knowledge, of which no one destined to the higher walks of life ought to be ignorant. What subject which is now studied here, could be set aside, without evidently marring the system? Not to speak particularly, in this place, of the ancient languages; who that aims at a well proportioned and superior education will remain ignorant of the elements of the various branches of the mathematics, or of history and antiquities, or of rhetoric and oratory, or natural philosophy, or astronomy, or chemistry, or mineralogy, or geology, or political economy, or mental and moral philosophy?
It is sometimes thought that a student ought not to be urged to the study of that for which he has no taste or capacity. But how is he to know, whether he has a taste or capacity for a science, before he has even entered upon its elementary truths? If he is really destitute of talent sufficient for these common departments of education, he is destined for some narrow sphere of action. But we are well persuaded, that our students are not so deficient in intellectual powers, as they sometimes profess to be; though they are easily made to believe, that they have no capacity for the study of that which they are told is almost wholly useless.
When a class have become familiar with the common elements of the several sciences, then is the proper time for them to divide off to their favorite studies. They can then make their choice from actual trial. This is now done here, to some extent, in our Junior year. The division might be commenced at an earlier period, and extended farther, provided the qualifications for admission into the college, were brought to a higher standard.
If the view which we have thus far taken of the subject is correct, it will be seen, that the object of the system of instruction at this college, is not to give a partial education, consisting of a few branches only; nor, on the other hand, to give a superficial education, containing a smattering of almost every thing; nor to finish the details of either a professional or practical education; but to commence a thorough course, and to carry it as far as the time of residence here will allow. It is intended to occupy, to the best advantage, the four years immediately preceding the study of a profes-sion, or of the operations which are peculiar to the higher mercantile, manufacturing, or agricultural establishments.
As the instruction is only preparatory to a profession, the plan upon which it is conducted, is not copied from professional schools. There are important differences, arising from the different character of the two courses, and the different age at which the student enters upon them. In the professional institution, it is proper that subjects should be studied, rather than text-books. At this period, the student is engaged, not in learning the mere elements of the various sciences; but in becoming thoroughly acquainted with one great department of knowledge, to the study of which, several years are to be devoted. He ought to be allowed time to settle his own opinion on every important point, by the slow process of comparing and balancing the various and conflicting opinions of others. A much greater proportion of lectures is admissible, in this stage of education. The deep interest excited, by a long continued pursuit in the same field of inquiry, supersedes the necessity of the minute responsibility which is required in elementary studies. The age of the student, and the prospect of soon entering on professional practice, will commonly be sufficient to secure his assiduous application, without coercive influence of laws and penalties.
Although the restraints in a college, are greater than in professional institutions; yet they are less than in common academies. In the latter, the student prosecutes his studies in the presence of his instructer. At the early age of ten or twelve, he needs more frequent assistance and encouragement, in the way of colloquial intercourse, than the members of a college, who, though they are young, are not children.
Our institution is not modelled exactly after the pattern of European universities. Difference of circumstances has rendered a different arrangement expedient. It has been the policy of most monarchical governments, to concentrate the advantages of a superior education in a few privileged places. In England, for instance, each of the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge, is not so much a single institution, as a large number of distinct, though contiguous colleges. But in this country, our republican habits and feelings will never allow a monopoly of literature in any one place. There must be, in the union, as many colleges, at least, as states. Nor would we complain of this arrangement as in-expedient, provided that starvation is not the consequence of a patronage so minutely divided. We anticipate no disastrous results from the multiplication of colleges, if they can only be adequately endowed. We are not without apprehensions, however, that a feeble and stinted growth of our national literature, will be the consequence of the very scanty supply of means to most of our public seminaries.
