Did I Pass? (Lecture. January 1895)
"Did I pass?" is a question that is asked so frequently that the casual observer would naturally think that the special mission of the schools is to prepare its pupils for examination. Who has not heard from the college or university graduate these remarks: "I know nothing about botany. I met the requirements in daily recitation, passed the examination and have not thought of the subject since."
Who is responsible for this educational condition? The question is answered in the business world. The grocer will tell you that he keeps low grade baking powders, low grade sugars, and so forth, simply because the consumers demand low priced products and low priced products mean low grade products. He cannot force upon his patrons high grade materials when they demand low grade.
Colleges and higher institutions of learning are obliged to meet popular demands. A college without patronage is not a college. Our only hope lies in appealing to the pupils themselves, lies in appealing to the people though the press. To the student who simply aims to pass an examination, who simply aims to secure a degree, botany is of little use. Botany is valuable or valueless, according to the use it serves. Primarily it is a means to develop and train the human mind. Right development of the human mind ought to bring joy to the student, ought to awaken the desire to help others to an intelligent view of the plant world. The student who has no higher aim than that of passing an examination, is an educational bankrupt. Having secured a "credit" he is content to attack his next subject without capital.
The successful student is exactly like the successful banker. The banker does not make loans and discounts, sell exchange and receive deposits because the bank examiner calls semi-annually. If he is doing an honest business, the examiner is a welcome visitor. If the student is doing a successful educational business, if he obeys the laws of mental economy, if he rejects all counterfeit educational currency, if he sacredly guards his mental reserve and surplus, to him the educational examiner is a welcome visitor.
The abuse of the examination, making the examination the end, has done and is doing incalculable harm. Let the student pursue a botany, zoology, literature and so forth in order to develop, strengthen and beautify the human soul.