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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XXIII. Education

§ 44. College Problems

Each institution produced certain literary efforts in the form of propaganda, report, and product. Undergraduate journalism originated and flourished. Sectarian propaganda was stimulated. College officials in time ceased to regard student instruction and discipline as their only function and began to attend to larger and more impersonal educational problems. The two most important products of these new interests were reports, one by the faculty of Amherst College in 1827, the other by the faculty of Yale College in 1829. It is an indication either of the progessiveness of that period or of the non-progressiveness of the century intervening between then and now, or perhaps of the traditional character of educational ideas in general, that the problems discussed in these pamphlets are much the same as those of the present day, and that the arguments then offered differ but little from those now heard. A paragraph from the Amherst report states the problem clearly:

  • Why, it is demanded, such reluctance to admit modern improvements and modern literature? Why so little attention to the natural, civil, and political history of our own country and to the genius of our government? Why so little regard to the French and Spanish languages, especially considering the commercial relations which are now so rapidly forming, and which bid fair to be indefinitely extended between the United States and all the great Southern republics? Why should my son, who is to be a merchant at home, or an agent in some foreign port; or why, if he is to inherit my fortune, and wishes to qualify himself for the duties and standing of a private gentleman, or a scientific farmer—why, in either case, should he be compelled to spend nearly four years out of six in the study of the dead languages, for which he has no taste, from which he expects to derive no material advantage, and for which he will in fact have but very little use after his senior examination?
  • This quotation indicates the tenor of the Amherst reply; it was favourable to a progressive, even radical, solution. On the other hand the very elaborate Yale discussion of the same subject, the product of prolonged faculty deliberation, is the fullest statement of the traditional “disciplinary” view of collegiate education.

    The best literary presentation of the period of conflict is President Wayland’s Thoughts on the Present Collegiate System in the United States (1842). This discussion, as also President Wayland’s various annual reports, emphasized the need of radical reform in the collegiate system.