1912 Fredericton Encaenia

Address in Praise of Founders

Delivered by: Carson, Charles MacDonald


"Address in Praise of the Founders.--The College and Industrial Education by Prof. C. M. Carson, Ph. D." The University Monthly 31, 7-8 (May-June 1912): 323-326.

Anyone who has read educational and scientific magazines during the past few years, must have been struck by the number of articles with such titles as these, "Adjusting the College to American Life," "The Rehabilitation of the American College," "A Danger Arising from the Popularization of the College." In many of the articles, comparisons are made between the colleges of to-day and those of one hundred years ago, to the advantage of the earlier institutions, in this respect at least, that they appeared to give more general satisfaction and suffered from no such floods of criticism. In the earlier period, the curriculum consisted chiefly of classics and mathematics which were thought to furnish the best foundation for the subsequent training of those about to enter one of the learned professions, the ministry, the law and medicine, the membership in which formed what Dr. Holmes called "The Brahmin Caste" in American social life. It is questionable whether a better preparation could have been devised at a time when nearly ninety per cent of the students entered the professions, no change was desired. But, in course of time, an increasing number of students who had no great love for learning and no great regard for tradition demanded changes in the curriculum. In response, new subjects were added, then professional and technical schools were established. Vast sums of money have been lavished on the colleges, students and have filled them to their capacity, yet within them and with a discordant chorus of criticism is heard.

Young Man Should Have Scientific Training.

Thus Mr. Thomas A. Edison has declared, according to a newspaper report, that he would not employ a graduate fresh from Harvard or Yale, but might take one from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since this is a scientific age, he continues, every young man should have a scientific training. Mr. Edison would have the universities teach nothing but the applied sciences or, to put it more accurately, the applications of the sciences.

Of a nearly opposite nature is the criticism by President Jordan of Leland Stanford University. The question had been asked by Dr. Henry Fairfield Osborn, "Could the modern university nurture a Darwin?" and in an address before the American Association for the advancement of Science, Dr. Jordan replied that he was sure it could not. The conditions, he says are not with us, the element of personality has departed and the American student no longer walks with Gray and Stillman and Agassiz as Darwin walked with Henslow. Laboratories are becoming more luxurious, everything that money can buy is provided but the spirit of research is wanting. Dr. Jordan then quotes pathetically, "Let's go a visiting back to Grigsby's Station, back where we used to live so happy and so poor." Well, we are poor enough at the University of New Brunswick and are sometimes happy, but in our blindness, we covet the millions of Leland Stanford.

Another prominent educationalist sums up the situation in this way. "The American College is a sort of educational vermiform appendix. appendicitis is sooner or later, likely to appear. We are now at the bedside of the patient and judging from the statements of numerous experts the college is the seat of a violent inflammation. What is to be done with the victim of this appalling disease?

Criticisms of the College.

The college is condemned for what it does and for what it does not do. It is not practical enough, it is not spiritual enough, it is everything, not enough or it is something too much. But the most insistent complaint is the apparent neglect or intolerance of vocational or industrial instruction. The apprentice system in the professions and trades has broken down and the world now wants its workmen, like its boots, ready made. Professional schools of law, medicine, theology and engineering, there are in abundance but these embrace only a fraction of human activities. What is to be the attitude of the college to other branches of industrial training?

No doubt, the greater number of men engaged in academic work will agree substantially with the following which I quote from Prof. Karl Pearson. "The object of any technical education paid for by the state or municipality should be the exercise of brain power, mental gymnastics in the best sense; it should treat of the science and not of the art of a trade. The classification of facts and the formation of absolute judgments on the basis of the classification--judgments independent of the idiosyncrasies of the individual mind, essentially sum up the aim and method of modern science. The scientific man has above all things to strive at self-elimination in his judgments, to provide an argument which is as true for each individual mind as for his won. The classification of facts the recognition of sequence and relative significance is the function of science and the habit of forming a judgment upon these facts unbiased by personal feeling is characteristic of what may be termed the scientific frame of mind. The scientific methods of examining facts is not peculiar to one class of phenomena and to one class of workers; it is applicable to social as well as to physical problems and we must carefully guard ourselves against supposing that the scientific frame of mind is a peculiarity of the professional scientist. Personally, I have no recollection of at least ninety per cent. of the facts that were taught to me at school, but the notion of method which I derived from my instructor in Greek Grammar (the content of which I have long forgotten) remain in my mind as the really valuable part of my school equipment for life."

