Efforts for reform in Harvard College.
The spirit with which Mr. Ticknor
entered on his professorship at Harvard College, and the scheme of duties he formed, to the fulfilment of which he gave himself with characteristic energy, hopefulness, and ardor, have been noticed in preceding pages.
He had not been long engaged in his work before he found himself hampered by the general conditions of instruction at Cambridge
, and his success in his own department materially checked by the deficiencies of the system then in force.
Alike in respect to discipline and to learning, the College
was not in a satisfactory state.
Many of the officers of the government and of instruction were aware of existing defects, and anxious to find a remedy for them; while the friends of the College
, in the community at large, felt the necessity of vigorous measures of change and improvement.
's quick intelligence soon detected the sources of the evils by which the usefulness of the College
was diminished, and his generous zeal for the best culture urged him to exert his full powers for their removal.
He took up the question of reform without hesitation, and for several years he was one of the chief leaders in the endeavor to secure the changes required, to make the College
an institution for the highest education attainable with such means and resources as it had at command.
The attempt was only in part successful.
The community was not prepared for some of the strong changes which were proposed; but the impulse was given, which, in the fifty years that have followed, has been efficient in raising the College
to its present position as a University, fully equipped and admirably served, and no one did more to create it than Mr. Ticknor
His interest in the improvement of education at Cambridge
was so great, and he took so large a part in the attempt to render the College
effective for the promotion of the highest culture, that any account of his life from 1819 to 1830 must include a narrative of his exertions for that end.
In a letter to Mr. Haven
, written in 1825, he gives a sketch of the condition of the College
, and of the efforts to improve it, beginning in 1821.1
For the consideration of these gentlemen Mr. Ticknor
had drawn up a paper, the general object and character of which are shown in the following extracts:—
It is, I think, an unfortunate circumstance, that all our colleges have been so long considered merely places for obtaining a degree of Bachelor of Arts, to serve as a means and certificate whereon to build the future plans and purposes of life.
Such a state of things was, indeed, unavoidable at the earlier period of our College, when there
was only a President, who sometimes lived permanently in Boston, and a few tutors, who kept a school in Newton; for the number of scholars was so small that it was possible to teach only by classes, and each student, the number being also small, could pass through the hands of every one of them, and receive from every one all the instruction he could give.
But now the state of the case is reversed.
There are twenty or more teachers, and three hundred students, and yet the division into classes remains exactly the same, and every student is obliged to pass through the hands of nearly or quite every instructor.
Of course, the recitations become mere examinations, and it cannot be attempted to give more than the most superficial view of very important subjects, even to those who would gladly investigate them thoroughly, because they must keep with the class to which they are bound, and hurry on from a teacher and a subject to which they have, perhaps, important reasons for being attached, to another teacher and another subject, wherein their present dispositions and final pursuits in life make it impossible for them to feel any interest.
But at the same time that we at once perceive this system . . . . has been carried too far, . . . . we must still feel that it has in some respects its peculiar advantages.
The majority of the young men who come to Cambridge should not be left entirely to themselves to choose what they will study, because they are not competent to judge what will be most important for them; and yet no parent would wish to have his child pursue branches of knowledge which he is sure can never be of use to him in future life.
A beneficial compromise can, however, as it seems to me, be effected between the old system still in operation and the most liberal concessions that would be demanded by one of the merely free and philosophical universities of Europe.
went on to describe in explicit terms the actual condition of the College
in all matters of discipline, morals, and instruction, and closes this part of the subject with saying,—
Now if this be the condition of the College, which I do not doubt, or if anything like it exist there, which nobody will deny, it is perfectly apparent that a great and thorough change must take place in its discipline and instruction; not to bring it up to the increasing demands of the community, but to make it fulfil the purposes of a respectable high school, to which young men may be safely sent to be prepared for the study of a profession.
His plan of reform includes a revision of the laws; their administration by a tribunal of three, with full powers of dismission, etc.; stricter examination, both annual and for admission; annual increase of studies during the College
course; a change in the character of the recitations, and restriction of personal expenses of the students.
Whenever the tribunal of three are satisfied that a young man does not fulfil the purposes for which he came to College, they should be required instantly to dismiss him, for his own sake, for the sake of his friends, and for the sake of the College, since from that moment he becomes a nuisance; for, if it be mere dulness, he is out of his place and lowers the standard of merit, and if it be idleness, folly, or vice, he is continually spreading mischief around him. . . . . The longest vacation should happen in the hot season, when insubordination and misconduct are now most frequent, partly from the indolence produced by the season.
