Published Date

January 1, 1898

From The Study of History in Schools (1898)

Any consideration of college entrance requirements presents many difficulties;15 but probably no field of work offers greater problems than does that of history, because the schools have no common understanding as to the amount of history that should be offered in the curriculum, and because the universities differ materially in their requirements. The first fundamental fact to be remembered is that a very large percentage of secondary pupils do not go to college, and that in a very great majority of schools the courses must be adapted primarily for the pupils who finish their study with the secondary school. It is often asserted that the course which fits pupils for college is equally well adapted to the uses of those who do not go to college. We do not care to argue this question, although we doubt very much if it be true that the requirements laid down for entrance to college, requirements which still bear the mark of the old régime, are likely to furnish the best equipment for the work and play of every-day life. Whether this be true or not, it is certainly wrong to shape secondary courses primarily with a view to college needs. In the great majority of schools the curriculum must be prepared with the purpose of developing boys and girls into young men and women, not with the purpose of fitting them to meet entrance examinations or of filling them with information which some faculty thinks desirable as a forerunner of college work. Many of the academies and some of the high schools can without much trouble meet the artificial requirements of the colleges; but a great majority of the high schools and some of the academies have great difficulty, and it is an almost impossible task so to arrange the programme that pupils can be fitted for more than one institution.16

For this reason we welcome the efforts of the committee of the National Educational Association to simplify and unify college entrance requirements. We believe, however, that the first requisite of a successful accomplishment of this task is a recognition of the fact that the great majority of schools are not fitting schools for college; and it seems to us that any rigid and inelastic régime which does not take into consideration the fact that schools are working in many different environments and are subject to different limitations and conditions can not be very widely accepted or prove useful for any length of time. We venture to suggest, therefore, that in any effort to simplify the situation by relieving the schools from the burden of trying to meet college requirements two things are essential. One is, that the fundamental scope and purpose of the major part of the secondary schools be regarded; the other, that such elasticity be allowed that schools may fit pupils for college and yet adapt themselves to some extent to local environment and local needs.17

We feel justified, therefore, as students and teachers, in marking out what we think is the best curriculum in history, in discussing the educational value of the study, in emphasizing the thought that history is peculiarly appropriate in a secondary course, which is fashioned with the thought of preparing boys and girls for the duties of daily life and intelligent citizenship, and in dwelling upon methods for bringing out the pedagogical effect of historical work. It seems to us that, in consideration of the value and importance of historical work, and in light of the fact that so many thousands of pupils are now engaged in historical study, the colleges should be ready to admit to their list of requirements a liberal amount of history; but we do not feel that we should seek to lay down hard-and-fast entrance requirements in history and ask the colleges or the committee of the National Educational Association to declare in favor of an inflexible régime.

For convenience of statement we have adopted, in the recommendations which follow, the term “unit.” By one unit we mean either one year of historical work wherein the study is given five times per week, or two years of historical work wherein the study is given three times per week. We have thought it best to take into consideration the fact that different colleges have now not only different requirements, but also entirely different methods of framing and proposing requirements. It has not seemed wise, therefore, to outline historical courses on the supposition that all colleges would at once conform to a uniform arrangement.