The Universities on the continent of Europe, especially in Germany, have of late gained the notice and respect of men of information in this country. They are upon a broad and liberal scale, affording very great facilities for a finished education. But we doubt whether they are models to be copied in every feature, by our American colleges. We hope at least, that this college may be spared the mortification of a ludicrous attempt to imitate them, while it is unprovided with the resources necessary to execute the purpose. The only institution in this country, which, so far as we know, has started upon the plan of the European universities, required an expenditure, before commencing operations, of more than three hundred thousand dollars; a sum far greater than Yale College has received in a century and a quarter, from the bounty of individuals and the state together. The students come to the universities in Germany at a more advanced age, and with much higher preparatory attainments, than to the colleges in this country. The period of education which is there divided into two portions only, one of which is spent at the gymnasium and the other at the university, is here divided into three, that of the grammar school, the college, and the professional school. The pupils, when they enter the university, are advanced nearly or quite as far, in literature if not in science, as our students are when graduated. The institution in Germany which corresponds most nearly to our colleges, in point of attainments, and the age of the students, is the gymnasium. The universities are mostly occupied with professional studies. In Halle, for example, of eleven hundred students, all except sixty are engaged in the study of Theology, Law, and Medicine. But in the United States, the professional schools are scattered over the country, and many of them are at a distance from the colleges. The different denominations of christians have their separate Theological Seminaries. Students at law are distributed in the several states, to accommodate their education to the peculiarities in the legal practice of each. If to the The-ological, Medical, and Law Institutions attached to Yale College, there were added what is called in Germany a School of Philosophy for the higher researches of literature and science, the four departments together would constitute a university in the European sense of the term. The proper collegiate department would still have its distinct and appropriate object, that of teaching the branches preparatory to all the others. It would, in our opinion, be idle to think of adopting in the college, the regulations and plan of instruction in a university; unless the students of the former were advanced three or four years farther than at present, both in age and acquirements. Would parents in this country consent to send their sons, at the age of sixteen, to an institution in which there should not be even an attempt at discipline, farther than to preserve order in the lecture room? When the student has passed beyond the rugged and cheerless region of elementary learning, into the open and enchanting field where the great masters of science are moving onward with enthusiastic emulation; then, instead of plodding over a page of Latin or Greek, with his grammars, and dictionaries, and commentaries, he reads those languages with facility and delight; when, after taking a general survey of the extensive and diversified territiries of literature, he has selected those spots for cultivation which are best adapted to his talents and taste; he may then be safely left to pursue his course, without the impulse of authoritative injunctions, or the regulation of statutes and penalties. But we question whether a college of undergraduates, unprovided with any substitute for parental control, would long be patronised in this country.
Although we do not consider the literary institutions of Europe as faultless models, to be exactly copied by our American colleges; yet we would be far from condemning every feature, in systems of instruction which have had an origin more ancient than our republican seminaries. We do not suppose that the world has learned absolutely nothing, by the experience of ages; that a branch of science, or a mode of teaching, is to be abandoned, precisely because it has stood its ground, after a trial by various nations, and through successive centuries. We believe that our colleges may derive important improvements from the universities and schools in Europe; not by blindly adopting all their measures without discrimination; but by cautiously introdu-cing, with proper modifications, such parts of their plans as are suited to our peculiar situation and character. The first and great improvement which we wish to see made, is an elevation in the standard of attainment for admission. Until this is effected, we shall only expose ourselves to inevitable failure and ridicule, by attempting a general imitation of foreign universities.
One of the pleas frequently urged in favor of a partial education, is the alleged want of time for a more enlarged course. We are well aware, as we have already observed, that a thorough education cannot be begun and finished in four years. But if three years immediately preceding the age of twenty-one be allowed for the study of a profession, there is abundant time previous to this for the attainment of all which is now required for admission into the college, in addition to the course prescribed for the undergraduates. Though the limit of age for admission is fixed by our laws at fourteen, yet how often have we been pressed to dispense with the rule, in behalf of some youth who has completed his preparation at an earlier period; and who, if compelled to wait till he has attained the requisite age, “is in danger of being ruined for want of employment?” May we not expect, that this plea will be urged with still greater earnestness, when the present improved methods of instruction in the elementary and preparatory schools, are more and more accelerating the early progress of the pupil?
