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THE PLACE AND RELATIONS OF THE COLLEGE IN OUR
SYSTEM OF EDUCATION.
DELIVERED BEFORE THE STATE TEACHERS' INSTITUTE, ON WEDNES- . DAY, MAY 6Th, 1863, BY Rev. SAMUEL H. WILLEY,
OF THE COLLEGE OF CALIFORNIA.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN OF THE INSTITUTE : The discussion of this subject cannot be considered inappropriate, I think, before this Convention. Here are assembled friends of education and those actually engaged in the work of instruction from the various parts of the State. And, although the topics more immediately before us pertain to Common Schools, we are at liberty, surely, to take into view to some extent the nearly related subject of College or University Education. And I accept the invitation of the esteemed State Superintendent of Public Instruction to present some views upon this subject all the more readily because we are far removed from all the Colleges of the older States, and are obliged to provide this higher education for ourselves, or go without it altogether.
To suffer a generation of youth, now growing up amongst us, to come forward to manhood without the possibility of obtaining a College education, would be unworthy of Americans settling a new State, and a thing we cannot consent to. If, however, the College is to be reared on these far Western shores, and offer its advantages to the coming generation of youth-the boys now passing through our High Schools and Academies—the publio mind must be quickly and thoroughly aroused to the importance of the work, and the means with which to accomplish it must be forthcoming with the speed and amplitude characteristic of California. There is wealth enough here to do it, costly as it is, and there is surely motive enough to bring it forth, a willing offering to the cause of learning, if it is felt and urged by the friends of education through the country.
But let me speak more particularly of the place which the College holds in our American system of education. The system itself is the result of circumstances. It is such as has grown up naturally under our Republican institutions. It is the result of a separation of Church and State, and the maintenance of the Church on the voluntary principle.
In the midst of this civil, social, and ecclesiastical order existing in our States, there has grown up a system of education, and in this system the College holds a middle ground. · In our country, it should hore be remarked, the terms “ College " and " University"
are used indiscriminately. They are so used, as any one may see, in our State law for the establishment of Colleges. And although, strictly speaking, the word “ University” is the broader term, including Faculties of instruction in the learned professions and in the arts, still, there are many Universities that do not comprehend all theso, and there are many Colleges, like those at Cambridge and New Haven, that do possess some or all of them. Our American system of higher education is not mature enough to place these institutions altogether on distinct and separate ground, and in these remarks I prefer to use the term “ College," and to use it in the comprehensive sense before indicated.
The College stands between the processes of primary instruction belonging to childhood and youth in our Common Schools and Academies, on the one hand, and the professional and business education of manhood on the other. It does not admit students till they have passed through the preparatory Schools, and it does not attempt to carry them on into professional studies, or those higher spheres of scientific and literary investigation pursued in the most advanced Schools of science, or discussed in University lectures. Candidates, to be admitted to College, must be at least fourteen years old. They must have passed a course of preparatory study that cannot be thor. oughly mastered in less time than two or three years. The course of study then entered upon is not planned and shaped to prepare them exclusively or especially for this or that profession or business, but rather as a mental discipline and course of prolonged and systematic instruction, enabling them to make the most of themselves, and thus be ready for any business.
Let us look at this point more at length. Education in general, we know, is the development, instruction, and strengthening of the faculties. This is done by exercise. The mind, like the body, is made to grow and become strong by exercise. Acting on this idea, gymnastic exercises have been planned for the body, which, when practiced systematically and perseveringly, will make the individual two-fold more & man in physical force than he would otherwise become. The College is the Gymnasium of the mind. Its progressive mental exercises lead the student on from strength to strength. They are the result of centuries of experience. They are substantially the same in all Colleges of the first class. They are adapted to the proportionate development of all the faculties. Their growth is secured by means of this progressive, prolonged, and systematic discipline. Through all this course, the faithful student gains in his power of thinking, writing, speaking, reasoning, perceiving, judging, and acting, at the same time that he becomes possessed of a knowledge of facts and of truth in all the circle of the sciences. Thus his learning becomes liberal and generous in its scope, and his mind balanced and symmetrical in its development. And so he becomes ready in the highest degree for whatever profession, pursuit, or business he may choose. And wherever he may be found, he is a man of culture and accomplishments.
Such is the place which the College occupies in our system of education, and such, in brief, is its object and its aim.
Let us inquire, next, what are the means by which the College undertakes to do its work?
In the first place, it provides Professors, eminent for their scholarship and for their skill in teaching, and gives to them the business of instruction. Their whole time and all their efforts are expected to be devoted to their various departments, that they may not only teach what is known, but by original research enlarge the domain of knowledge and add something thereto. From this source come the text books and treatises on science and literature, that are wanted in the Schools of instruction of all grades.
In the next place, the College receives young men to this course of discipline in exactly the formative period of life-thought is free and buoyant; opinion is not formed; character is most open to influence; the feelings are fresh and tender; there is an instinctive reverence for the pure, the good, and the great. The mind is susceptible to the most powerful impulses of ambition and enthusiasm. They come together to remain for a definite period—four years—a time long enough for the deliberate and satisfactory pursuit of the elements of the various branches of liberal learning. They are removed from the noise and excitement of busy life, and they constitute a community where knowledge, intellectual pursuits, and solid thought are the things held in principal esteem.