There is a reason against this, I know,—the poverty of many students, who keep school for a part of their subsistence. . . . .
On this point he gives facts and statistics to prove this concession and arrangement to be unnecessary, and continues:—
And it would be difficult to prove that it is always even poverty that is encouraged, for of sixteen beneficiaries in the Senior Class, only nine were last winter so poor as to be compelled to resort to school-keeping; so that, on all accounts, I think it is apparent the College can fulfil all its duties to the poorer portion of the community, without resorting to the winter vacation. . . . .
For myself, I will gladly perform all the duties that fall to my office as Smith Professor, and give besides a full twelfth of all the additional common instruction at College, for the three next years, provided this reform may take place, and such branches be assigned to me as I can teach with profit to the school.
I am persuaded every other teacher would be equally willing to pledge himself to extra labors in such a cause. . . . .
But one thing is certain.
A change must take place. The discipline of College must be made more exact, and the instruction more thorough.
All now is too much in the nature of a show, and abounds too much in false pretences . . . . . It is seen that we are neither an University—which we call ourselves—nor a respectable
high school,—which we ought to be,—and that with ‘Christo et Ecclesiae’ for our motto, the morals of great numbers of the young men who come to us are corrupted.
We must therefore change, or public confidence, which is already hesitating, will entirely desert us. If we can ever have an university at Cambridge which shall lead the intellectual character of the country, it can be, I apprehend, only when the present College shall have been settled into a thorough and well-disciplined high school, where the young men of the country shall be carefully prepared to begin their professional studies, and where in Medicine, Law, and Theology, sufficient inducements shall have been collected around and within the College . . . . to keep graduates there two years longer, at least, and probably three . . . .
We have now learnt that as many years are passed in our schools, and colleges, and professional preparation, as are passed in the same way, and for the same purpose, in the best schools in Europe, while it is perfectly apparent that nothing like the same results are obtained; so that we have only to choose whether the reproach shall rest on the talents of our young men, or on the instruction and discipline of our institutions for teaching them.
Now, as there can be no doubt which of the two is in fault, our colleges, constituting as they do the most important portion of our means of teaching, must come in for their full share of the blame.
There may be defects, and there are defects, I know, in the previous preparation of the young men, but the defects at college are greater and graver.
Such were the condition and the needs of the College
, in the view of Mr. Ticknor
His opinions had weight, and were carefully considered by the gentlemen before whom he laid them.
He continues his narrative to Mr. Haven
A list of above twenty questions was prepared by the contributions of all present, each one proposing any point he wished to have examined.
The discussions began at 9 A. M. and were continued till 6 P. M., through dinner and all, without intermission.
About a dozen points were examined, and on all it was unanimously agreed, something ought to be done.
We determined, therefore, to have a committee of the Overseers appointed,—if we could compass it,—with full powers to examine into the whole condition of the College.
This we knew would be agreeable to Mr. Prescott and Mr. Otis, who thought the work could not be carried on without the intervention of a larger body than the Corporation, and a stronger
action of public opinion than such a body could produce.
It was, also, what was foreseen as probable at the meeting at Dr. Ware's, and what Mr. Norton had long thought desirable.
The committee, therefore, was appointed at the regular meeting of the Overseers, held the next day, July 24, 1823. . . . . A committee of the Corporation, consisting of the President, Mr. Prescott, and Mr. Otis, was appointed, July 25, to confer with this committee of the Overseers, as had been requested by the vote of the Overseers. . . . . They had many meetings, some which lasted a whole day. If ever a subject was thoroughly discussed, they discussed this one thoroughly.
When Judge Story had drawn up his report, he sent it to the President, with whom it remained above two months, and who returned it without desiring any alteration, or suggesting any from any other person.
This report was discussed June 1, 1824, and another committee appointed (J. Lowell, Chairman) to inquire, and report further details, as the Overseers were evidently not sufficiently informed about the state of the College. . . . . . The result of the whole was, that the resident teachers again declared themselves against all but very trifling changes.
The Overseers, however, after a very long discussion, passed the greater changes unanimously, and these greater changes, having been digested into the shape of laws by the Corporation, are now the basis on which the College rests, and which I undertook to explain and defend in my review, or pamphlet5. . . . That the opinion of a majority of the resident teachers has not been followed, is true; that they have not been kindly and respectfully consulted at every step, in making up the final result, is obviously a mistake; but that any one, except the teachers, or rather a part of the teachers, at Cambridge, thinks this result wrong or unwise, I have not yet heard.
