The Case Method at the Harvard Business School: Papers by Present and Past Members of the Faculty and Staff

By Malcolm P. McNair | Go to book overview

Following his retirement as Dean of the Harvard Business School in 1942, Wallace B. Donham turned with energy and enthusiasm to a new career as a teacher of undergraduates in the field of human relations, serving both in Harvard College and in Colgate University. With his great interest in the case method, which he had so long championed in graduate education for business, Professor Donham naturally sought to explore the possibility for the use of the case method in undergraduate teaching of the social sciences. His ripened observations on the case system, as a result of this experience, appear in the following paper.*


The Case Method in College Teaching of Social Science

WALLACE B. DONHAM

In the world today the kind of security that existed in England and in this country in the last century has disappeared, and disappeared for a long period ahead. With it disappeared the last excuse for the old educational system. It may have been well adapted to what Elton Mayo refers to as an established society, where it seemed permanently worth while to learn theoretical principles, rules, and precepts because they would continue to be pertinent to men's needs. We no longer live in such a society, but we have yet to work out educational objectives and methods adapted to present needs. The impact of pure science and more particularly of applied science imposes on the world rapid and accelerating social change as the most significant fact with which we must struggle. These changes involve all aspects of our lives. With continual and accelerating change goes a lessening of the capacity for foresight and, for vast numbers, a heightening of that sense of insecurity which leads easily to the sort of anomie, planless, pointless living, which Durkheim discusses in his book Le Suicide. Our problem becomes that of learning how to deal with change, how to develop, in Elton Mayo's language, an adaptive society. In education content becomes less significant than habits and skills. As time passes, content is eroded and changed in form like an ocean sand dune in winter gales. If particular content is not used, memory fails or the mind gets clogged with inert ideas.

Skills, on the other hand, generally improve with use, expand and give confidence in power to deal with successive novel situations. The

____________________
*
First published, in a slightly different form, in The Journal of General Education, Vol. III, No. 2, January, 1949. Copyright, 1949, by the University of Chicago.

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