They come in classes, one assembling each year, to remain together through the course. Strangers at first, they try their intellectual strength together in honorable competition, thus making acquaintance in the realms of thought. And in these pleasant and refining employments the acquaintance is continued, and is often cemented into the warmest personal friendship. But the thing we wish to bring to view here, is the steady, growing stimulus to exertion resulting from the association of many youthful scholars for so long a time, and through such a variety of intellectual exercises. It may be a kind of “unconscious tuition,” and yet it is a constant force awakening to study, to economy of time, and persevering intellectual labor.
In each class, and in the several classes in College together, there are minds of very different degrees of strength, and of many varieties of talent. Sometimes there is one of pre-eminent ability, who, with entire ease to himself, acquires what the rest have to learn by much toil, and who, by common consent, ranks as a superior mind. The late Rufus Choate was an example of this manifest native ability. You will find in the excellent biography of that eminent scholar and statesman, a letter from a man who was his classmate in College describing Choate's rank and characteristics as a student. IIis superior standing was taken by him at once, even in his very first recitation-taken with ease, naturalness, and scholarly modesty; and it was held in a similar way through the course,
No one can measure the stimulating, elevating influence of such a mind on all associated in the class and in the College, and I may say on those that come after in the same College.
The moulding, shaping, enlightening, refining, stimulating influences of the associar tions of College life, cuming, as they do, at the most susceptible age, cannot be over estimated. They take hold upon the developing faculties, and lead them on and direct them continually.
The interior mental life of the student is kept acting by contact with other minds grappling with the same subjects, and by the mature instruction of experienced and scholarly Professors leading and satisfying the inquiries of the youthful students, and by recourse, through the Library, to the best thoughts of the best authors in the several languages.
All this makes up the power of College life, and constitutes the College--a scene of constant mental exertion, a real intellectual gymnasium—and this for a period of time sufficiently long to result in the substantial development of the faculties and increase in all the powers of genuine manhood.
I have alluded to the Library as one of the means of mental culture used in College; and it ought not to be passed over with a single remark. Books are silent but mighty teachers ; they contain the maturest thoughts of the ablest thinkers in the world. Let the youthful mind, in its course of wakeful discipline, meet the thoughts of such authors, and traverse their fields of knowledge and comprehend their views of truth, and it is easy to see what enlargement it will give, what ripeness of knowledge, and what masculine strength of judgment. Next in importance in the means of mental culture offered by the College to the instructions of the living Teachers, is the Library. It should be choice and select, and yet rich and copious in all its departments ; money should not be spared in its endowment; its building should be a model of architectural beauty; it should be built of incombustible material ; and its gallaries, its alcoves, and shelves, should be stored with the choicest literature of the world. All our American Colleges of good standing possess well selected Libraries, and one of the leading powers of usefulness in any such Institution is wanting where the Library is deficient. · Besides the facilities for education connected with Colleges already mentioned, we must not omit to speak of apparatus instruments for illustration in the various departments and the specimens gathered from the several kingdoms of Nature, constituting the Cabinet of Natural History. Nor should we fail to include among its advantages the influence of its location and the impression made by its halls and buildings.
The stranger from abroad who visits our country, as he passes from State to State, and observes our public institutions, sees sometimes, in a retired and conspicuous position, a cluster of large and imposing edifices. They are situated in the midst of grounds laid out with taste, and rendered beautiful by culture. There, the inquirer learns, is a College. That beautiful domain is consecrated to learning. Those halls and classie structures, permanent in their material and beautiful in their proportions, express the fondness and love of a refined surrounding society for higher education and literary culture. There they stand, retired from the world's noise, in the midst of Nature's loveliness, an eloquent testimony to the cultivation and generosity of those who built them, and evermore impressing the young with the idea of the value and nobleness of true learning to which they are consecrated!
When the student who has passed his allotted years of preparatory study, picturing to himself the while the proud day when he shall see the College and seek admission, when at length the time has arrived, and he sees from afar its stately buildings—the beauty of architecture-amid the surrounding beauty of Nature, his whole heart is moved within him, and he feels a new sense of the dignity and value of the mind, for the advantage of which all this outlay is made, and for the cultivation of which he is coming to enter upon his College course. That day in the life of the student will never be forgotten; the appreciation of his errand which is felt in that hour will go far to lift his purposes and fix his resolutions to high and noble endeavor, and its influence will be important and lasting.
The money of the wealthy may become of priceless value to the world through .structures commodious, appropriate, and beautiful, consecrated to the culture of the mind!
We find the College, then, to be an institution of mental exercise and growth in knowledge and manly strength. It holds the student to one well digested, carefully prepared course of study, through a period of four years—years of youthful vigor, and yet years near to the maturity of manhood. It receives him into its society, apart from the calls and the spirit of business--apart, even, from the interruptions of home life. It receives him to the spirit of learning and self-culture, amidst the retirement of Academic groves. It offers him living Teachers; it offers him the Library; it offers him the competitions of student life, the strife of mind with mind in grappling with the highest themes; it offers him time deliberately to use these advantages, and make the most of himself by means of them; and then bids him go forth to his profession, to his business, or to his favorite science, and do well his life-work. With an affectionate blessing she bids him go to the School room-a Teacher, to the Professor's chair -a lecturer, to the bar, the pulpit, to the rooms of the sick, to the tasks of authorship, to the walks of science, or the enjoyments of literary leisure, and make use of the knowledge and the mental power already acquired. Between the College and each one's chosen profession, there is the Law School, or the Theological School, or the Medical School, or the Scientific School, or the Normal School; but the student who has used well the advantages of generous culture in College is well prepared to pursue his course in either of these.