The general opinion, indeed, has seldom been so unanimous on any important point, that had been so much discussed, and, taking the whole body of instructors,—resident and non-resident,—there is a majority strongly the same way.
, and those who acted with him, had thus far addressed themselves only to the responsible official bodies having charge of the interests of the College
; but when, in June, 1825, the changes they desired received the sanction of both the
superior boards, it was thought proper that they should be explained and vindicated to the public.
, accordingly, at the request of Judge Story
, Mr. Webster
, and Mr. Prescott
, wrote an article on the subject for the ‘North American Review.’
It was already in type, when the editor of that journal —although he had invited and accepted the article-informed Mr. Ticknor
that, by the advice of friends, he had decided that it would be inexpedient for him to publish it. The gentlemen who had originally counselled its preparation, and had themselves revised it in manuscript, then recommended its publication as a separate pamphlet.
This was done in September, 1825, and before the close of the year a second edition was called for and exhausted.
This pamphlet, referred to in the preceding letter, was designed to explain and defend the changes which it was supposed were to be carried out at Harvard
; changes which in no other way affected Mr. Ticknor
's relations to the College
than as they increased his labors.
After describing the state of the institution, and the grounds of the existing dissatisfaction with it, he entered upon the discussion of a question relating to the alleged legal right of resident teachers to become members of the Corporation; a claim which, in the manner it had been urged, resulted in a demand that the members of the Corporation should be appointed exclusively from among such resident professors and tutors.
This was an old controversy, recently revived.
availed himself of the ample notes from which Judge Story
had made an argument on this subject before the Overseers, together with suggestions from Sir. Webster
and Mr. Prescott
, in order to put on record, in a permanent form, the grounds on which this question, as a matter of law, had been set at rest.6
He then considered and answered the same claim, as a matter of expediency.
An historical statement follows, of the steps taken to bring about important changes in the College
, beginning with what
was attempted in 1821, and coming down to the new code of laws just sanctioned by the Corporation and Overseers in June, 1825, which he explained and vindicated.
The whole movement was an effort to carry the institution through a state of transition, gradually moulding it into a broader and freer form.
The immediate abolition of the system of classes, of a curriculum
and a degree, could not be undertaken, nor could the teaching of many of the professors be emancipated from the special spheres imposed by the donors of their foundations.
But the cardinal features of the new plan were these: the division of the whole institution into departments
, with the right of a limited choice of studies; the separation of the members of a class for their exercises, according to their proficiency, so that each division might be carried forward as rapidly as was consistent with thoroughness, every man having a right to make progress according to his industry and capacity; and the opening of the College
to those who wished to pursue special studies, without taking a degree.
made it apparent that these changes could be made consistent with the retention of classes, and with the conferring of degrees on those who might desire them.
He made it equally plain that the existing pecuniary means of the College
were sufficient-if rightly used—to put these innovations to a fair and proper test.
Having discussed all these topics with great fulness, he closed with a vigorous passage on the absolute necessity of introducing greater thoroughness into the processes of teaching:—
There is one point that I believe must be made a sort of cynosure, when beneficial changes are undertaken, both at Harvard and at our other colleges; and that is, the principle of thorough teaching. On this point, it is desirable to be perfectly plain, and to be very plainly understood.
It is a small matter to diminish the unreasonable amount of holidays, or to give the students more and longer lessons, under a division according to proficiency, or to do almost anything else, if the principle of teaching is still to be overlooked.
For the most that an instructor now undertakes in our colleges is to ascertain, from day to day, whether the young men who are assembled in his presence have probably studied the lesson prescribed to them.
his duty stops.
If the lesson have been learnt, it is well; if it have not, nothing remains but punishment, after a sufficient number of such offences shall have been accumulated to demand it; and then it comes, halting after the delinquent, he hardly knows why. The idea of a thorough commentary on the lesson; the idea of making the explanations and illustrations of the teacher of as much consequence as the recitation of the book, or even more, is substantially unknown in this country, except at a few preparatory schools.
The consequence is, that, though many of our colleges may have a valuable apparatus for instruction, though they may be very good, quiet, and secluded places for study, and though many of the young men who resort thither may really learn not a little of what is exacted or expected from them, yet, after all, not one of our colleges is a place for thorough teaching; and not one of the better class of them does half of what it might do, by bringing the minds of its instructors to act directly and vigorously on the minds of its pupils, and thus to encourage, enable, and compel them to learn what they ought to learn, and what they easily might learn.
Consider, only, that as many years are given to the great work of education here as are given in Europe, and that it costs more money with us to be very imperfectly educated than it does to enjoy the great advantages of some of the best institutions and universities on the Continent.
