Wesleyan's First Century: With an Account of the Centennial Celebration

By Carl F. Price | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
BACKGROUNDS, EDUCATIONAL AND ECCLESIASTICAL

DURING the first fifty years of American independence, the New England colleges can scarcely be said to have emerged from the first stage of their educational development. A sort of glacial age held academic thought ice-bound in a tradition already centuries old. The curriculum of studies, common to almost all of the colleges, was marked by an inelastic rigidity which required each student to pursue the same unvarying course of studies, chiefly in classical languages, mathematics and moral philosophy. Such exceptions as here and there permitted an occasional choice between two subjects only proved the rule. Even Harvard's experiment with elective studies in 1824, later abandoned, inspired no imitators in that period, save the somewhat different elective system which President Wayland introduced at Brown University and which was abolished in 1855.

Conservatism held academic education as in a vice, from which there seemed to be no escape, nor even a desire for escape. As Emerson phrased it in his New England Reformers: "The ancient languages, with great beauty of structure, contain wonderful remains of genius, which draw, and always will draw, certain like-minded men, -- Greek men, and Roman men, in all countries to their study; but by a wonderful drowsiness of usage, they had exacted the study of all men. Once (say two centuries ago), Latin and Greek had a strict relation to all the sciences and culture there was in Europe, and the Mathematics had a momentary importance at some era of activity in physical science. These things became stereotyped as education, as the manner of men is."

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