Fundamental Aim of Education.

While this statement of the fundamental aim of education is almost universally accepted by teachers, the implication that training in the art of a trade or profession is not of a scientific character and therefore should not be paid for by the state, may be contested on either of two grounds. In the first place in a professional medical or engineering course, the subject matter differs not greatly from that of a course in pure science. True indeed, when a teacher has his mind fixed on the practice of the profession he is likely to become dogmatic and so neglect the educational opportunity. Thus Lowell's definition of a university as "a place where nothing useful is taught" is not to be taken as a reproach but rather in the sense that where immediate utility begins, education generally ends. That this defect is inherent in technical instruction is not at all certain, though the happy combination of education and utility is rare enough to justify doubt of its existence. In the second place, whether instruction in the practice of a trade or profession should be provided by the state will depend on what advantage will be gained therefrom by the state as a whole. It may be advantageous to provide, at public expense, instruction of a frankly vocational character, though to make this a substitute for real education would be the height of folly. This would seem to be a reasonable view--to train the mind to think scientifically is the primary and necessary function of education, to store the mind wit technical knowledge is a secondary though perhaps necessary function. We can utilize the energy of Grand Falls only by the application of mechanical equipment, it may be that we can best utilize trained intellects by suitable technical direction.

The History of Nature.

A very quaint expression of this idea was given by an eminent chemist, Robert Boyle, about the year 1661, in an essay entitled "That the Goods of Mankind may be much Increased by the Naturalist's Insight into Trades." "To make out what is proposed in the title of this discourse" he says "I shall endeavor to show two things. The one, that na insight into trades may improve the naturalist's knowledge. And the other, that the naturalist as well by the skill thus obtained as by the other parts of his knowledge, may be enabled to improve trades. It seems to me none of the least prejudices that learned and ingenious men have been kept strangers to the shops and practices of tradesmen. For there are diverse considerations that persuade me, that an inspection into these may not a little conduce, bot to the increase of the naturalist's knowledge and to the melioration of those mechanical trades. And I consider in the first place, that the phenomena afforded by trades are (most of them) a part of the history of nature and therefore may both challenge the naturalist's curiosity and add to his knowledge. Nor will it suffice to justify learned men in the neglect and contempt of this part of natural history that the men from whom it must be learned, are illiterate mechanics, and the things that are exhibited are works of art and not of nature. I have several times observed trades deal with things unknown to classical writers and unused save in their shops, and I freely confess that I learned more of the kinds, distinctions, properties and consequently of the nature of stones by conversing with two or three masons and stone cutters that ever I did from Aristotle and his commentators."

Thorough Preliminary Education.

Whatever ardent advocates of industrial instruction may think of the weakness of their hobby from the academic point of view, they are willing to acknowledge this very practical defect. The processes involved in the trades, industries and professions are so varied, the apparatus, machines and instruments so numerous and expensive that they can be hardly  more than mimicked in school laboratories. In some instances, actual practice may be closely approximated as in the study of medicine, dentistry, agriculture, etc., while in others the likeness to actual conditions is obtained only by confining the attention to a limited number of selected operations. For example, it is manifestly out of the question to illustrate practically, all the branches of chemical engineering which deal with foods, water, sewage and sanitation; soils and fertilizers; fermented and distilled liquors; pharmaceutical preparations; acids and alkalies; glass and ceramics; cement and building materials; fuels, gas and coke; petroleum, asphalt, coal-tar and food products; cellulose and paper; explosives; dyes and textile products; pigments, varnishes and India-rubber; fats, fatty oils and soap; sugar, starch and gums; metallurgical products, etc., but it is possible to reproduce a few of the operations which are common to many of these. Some chemical engineers favor leaving the study of manufacturing products till the student enters the factory, others believe in the introduction of factory practice into the college. The only point on which all agree is the necessity of thorough preliminary education and adequate training in scientific thinking.

I have merely outlined a few of the aspects of an important problem which confronts the University of New Brunswick and indeed the people of the Dominion. The solution appears to lie, primarily in the encouragement of scientific thinking, secondarily in the diffusion of technical knowledge.

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