And yet, who in this country, by means here offered him, has been enabled to make himself a good Greek scholar?
Who has been taught thoroughly to read, write, and speak Latin?
Nay, who has been taught anything, at our colleges, with the thoroughness that will enable him to go safely and directly onward to distinction in the department he has thus entered, without returning to lay anew the foundations for his success?
It is a shame to be obliged to ask such questions; and yet there is but one answer to them, and those who have visited and examined the great schools of Europe have bitterly felt, there, what this answer is, and why it must be given.
In some of our colleges there may be a reason for this state of things.
Their means are small, their apparatus incomplete, their instructors few. They do what they can; but they cannot do much more than spread before their students a small part of the means for acquiring knowledge, examine them sufficiently to ascertain their general diligence, and encourage them to exertion by such rewards and punishments as they can command.
And in doing this they may do the community great service, and honorably fulfil their own duties.
But at Cambridge, and at our larger colleges, much more than this can be done, and ought to be done.
The young men may be taught, as well as examined.
The large apparatus of libraries, instruments, and collections, and the greater number of professors and tutors, may be turned to much better account, and made to produce much wider and more valuable results.
The increasing demands of the community may be here met, and our high places for education may easily accommodate themselves more wisely to the spirit and wants of the times in which we live.
And this, if done at all, must be done speedily; for new institutions are springing up, which, in the flexibility of their youth, will easily take the forms that are required of them, while the older establishments, if they suffer themselves to grow harder and harder in their ancient habits and systems, will find, when the period for more important alterations is come, and free universities are demanded and called forth, that, instead of being able to place themselves at the head of the coming changes and directing their course, they will only be the first victims of the spirit of improvement.7
The changes introduced into the arrangements of the College
, which had been supported and defended by Mr. Ticknor
, were so broad that it is not matter of surprise to find them met by opposition, and that the experiment, being made by teachers unaccustomed to the system, and who had repeatedly expressed their opinion that changes were unnecessary, should prove unsuccessful.
None of the professors, except Mr. Ticknor
and Mr. Everett
, had enjoyed the opportunities of a thorough training in a European university.
Had they shared Mr. Ticknor
's advantages, or partaken of his spirit, the result of the attempt at reform would unquestionably have been more satisfactory than it
The experiment was made unwillingly, and was soon given up.
In the autumn of 1826, when a committee of the Overseers made the annual visitation of the College
, the new arrangements were not found working successfully in any department but that of the modern languages.
In carrying out the regulation by which the students were divided into sections, according to their capacity and proficiency, it was attended with great and seemingly insurmountable difficulties, and the Overseers recommended to the Corporation some modification of the rule.
The Corporation accordingly relaxed its binding force, and early in 1827 the Faculty resolved that it was expedient that this law ‘should not
be applied to the departments, or by individual instructors, without the assent of the Faculty,’ but ‘that if the Department of Modern Languages choose to apply the law to the classes instructed by that department, the Faculty assent.’
Although this vote was virtually the abandonment, so far as the College
was concerned, of the improvement which Mr. Ticknor
had desired to accomplish, it left him free to regulate his own department as he chose, and gave him the opportunity, which he did not fail to use, to exhibit in its operation the advantages of the system he had so vigorously urged.
The following account of the mode in which he governed his department, and of the success which attended his course, is taken from a letter8
addressed by him in April, 1827, to the President
and Fellows— the Corporation—of the College
I receive detailed reports from each of its three instructors at the end of every term, teach in their classes myself frequently, introduce changes in their modes of instruction, and, in general, look upon myself as responsible for the good management of the students under their care . . . . The object of the law was in part, if I rightly understand it, to lead to instruction by subjects rather than by books, so that, for instance, a student should not merely read Livy and Horace, but learn Latin.
This has been attempted in the modern languages,
and I believe the effect has been valuable, though undoubtedly less so than if the same system had been pursued and an attempt made to execute the law in other studies.
In regard to the elective system, as it is now called, he says:—
In the modern languages, especially, the operation of the principle of choice was decisive.
The right to choose was presented, it appears, in two hundred and forty instances, and was accepted in two hundred and twenty-seven.
That it has been beneficial in this branch I have had full proof, in the alacrity and earnestness with which a very large proportion of those who have been permitted to choose have pursued the studies they have chosen.
As to the application of Law 61, for ‘divisions with reference to proficiency,’ which was made for only one year and to one class, and during that time very imperfectly administered, he says:—
The remaining branch to which this law was applicable was French; and to this branch its application began three months later than to the other branches, because the Freshmen do not begin French till they have been three months in College, pursuing other studies.
