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

Writing some ten years after Professor Dewing, Charles L. Gragg, who had sat in Professor Dewing's classroom as a student, contributed what is today generally regarded as the classic exposition* of the relationship which the case method requires of teachers and students.
His emphasis on the active participation of the student in the educational process sets the criterion by which the genuine case method can be distinguished from the spurious.


Because Wisdom Can't Be Told

CHARLES I. GRAGG

So he had grown rich at last, and thought to transmit to his only son all the cut-and-dried experience which he himself had purchased at the price of his lost illusions; a noble last illusion of age. . . . --BALZAC

It can be said flatly that the mere act of listening to wise statements and sound advice does little for anyone. In the process of learning, the learner's dynamic cooperation is required. Such cooperation from students does not arise automatically, however. It has to be provided for and continually encouraged.

Thus, the key to an understanding of the Business School case plan of teaching is to be found in the fact that this plan dignifies and dramatizes student life by opening the way for students to make positive contributions to thought and, by so doing, to prepare themselves for action. Indeed, independent, constructive thinking on the part of students is essential to the sound operation of the plan. This result is achieved in two ways.

In the first place, students are provided with materials which make it possible for them to think purposefully. For the benefit of those unfamiliar with Business School cases, it is merely necessary to explain that, as now used, a case typically is a record of a business issue which actually has been faced by business executives, together with surrounding facts, opinions, and prejudices upon which executive decisions had to depend. These real and particularized cases are presented to students for considered analysis, open discussion, and final decision as to the type of action which should be taken. Day by day the number of individual business situations thus brought before the students grows and forms a backlog for observing coherent patterns and drawing out general principles. In other words, students are not given general theories or hypotheses to criticize. Rather, they are given specific facts,

____________________
*
This paper was first published in the Harvard Alumni Bulletin for Oct. 19, 1940, and is here reprinted, in slightly condensed form, by permission of the author and the editor of the Bulletin.

-6-

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