But suppose it should happen that the student, in consequence of commencing his studies at a later period, should be delayed a little longer, before entering upon the duties of his profession; is this a sacrifice worthy to be compared with the immense difference between the value of a limited and a thorough education? Is a young man’s pushing forward into business, so indispensable to his future welfare, that rather than suspend it for a single year, he must forego all the advantage of superior intellectual discipline and attainments?
We well know that the whole population of the country can never enjoy the benefit of a thorough course of education. A large portion must be content with the very limited instruction in our primary schools. Others may be able to add to this the privilege of a few months at an academy. Others still, with higher aims and more ample means, may afford to spend two or three years, in attending upon a partial course of study, in some institution which furnishes in-struction in any branch or branches selected by the pupil or his parents.
The question is then presented, whether the college shall have all the variety of classes and departments which are found in academies; or whether it shall confine itself to the single object of a well proportioned and thorough course of study. It is said that the public now demand, that the doors should be thrown open to all; that education ought to be so modified, and varied, as to adapt it to the exigencies of the country, and the prospects of different individuals; that the instruction given to those who are destined to be merchants, or manufacturers, or agriculturalists, should have a special reference to their respective professional pursuits.
The public are undoubtedly right, in demanding that there should be appropriate courses of education, accessible to all classes of youth. And we rejoice at the prospect of ample provision for this purpose, in the improvement of our academies, and the establishment of commercial high-schools, gymnasia, lycea, agricultural seminaries, &c. But do the public insist, that every college shall become a high-school, gymnasium, lyceum, and academy? Why should we interfere with these valuable institutions? Why wish to take their business out of their hands? The college has its appropriate object, and they have theirs. What advantage would be gained by attempting to blend them all in one? When in almost all out schools, and academies, and professional seminaries, the standard of education has been enlarged and elevated, is this a time for the college to lower its standard? Shall we fall back, and abandon the ground which, for thirty years past, we have been striving so hard to gain? Are those who are seeking only a partial education to be admitted into the college, merely for the purpose of associating its name with theirs? of carrying away with them a collegiate diploma, without incurring the fearful hazard of being over-educated? Why is a degree from a college more highly prized, than a certificate from an academy, if the former is not a voucher of a superior education? When the course of instruction in the one, is reduced to the level of that in the other; to be graduated at either, will be equally honorable. What is the characteristic difference between a college and an academy? Not that the former teaches more branches than the latter. There are many academies in the country, whose scheme of studies, at least upon paper, is more various than that of the colleges. But while an academy teaches a little of every thing, the college, by directing its efforts to one uniform course, aims at doing its work with greater precision, and economy of time; just as the merchant who deals in a single class of commodities, or a manufacturer who produces but one kind of fabrics, executes his business more perfectly, than he whose attention and skill are divided among a multitude of objects.
If our treasury were overflowing, if we had a surplus fund, requiring us to look out for some new object on which to expend it, there might perhaps be no harm in establishing a department for a brief and rapid course of study, so far connected with the college, as to be under the superintendance of the same board of trust. But it ought to be as distinct from the four classes of undergraduates, as is the medical or law school. All the means which are now applied to the proper collegiate department, are barely sufficient, or rather are insufficient, for the object in view. No portion of our resources, or strength, or labor, can be diverted to other purposes, without impairing the education which we are attempting to give. A London university, commencing with a capital of several hundred thousand dollars, and aiming to provide a system of instruction for the youth in a city whose population is more than a million, may well establish its higher and inferior courses, its scientific and practical departments, its professional, mercantile, and mechanical institutions. But shall a college, with an income of two or three thousand a year from funds, affect to be at once a London university? Should we ever become such an institution, our present undergraduate course, ought still to constitute one distinct branch of the complicated system of arrangements.