Fifty-five Freshmen entered for French, in January, 1826. Seven of them, who knew more or less of the language, were put at once into an advanced division.
The remaining forty-eight, who were wholly ignorant of it, were broken into five alphabetical divisions, which after March, when their powers became known, were arranged into five divisions according to proficiency.
At the end of the first term there was already a wide difference between them.
At the end of the second there were about two hundred and fifty pages between them.
And at the end of the third term, when the year was completed, there were more than five hundred pages between them, besides a great difference in grammatical progress.
The first of these divisions had, in fact, overtaken the division that began in advance from previous knowledge, and had for three months been studying with them, and, in individual cases, leading them with a decided superiority.
The justice and benefit of such an administration of the law was plainly felt by all the fifty-five, nor has there been a murmur or complaint against it, from the first moment of its application in French to the present time.
On the contrary, it has been felt and used as an advantage by all of them; for while the upper divisions have been
constantly and successfully pressing forward, the lower one's have asked it, as a favor, to be permitted to go back and pass a second time carefully over the elements.
All, therefore, have been satisfied,—I believe I may add, better satisfied than in any other study,—and all of them—except about five, who, for idleness, negligence, and other misconduct, might have been dismissed from College long ago—have been advanced according to their respective talents; so that two divisions, having made themselves sufficiently familiar with French to read it anywhere, to write it decently, and to speak it a little, have lately been dismissed from its study, while two other divisions are still going on with it, earnestly and successfully, according to their respective powers.
I know it has been said that the application of this law, for progress according to capacity and proficiency, was less unwelcome to the students in French, because they entered with unequal qualifications.
But there is no foundation for this suggestion, for there were but seven out of fifty-five who knew anything of the language, and the remaining forty-eight entered with an equality of pretensions with which forty-eight never entered in anything else since the College was founded, for they entered in entire ignorance.
Moreover, of the seven who entered more or less advanced, two fell long since to the bottom of the class, or near it; and all the other five have been compelled to see themselves successively passed by those who entered without knowing a word of French; while, at the same time, the relative position of the whole fifty-five has been freely and frequently changed, according to the development of their talents and industry, and every one has kept his place, if he has kept it, only by his exertions.
The difference, therefore, in the effect produced by the application of the law in French and in the other studies was not owing to any such circumstance as has been suggested.
If the difference in original qualifications had been all, the law, as it was applied, would have been more odious in French than in anything else.
But the real difference was, that in French the law was administered, according to its spirit and intent, by officers who approved it, and that it was, from this administration of it, felt by the students to be useful, just, and beneficial.
These extracts show not only Mr. Ticknor
's opinions on this subject, but the labor he was willing to incur, not merely to carry out his system, but to do the work of instruction as he felt it ought to be done, and in a manner approaching that in which he had seen it done in Europe
After this period he was
allowed to administer his own department in his own way,9
and when, after Dr. Kirkland
's resignation and Mr. Quincy
's advent as his successor in the Presidency, a new spirit and vigor were infused into the affairs of the College
, Mr. Ticknor
had no longer the same difficulties to contend with as in earlier years.
He continued to labor zealously, so that, looking back afterwards, he said that he did, during those years, three quarters more work than was required of him by the statutes.
He felt that the system on which he worked was successful, and often dwelt with satisfaction on the fact that, in the fifteen years during which he was professor, he was never obliged to apply to the College
Faculty on account of any misdemeanor in the recitation-rooms under his charge, or in his lecture-room; nor did he ever send up the name of any young man for reproof.
The instructors under him were foreigners,—for he held strongly the opinion that a foreign language should be taught only by one to whom it is native,—yet he never found trouble arising between these teachers and the young men.10 Mr. Ticknor
's purposes, throughout, should be judged by the ultimate results which he expected to follow a fair trial of the new system.
The division of the classes by proficiency he regarded as indispensable, so long as the strictly academic character of the College
was to continue; but he supposed that it would fall away naturally when the other important changes had taken effect, and an unlimited choice of studies, as in any university, had been introduced.
His pamphlet was written wholly with this ulterior view and hope.11
What he contemplated, and for four or five years labored to
bring about, was to make such modifications in the working of the academic system, and to introduce such collateral aids, as would give the College
ultimately an actual as well as nominal right to call itself a university.
Whether the lapse of fifty years has justified his efforts and has shown that he was a wise reformer in advance of his time, the progress that Harvard
has made, and is making, towards the object at which he aimed, will attest.