The Colleges and the Public, 1787-1862

The Colleges and the Public, 1787-1862

The Colleges and the Public, 1787-1862

The Colleges and the Public, 1787-1862

Excerpt

That the period between the Revolution and the Civil War witnessed a marked change in the character of American higher education is now something of a commonplace among historians. Donald G. Tewksbury, in his classic study of The Founding of American Colleges and Universities Before the Civil War (1932), located as many as 172 permanent institutions established between 1780 and 1861, and there were hundreds of others that flourished for a time and then died. Moreover, the multiplication of institutions was merely one facet of a larger change that was both more subtle and more pervasive. In the first place, the very participation of greater numbers of students in the collegiate experience was bound to work a transforming influence on that experience, as inevitably the colleges changed to suit their clientele. Then, too, the same currents in American life that had brought' the colleges into being--notably, evangelical Protestantism and popular democracy--continued to influence the colleges once they were under way. In responding to such influence, American higher education underwent a radical readjustment.

The nature of this readjustment and its significance for American life at large have been interpreted quite differently in the standard literature on the subject. R. Freeman Butts, for example, whose work The College Charts Its Course (1939) dominated the outlook of the 1940's, tended to view the pre-Civil War period largely as an age of reform in higher education. Writing with the optimism so characteristic of educational thought in the thirties, Professor Butts emphasized the number of institutions that engaged in bold and imaginative experiment. Starting with the work of Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia and George Ticknor at Harvard, he catalogued a host of proposals reflecting a growing dissatisfaction with the narrowness and provincialism of the traditional classical curriculum. And in such characteristic innovations as the "parallel course" and the independent scientific or technical school, he . . .

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