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The Spike or Victoria College Review 1936

Valedictory Observations

Valedictory Observations

The educational centre of gravity has completely shifted during my lifetime. What were regarded, in my undergraduate days, as the stable commodities in a liberal or cultural system of Secondary and of University education are now being largely consigned to the fossilreceptacles in our educational museums. The cultural basis of a liberal or University education was determined and defined during the mediaeval centuries, and, in modern times up to my own day, by ecclesiastics—and the requirements of the Church or the Churches, and of the Schools run under their auspices, determined the University curricula.

Notwithstanding the present-day antagonism to the influence of ecclesiastics in our National Schools and Universities, it must be gratefully recognised that our modern educational culture and our modern Universities, have been under great obligations to the ecclesiastics of earlier days. I know that many New Zealand educationists that (like myself)) have for many years stoutly opposed the introduction of religious instruction into our State Schools (from fear of sectarianizing our national system of education) are fully conscious of the valuable services rendered to education by the Churches during the past centuries.

The cultural University curriculum in the Scottish and other mediaeval universities comprised two courses (in Arts) a Lower and a Higher—known, respectively, as the Trivium (or threefold way), and the Quadrivium (or fourfold way). The Trivium included three elementary subjects: Grammar, Rhetoric, and Logic. The Quadrivium included four advanced subjects (from the Scholastic philosophy): Music, Arithmetic, Geometry and Astronomy. These two courses constituted the seven arts (or Sciences). Later Theology was added. The interests of the Church and of the higher educational institutions, conducted under the auspices of the Church, were always the main consideration.

When 55 years ago I entered the University of St. Andrews, the cultural or arts curriculum in all the four Scottish Universities was the same. It comprised a sexvium (or sixfold way): Latin, Greek, Mathematics, English, Philosophy and one Science (Natural Philosophy—i.e. Physics, in St. Andrews). All these subjects were "compulsory" for the M.A. in Arts, which involved four years of whole-time study. Students had absolutely no option. No students could secure degrees in Law, Science, or Theology unless they had previously obtained their M.A. degree; and a large percentage of medical students obtained an M.A. degree before beginning their course for a Medical degree. The fact that an Arts degree was a pre-requisite in Law Science, and theology accounts for the Empire-wide (if not world-wide) demand for Scotsmen in the learned professions and in non-Scottish Universities.

Very few Scottish students entered the Universities in those days until they were 20 years page 14 of age—and many of them had from four to seven years of Latin, and from three to five years of Greek, and Mathematics at school before entering the University. Some changes have been made in recent years in the Scottish Arts' curriculum but the "options" are still comparatively few.

Think of the luxury and privileges enjoyed by the present-day New Zealand students, who have practically no compulsory subjects in the Arts curriculum! Students can work for, and obtain an Arts' degree, while earning a living and even without attending a University College. Not many years ago it was confidently affirmed that a training in, and knowledge of, the classics were indispensable as a cultural basis in a liberal education. To-day it is confidently maintained that almost any accredited subject on our University syllabus can be studied and taught with the highest possible cultural influence.

Now that the old classical basis is so generally discredited in New Zealand it is eminently desirable that our University Senate should seriously consider and suggest a new and up-to-date cultural base from which to operate in University Education. In the first place, let no candidates be admitted to the so-called Matriculation or Entrance Examination except such as propose studying for a University degree. Non-matriculated students could attend any of the classes on payment of the usual fees, but would be entitled to no degree privileges until they had passed the Entrance Examination. The subjects for the Entrance Examination should comprise some such as the following: English (literary and historical), logic, Latin (or Greek), French (or German), Mathematics and History (or Geography)—say any four of those to what we call the Entrance Scholarship standard. The Academic Board and Senate might be able to suggest a much better series of pre-requisites for a University Entrance examination.

Notwithstanding all the persistent antagonism to examinations, they are indispensable in connection with University work and the learned professions. Huxley once remarked that much as he disliked examinations he suspected those who could not pass them! Examination imposes no hardship on the student who really knows his "subject." The student who gets high honours in his "subject" is always respected, and usually admired by his fellow-students. "Examination, like fire" (said Huxley "is a good servant, but a bad master"; but he further said, "Accuracy is the foundation of everything else"; and Bacon, in his essay on Studies, tells us that: "Writing maketh an exact man." Well, examination is the only means by which we can test accuracy and discover "exact" men. If examinations have proved a serious ordeal in Victoria University College it was because students had to do two things at the same time—to earn a living while attending the University, or to attend the University while simultaneously taking their Training College Course. No one, that I have heard of, has been able to suggest a satisfactory substitute for examinations; and I am satisfied that, at least in connection with University work, they cannot be dispensed with.

Now let me say a word or two about the modernist and futurist University.

In my day, under the old University régime, we were urged to keep our eyes on the Past; for everything of greatest value to humanity came from the sacred and secular Scriptures of antiquity. The Bible was the best University in the world. The writings, or books, reaching us from primitive times, and ascribed to prophets and poets inspired by God were regarded as the one thing needful and indispensable for the edification and illumination of human beings. Some seventy years ago Thomas Carlyle when, as Lord Rector, he addressed the students and Professors of his old University (Edinburgh) said that "the best University in the world was a good collection of books." Well we have got a long way from the time when the Bible, or a good collection of books, could be regarded as the best University in the world! The great Universities of the Empire and of all the more enlightened countries of the world are now frankly and fearlessly modernist and futurist in all their activities and outlook.

Commonsense, reason and strictly logical presentation or statement of beliefs and convictions are pre-conditions of the accredited quest for truth. The mathematical and scientific spirit and methods are demanded in determining the truth in things theological and philosophical, as well as in all subjects where and when truth and fact are concerned. The modern University is strictly anti-irrationalist in spirit and intention—I shall not say: "rationalist", for that term is used, in certain quarters, as a brickbat instead of argument!

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Whether we "praeteritites" (bygones) like it or not the modernists and futurists have already captured our Universities and have securely established themselves in most of our Professorial Chairs; and we old identities of the discredited or superseded old regime can but tamely acquiesce or impotently protest.

One thing is obvious and that is that a new secular Renaissance and a new Ethical and Religious Reformation are overdue—for it would appear that the old world's religions and philosophies are to-day discredited, or, at any rate, ineffectual in their influence for good. In fact it must be regretfully admitted that (1) the old world religions have failed us, (2) the old world philosophies have failed us, (3) the old Humanity or Culture begotten of the serious and systematic study of the ancient classics—sacred and secular—at and since the so-called Renaissance, has failed us.

Let us hope that the modernised and futurist Universities will succeed in formulating a new and stable international Ethic, that will command the assent of all nations and acquire the status and sanctity of a Universal Religion and so save civilisation from what at present looks like its inevitable extinction.

What is most disconcerting and disheartening to me, an old man, is to find that the old religion and old philosophy to which I owned allegiance, and owed so much, though they have been engaged in "toil co-operant to an end," for thousands of years, and bespeaking and canvassing the claims of the good, the beautiful, and the true, have completely failed to contribute anything towards preventing the criminal savagery at present practised all over the world, and threatening to extinguish civilization itself.

When we are laying the flattering unction to our soul that:

"God's in His heaven:
All's right with the world";

we find that the Devil has escaped from Hades and all's wrong with the world; and religion and philosophy and so-called Kultur appear to be backing, and even blessing, the Devil in his missionary journeys!

Can our modernist and futurist Universities contribute anything of value toward formulating an international Ethic which, when adequately apprehended, will command international and universal assent? That is a consummation devoutly-to-be-wished.

Hugh Mackenzie.