But might we not, by making the college more accessible to different descriptions of persons, enlarge our numbers, and in that way, increase our income? This might be the operation of the measure, for a very short time, while a degree from the college should retain its present value in public estimation; a value depending entirely upon the character of the education which we give. But the moment it is understood that the institution has descended to an inferior standard of attainment, its reputation will sink to a corresponding level. After we shall have become a college in name only, and in reality nothing more than an academy; or half col-lege, and half academy; what will induce parents in various and distant parts of the country, to send us their sons, when they have academies enough in their own neighborhood? There is no magical influence in an act of incorporation, to give celebrity to a literary institution, which does not command respect for itself, by the elevated rank of its education. When the college has lost its hold on the public confidence, by depressing its standard of merit, by substituting a partial, for a thorough education, we may expect that it will be deserted by that class of persons who have hitherto been drawn here by high expectations and purposes. Even if we should not immediately suffer in point of numbers, yet we shall exchange the best portion of our students, for others of inferior aims and attainments.
As long as we can maintain an elevated character, we need be under no apprehension with respect to numbers. Without character, it will be in vain to think of retaining them. It is a hazardous experiment, to act upon the plan of gaining numbers first, and character afterwards.
We are sensible there is great imperfection in the execution of the purpose to give a thorough course of instruction. The observations which we have made on this subject, relate rather to what we would wish to see effected, than to what we profess to have actually accomplished. Numerous and formidable difficulties are to be perpetually encountered. One of the principal of these, is the call which is so frequently made upon us, to admit students into the college with defective preparation. Parents are little aware to what embarrassments and injury they are subjecting their sons, by urging them forward to a situation for which they are not properly qualified. Of those who are barely admitted, one and another is, from time to time, dropped off from the class. Here and there one, after making his way, with much perplexity and mortification, through the four years, just obtains a degree at last; which is nearly all the benefit that he derives from his residence here. Whereas, if he had come to us well prepared, he might have held a respectable rank in his class, and acquired a substantial education.
Another serious difficulty with which we have to contend, is the impression made on the minds of a portion of our students, from one quarter and another, that the study of any thing for which they have not an instinctive relish, or which requires vigorous and continued effort, or which is not imme-diately connected with their intended professional pursuits, is of no practical utility. They of course remain ignorant of that which they think not worth the learning. We are concerned to find, that not only students, but their parents also, seem frequently more solicitous for the name of an education, than the substance.
The difficulties with which we are now struggling, we fear would be increased, rather than diminished, by attempting to unite different plans of education. It is far from being our intention to dictate to other colleges a system to be adopted by them. There may be good and sufficient reasons why some of them should introduce a partial course of instruction. We are not sure, that the demand for thorough education is, at present, sufficient to fill all the colleges in the United States, with students who will be satisfied with nothing short of high and solid attainments. But it is to be hoped that, at no very distant period, they will be able to come up to this elevated ground, and leave the business of second-rate education to the inferior seminaries.
The competition of colleges may advance the interests of literature: if it is a competition for excellence, rather than for numbers; if each aims to surpass the others, not in an imposing display, but in the substantial value of its education. When the rivalry becomes a mere scramble for numbers, a dexterous arrangement of measures in beating up for recruits, the standard of attainment will sink lower and lower, till the colleges are brought to a level with common academies. Does it become the patrons and guardians of sound learning, to yield to this depressing and deteriorating influence? Our country has ample resources for furnishing to great numbers the means of a thorough education. At the same time, peculiar temptations are here presented to our youth, to induce them to rest satisfied with a partial and superficial course of study. In Europe, the competition among literary men is so pressing, that those of moderate attainments can have little hope of success. But in this country, the field of enterprise is so wide, the demand for even ordinary learning is so urgent, and the occupations which yield a competent living are so numerous and accessible; that a young man of a very limited stock of knowledge, if he have a good share of self-confidence, and a driving, bustling spirit, can push himself forward into notice and employment. He may even mount the steps which lead to office and popular applause. If he fail to enlighten his countrymen by his intellectual superiority, he may at least attract their gaze by the tinsel of his literary ornaments. This is the allurement to a hurried and superficial education. We have abundant supplies of this Lombardy-poplar growth, slender, frail, and blighted. We should like to see more of the stately elm, striking deep its roots, lifting its head slowly to the skies, spreading wide its grateful shade, and growing more and more venerable with years. There are few instances of a more improvident expenditure of time and money, than that which is wasted upon a superficial education. The parent often labors hard to furnish his son with the means of acquiring that which is of no substantial value, when with a little more time, and a small additional expense, a foundation might have been effectually laid, for high literary excellence, and professional distinction.