  1. If a college or a scientific school has a system of complete options in college entrance requirements-that is, if it accepts a given number of years’ work, or units, without prescribing specific subjects of study (as at Leland Stanford University)-we recommend that four units in history be accepted as an equivalent for a like amount of work in other subjects. Likewise, that one, two, or three units in history be accepted.
  2. If a college or a scientific school requires a list of certain prescribed studies, and also demands additional subjects to be chosen out of an optional list (as at Harvard University), we recommend that one unit of history be placed on the list of definitely prescribed studies, and that one, two, or three units of history be placed among the optional studies.
  3. If a college or a scientific school has rigid requirements without options (as at Yale College and the Sheffield Scientific School), we recommend that at least one unit of history be required for entrance. These recommendations do not seem to us unreasonable, and we do not believe that their adoption would impose any burden upon college or preparatory schools. If the traditional requirements in other subjects need to be diminished in order to allow one unit of history in any régime of rigid requirements, we do not think that such diminution is unwise in light of the fact that history is now generally studied, and that the training obtained from historical work is an essential of good secondary education. It will be seen from the statement which follows (under 4), that we do not recommend any particular field or period of history as preferable to all others for the purpose of such requirements; to constitute this unit any one of the periods or blocks of history previously mentioned may be selected.
  4. Where a college has several distinct courses leading to different degrees, and has different groups of preparatory studies, each group preparing for one of the college courses (as at the University of Michigan), the use to be made of history requires more detailed exposition. In one of these preparatory courses the ancient languages receive chief attention; in a second, a modern language is substituted for one of the ancient languages; in a third, the chief energy is devoted to natural sciences; in a fourth, main stress is laid upon history and English language and literature. The general recommendations given above will aid somewhat in outlining preparatory courses in history when such definite routes for admission to college are marked out:
    1. We believe that in each preparatory course there should be at least one unit of history. This recommendation means that classical students should have at least one full year of historical work. A course which purports to deal with the “humanities” can not afford to be without one year’s work in a study whose sole theme is humanity. When four years are given to Latin, two or more to Greek, two or three to mathematics, one, or perchance two, to science, some room should be found for history, even if the time given to other studies be diminished. If we take for granted the fact that the great majority of secondary pupils do not go to college, can we declare that they should go out into life with no knowledge of the humanities save that acquired by the study of the Greek and Latin tongues? To decide what field of history should be chosen is a matter of considerable difficulty. We believe it desirable that pupils should know the life and thought of Greece and Rome and the development of their civilization; that they should study the great facts of European history after the downfall of the Roman Empire; that they should have some knowledge of how England grew to be a great empire and English liberty developed; and that they should come to know their own political surroundings by studying American history and government. We hesitate, therefore, to recommend that any one particular field be chosen to the exclusion of the rest; and yet we think that far better educational results can be secured by devoting a year to a limited period than by attempting to cover the history of the world in that length of time. We believe that it is more important that pupils should acquire knowledge of what history is and how it should be studied than that they should cover any particular field. Perhaps it is not impossible, in connection with the study of Greek and Latin, to pay such attention to the growth of Greece and Rome that the pupils may be led to an appreciation of the character and essential nature of ancient civilization. This is one of the great ends of historical work; and if the humanities can thus be humanized, there will be less need of prescribing Greek or Roman history as a distinct subject for classical students,18 and some other historical field may then be chosen. We can not be sure, however, that such methods of teaching the classics will prevail, and we must content ourselves with recommending one of the four blocks or periods which are marked out in the earlier portions of this paper, without designating any particular one.
    2. The secondary course, sometimes called the Latin course, in which a modern language takes the place of Greek, presents nearly the same problems as the classical course. It does not afford much time for the study of history. We therefore recommend that some one of the four blocks mentioned above be selected.
    3. In the scientific secondary course more opportunity for historical study is often allowed, and here two units of history may be given. At least one of them will naturally be a modern field, and yet it may be said that it is highly desirable that scientific pupils should by the study of ancient history obtain something of the culture which is not wrongly supposed to come from the study of classical civilization.
    4. The fourth secondary course, commonly called the English course, should have history for its backbone, inasmuch as it is a study peculiarly capable of being continued throughout the four years, and of offering that opportunity for continuous development which the classical pupil obtains from the prolonged study of Latin. We strongly advise that sustained effort be devoted to history in order that this course may have a certain consistency and unity. There are already schools that offer history for four years, and give four full units, consisting substantially of the four blocks we have outlined. If the four full units can not be given, it may be well to offer history only three times a week in one of the four years. If only three years can be devoted to the study, one of the four blocks must, as we have already said, be omitted, or two fields must be compressed in some such manner as that suggested in the earlier portion of this report.

The general recommendations under this head may then be summed up as follows: (a) For the classical course, one unit of history, to consist of one of the four blocks previously mentioned; (b) for the Latin course, the same; (c) for the scientific course, two units consisting of any two of the blocks; (d) for the English course, three units consisting of any three of the blocks, or consisting of two blocks and a combination of two others. We strongly recommend that four years of history be given in this course, in order to make history one of the central subjects.

It should be said in conclusion that, in demanding but one unit of history as the minimum requirement for entrance to a college or a scientific school, the committee does not wish to be understood as expressing its approval of this amount as an adequate course in history for secondary schools. In this portion of the report we have been obliged to work within the limits of the systems of entrance requirements that now prevail, and to frame recommendations that may be adapted to existing conditions; but we do not believe that a single unit of history constitutes a sufficient course, viewed with reference either to the relative importance of the subject or to the possibility of realizing the aims of historical instruction within the time that would thus be at the teacher’s disposal. The arguments for the necessity of a comprehensive and substantial course in history have been presented at length in the earlier sections of this report; and, though it may not at present be feasible for every college to require more than one unit of history, the committee believes that two units should constitute the minimum amount offered in any school, and it maintains that a still more extended course in history has claims quite equal to those that may be urged on behalf of any other study in the secondary curriculum.

Next section: Entrance Examinations

  1. In 1896 the National Educational Association appointed a committee to consider the subject of college entrance requirements and to report a scheme of uniform requirements. At the request of that committee the American Historical Association appointed the Committee of Seven to draft a scheme of college entrance requirements in history. The portion of our report that here follows was prepared with that purpose in mind, and substantially similar recommendations have already been made to Superintendent Nightingale, as chairman of the committee of the National Educational Association. []
  2. For example, in a catalogue of a good high school-a school rather large than small, and well equipped with teachers-we find these typical statements, that a pupil may prepare in that school for one of several universities, but that at the beginning of the second year he should know what he intends to do; and that a failure to choose accurately in any one semester involves the loss of a year. []
  3. It does not seem wise, even if it be possible, to outline the same rigid entrance requirements for the University of California, University of Kansas, University of North Carolina, Yale, Harvard, Tulane, and a hundred others. This policy would mean that secondary schools everywhere throughout the country must disregard local conditions and yield to an outside force. []
  4. That the desirability of such a method is recognized by many classical teachers is shown, for example, by the paper by Professor Clifford Moore on “How to enrich the classical course,” published in the School Review, September 1898. []