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ed. Nor even in regard to this, is use or practice or exercise, after a very early period of life, sufficient to produce results which, while the system is still plastic, are accomplished almost imperceptibly and with infinitely less effort. There are arts, such for instance as glass blowing, which can never be mastered except by persons who have grown up to them from early childhood. And no fact is more familiar than the facility with which the pronunciation of foreign languages is acquired by infantile lips; while it is a hopeless undertaking for an adult, no matter what amount of practice and perseverance he may expend upon the effort, perfectly to master the same accomplishment. Now precisely the same law holds true in regard to mental development. As there is a period of infancy during which the child is incapable of supporting his own weight; so there is one in which he is hardly conscious of his own existence. And as, with the physical growth, the organs of the body acquire strength and come by degrees under the control of the will, so correspondingly, in the natural and quite spontaneous growth of the mind, the faculties unfold themselves and expand into vigor, in simple obedience to the principle of development divinely implanted in the soul in the moment of its birth. With the progress of years this growth goes on ; and the mind, like the body, attains an adult stage, whether it be subjected to external influences controlling its habits —that is, to educational influences—or not. There comes a time at last beyond which educational influences are proverbially vain. There is another period, the earliest of all, in which they are almost omnipotent. This is the period during which, in obedience to nature's law, the faculties are growing; and when the educator may force them to grow into any mould which he may choose to throw around them. But when expansion has ceased, moulds will be placed in vain: the mind will retain the contour which nature and circumstances have given it; and from this point onward the business of education is no longer to form it, but to make the most of what it is.' There is here doubtless room for the educator to do much; but his business is to give fair play to the faculties such as they are, and such as they must continue to be; rather than to repress the salient characteristics, and waste both precious time and weary labor in the endeavor to bring out others which have lost the power to respond to the solicitations of the cultivator. Now it can hardly be doubted that the average age of undergraduates in our American colleges is more advanced at present by several vears, than it was a century ago. At the admission of students into Columbia College, record is made of the age of each candidate at his last preceding birthday. Of the students of all the classes at present in college, the average of the ages thus recorded is sixteen years and nine months; and as this is the average at the birthday preceding admission, it may fairly be concluded that, at the time of admission, the average age exceeded seventeen years. The average age at graduation is therefore twenty-one years, or the age of manhood complete. Until within the last six or seven years, the matriculation books of the college have contained no record of the ages of the students. It is impossible, therefore, from this source, to obtain any information as to the average age of admission into this college during the last century. Quite a number of instances have, however, come to our knowledge in which individuals entered the college as early as twelve or thirteen, and graduated at sixteen or seventeen. Possibly these were extreme cases; but no such case could be possible at all at present, since the statutes prohibit the admission of any student below fifteen years of age. Suppose then the average age at that early period to have been thirteen or fourteen years. That is already three or four years below the present average; and three or four years taken at the very time of life when the mental as well as the physical organization is loosing its plasticity and attaining its ultimate form as well as stature. It is a question well worth considering, whether a plan of education which might be admirably adapted to the circumstances of boys between twelve and sixteen, could possibly be equally suitable for young men between seventeen and twenty-one. For the first class named, there might be reason in demanding that the entire course should be shaped with a view to mental discipline only. As it respects the second, there is no less reason for requiring that a principal object should be, to impart knowledge for the sake of knowledge itself. And though this should not be the governing object throughout the whole course, it ought at least to give character to the later years.