Our duty to our country demands of us an effort to provide the means of a thorough education. There is perhaps no nation whose interests would be more deeply affected, by a substitution of superficial for solid learning. The universal diffusion of the common branches of knowledge, renders it necessary that those who aspire to literary eminence would ascend to very elevated ground. They must take their position on a summit which towers above the height of surrounding ranges of hills. In the midst of so enlightened a population, can he be distinguished, whose education has scarcely given him more enlarged views, than he might acquire, by conversation in stages and steam boats, or the reading of newspapers, and a volume or two of elegant extracts?
The unexampled multiplication of schools and academies in this country, requires that colleges should aim at a high standard of literary excellence. The conviction is almost universal, that the former, as well as the latter, admit of great improvements. But who are to make these improvements, and give character and tone to our systems of instruction, if there are few men of thorough education in the country? He who is to arrange an extensive scheme of measures, ought himself to stand on an eminence, from which he can command a view of the whole field of operation. Superficial learning in our higher seminaries, will inevitably extend its influence to the inferior schools. If the fountains are shallow and turbid, the streams cannot be abundant and pure. Schools and colleges are not rival institutions. The success of each is essential to the prosperity of the other.
Our republican form of government renders it highly important, that great numbers should enjoy the advantage of a thorough education. On the Eastern continent, the few who are destined to particular departments in political life, may be educated for the purpose, while the mass of the people are left in comparative ignorance. But in this country, where offices are accessible to all who are qualified for them, superior intellectual attainments ought not to be confined to any description of persons. Merchants, manufacturers, and farmers, as well as professional gentlemen, take their places in our public councils. A thorough education ought therefore to be extended to all these classes. It is not sufficient that they be men of sound judgment, who can decide correctly, and give a silent vote, on great national questions. Their influence upon the minds of others is needed; an influence to be produced by extent of knowledge, and the force of eloquence. Ought the speaking in our deliberative assemblies to be confined to a single profession? If it is knowledge, which gives us the command of physical agents and instruments, much more is it that which enables us to control the combinations of moral and political machinery.
Young men intended for active employments ought not to be excluded from the colleges, merely on the ground that the course of study is not specially adapted to their pursuits. This principle would exclude those also who are intended for the professions. In either case, the object of the undergraduate course, is not to finish a preparation for business, but to impart that various and general knowledge, which will improve, and elevate, and adorn any occupation. Can merchants, manufacturers, and agriculturists, derive no benefit from high intellectual culture? They are the very classes which, from their situation and business, have the best opportunities for reducing the principles of science to their practical applications. The large estates which the tide of prosperity in our country is so rapidly accumulating, will fall mostly into their hands. Is it not desirable that they should be men of superior education, of large and liberal views, of those solid and elegant attainments, which will raise them to a higher distinction, than the mere possession of property; which will not allow them to hoard their treasures, or waste them in senseless extravagance; which will enable them to adorn society by their learning, to move in the more intelligent circles with dignity, and to make such an application of their wealth, as will be most honorable to themselves, and most beneficial to their country?
The active, enterprising character of our population, renders it highly important, that this bustle and energy should be directed by sound intelligence, the result of deep thought and early discipline. The greater the impulse to action, the greater is the need of wise and skilful guidance. When nearly all the ship’s crew are aloft, setting the topsails, and catching the breezes, it is necessary there should be a steady hand at helm. Light and moderate learning is but poorly fitted to direct the energies of a nation, so widely extended, so intelligent, so powerful in resources, so rapidly advancing in population, strength, and opulence. Where a free government gives full liberty to the human intellect to expand and operate, education should be proportionately liberal and ample. When even our mountains, and rivers, and lakes, are upon a scale which seems to denote, that we are destined to be a great and mighty nation, shall our literature be feeble, and scanty, and superficial?
© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2015