A second reason why it is no longer expedient to treat collegiate instruction as being designed exclusively for mental discipline, in contradistinction to the acquisition of knowledge, is found in the fact that it is no longer practicable to do so. While the subjects taught in college were few, and with the exception of the pure mathematics, were purely literary, it was not difficult to prosecute them so steadily and so far as to make them instruments of a real mental discipline. This is no longer the case, especially after the first two years. The curriculum has been so overloaded by gradual additions, that if now an equal distribution of the available time were made to the several subjects of study, each one could command but two or three weeks. This surely is not sufficient to make of any study an efficient instrument of mental discipline. Nor is the expedient by which the several subjects, instead of being successfully disposed of, are spread out over the surface of a whole session or a whole year, being alternated in such a manner as to separate the hours devoted to each by considerable intervals, sometimes by several days, one which is likely to increase its efficiency. It has been claimed for our American college system that, in departing from the type on which it was originally constructed, as it has done by the large extension of its curriculum, it has been materially improved; and this is true, if we regard its principal aim to be to impart knowledge; but it is by no means so if we consider it as designed mainly for the discipline of immature minds. Under the arrangements actually existing and in present circumstances unavoidable, it is impossible to confine the attention of the student with steadiness to any particular subject; and without some such steadiness of effort the benefit of study can not be subjectively great. It is true that diversity of labor, under proper limitations is beneficial; and is in fact indispensable to the attainment of the important educational end of a well balanced mental development; but it is evident that such a diversification may be carried so far as to result rather in a dissipation than a healthful exercise of the mental powers. Our college system may not have reached this extreme; but it is not necessary that it should reach it in order that its usefulness for its original object may be seriously impaired. A third reason why it is desirable that our colleges should cease to insist upon an invariable curriculum of study throughout the whole extent of the educational course is to be found in the fact that we have no other institutions but these to supply to American youth that advanced training which in Europe is furnished so abundantly by the universities. We profess to comprehend in our teaching nearly every subject of human knowledge; but we are scarcely able to pursue a single one beyond its elements. The majority of our students do not become so proficient, even in the classical tongues, as to be able to read with facility the works of classic authors which they have not read before; and yet these are subjects in which they are required to be tolerably well versed before they enter the college. The only expedient by which it can be made possible for an individual to pursue any given subject to a greater extent, and to attain to greater thoroughness in it than at present, is to permit him, at some period of the course, to devote himself more uninterruptedly to this, and to relinquish other subjects in its favor. Supposing such a freedom to be generally allowed, the tone of the teaching in all the departments of the college will be necessarily raised, and will be, to some extent assimilated to the teaching of the European universities. Those colleges which peculiar circumstances, such as the possession of large resources, or of a wide and well established reputation, conspire to favor, may be able at length to place themselves entirely upon the level of those celebrated foreign institutions. It is probably only by some such gradual transformation of existing institutions, that we shall in this country ever be able to realize the ideal of a continental university. Projects innumerable have been set on foot looking to the independent erection among us of such grand and costly educational establishments; but so long as the highest institutions of this description which we have already, in spite of all the influences, political, denominational, sectional and personal, which can be combined in their favor, continue to be struggling against the difficulties which limited means entail upon them, it is idle to expect that such schemes can succeed, and it would be a manifest wrong if they could. What the country now needs most is that the colleges should be supported and strengthened; what the colleges need is, such improvements in their plan of operations, as shall regain for them the confidence and favor of the people of the country, and shall enable them, or some of them at least, to supply that deficiency in the system of our superior education, which, if not supplied by them, can hardly be supplied at all. There can be no doubt that a considerable reason why the average age of students in American colleges has become so materially advanced within the last half century, is to be found in the great improvement within that time, of the Secondary Schools. Fifty years ago, almost the only superior schools below the colleges to be found in the country, were those which were devoted to the preparation of boys for entering college; and in these very little was taught beyond the ancient languages. Now, the academies of the State of New York, and the schools of corresponding grade in most of the northern, middle, and western states, give instruction in as large a range of subjects as the colleges themselves. They differ from the colleges in permitting to their pupils the largest freedom of choice in the selection of their studies, and in limiting attendance to no determined period of years. Some of them, perhaps most of them,
corresponding to the college curriculum; at the close of which they grant certificates of proficiency, or diplomas, to those who have completed the course; but these certificates confer no rights or privileges, and though often representing an amount of attainment equal to that of many college graduates, do not carry with them a prestige like that which accompanies a degree in Arts. Academies conducted on this plan have all the characteristics of the ordinary college, with the elective system added. Except as to this additional feature, and in being open to both sexes, they do not differ in any material respect from the average college of the country. There are unquestionably academies in the State of New York which, considered as educational instrumentalities, are immensely superior to many institutions elsewhere, which in virtue of a name and a charter are entitled by law to take rank above them. In the list of the subjects taught in these academies there is not one want. ing which is to be found in the curriculum of the average college of the United States. This will be apparent from the following enumeration derived from the last annual report of the regents of the university. Omitting the elementary branches, as being of course taught, we find in this enumeration the following, viz., under mathematics, alphabetically arranged; algebra, astronomy, calculus, conic sections, engineering, geometry, analytical geometry, descriptive geometry, natural philosophy, (i. e. physics in all its branches), leveling, navigation, perspective, surveying, and trigonometry: under ancient languages; Greek, Latin, Grecian antiquities, Roman antiquities and mythology: under modern languages; French, German, Italian and Spanish: under natural sciences; anatomy, physiology, hygiene, botany, chemistry, geology, meteorology, mineralogy, natural history, technology, and zoölogy: and finally, under moral, intellectual and political science; criticism, christianity (evidences,) general history, history of the United States, history of literature, natural theology, intellectual philosophy, moral philosophy, constitutional law, logic, rhetoric, political economy and the principles of teaching. Of this system and this programme, the regents of the university, in their eighty-first annual report, remark as follows: “Though these subjects are voluntary with the scholar, and he is permitted to exercise an almost unrestrained freedom of choice, many pursue them all, while others select those to which their peculiar taste prompts them, or which the expected employments of life seem to demand. Young men have often thus been brought from the humblest position in life to commence their studies without any