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The Spike Golden Jubilee Number May 1949

The Social Studies at Victoria College

The Social Studies at Victoria College

Once in fifty years is not too often for a university college to ask the community to reflect upon its achievements and its hopes. University teachers are notoriously loath to explain what they are doing; perhaps therefore it is not surprising that there are still people who look upon the College as a secluded spot where somewhat absent-minded people teach and meditate far from the bewildering movements of everyday life. The truth of the matter is, of course, that everything that is studied within the college has come into the curriculum from the past or present community; the classics and modern languages, science, mathematics, the social studies and the rest, all arose from the day-to-day activities of men. It is equally true that every advance in knowledge that is made within the university is sooner or later reflected in the community outside. There is thus a constant interchange between the college and the community; whether we are all aware of it or not is beside the point.

The most obvious interchange between Victoria College and the community is the daily shuttle relay of students, as anyone who cares to stroll along Salamanca Road any afternoon between four and six will realise. And the most obvious employment within those red-brick walls is teaching. Life is short, and every new life begins at the beginning; we must provide and maintain places of learning where communication from older to younger minds can take place. The nature of this communication is not the passing on of a body of knowledge as a banker passes on minted coins to his client. Facts are important, but their chief importance is that they provide the student with the raw materials of thought. Knowledge is a dead thing unless something new is continually born of knowledge. The function of the college is therefore the teaching of what Graham Wallas called the art of thought, an art that can best be maintained, as Rashdall has said, by bringing together, "face to face in living intercourse, teacher and teacher, teacher and student, student and student." It is the hope of the university teacher that the student will leave college at the end of his course knowing where to find his facts, at home in the world of ideas, and capable of courageous and selfless thinking of his own. The university therefore, is the home of methods and techniques of thought in the subjects it sets out to teach.

It must not be imagined, however, that in all studies the techniques of thought and research are equally well developed. The student of languages may be sure that the grammar of his subject is not likely to be shaken, though changes in emphasis are continually occurring. Again, the elements of mathematics have long been worked out, and, while there is abundant research in new fields, the beginner may be sure that he is on firm ground among the elements of geometry, algebra and the calculus. The young chemist approaches his subject knowing that it is a far cry from the days of the alchemists and that here at any rate he can depend upon the well-based principles of scientific method. In the social sciences, on the other hand, the scientific method of hypothesis, experiment and verification does not apply at all points. The physical scientists have the advantage that the material with which they are working is relatively stable. The atom, for instance, is an elusive customer, but its inner secrets are revealed at the point of scientific method made so admirably effective through the system of team work that scientists have achieved. In the social sciences the conditions are very different. The material to be explored is nothing less than mankind; not man-alone, but man in relation to man; in other words, "what man has made of man." Social science calls upon many well-established subjects, history, geography, anthropology, psychology and the like. The growing point of social science at the moment lies in an evaluation of the social scene. Here the method of experiment is obviously impossible but it is possible to devise methods of surveying the situation with scientific accuracy. This calls for a colossal amount of team work which is still far from achievement.

The fact is that the scientific method, which, since the days of Galileo, has been increasingly applied, has given us our modern world, the nature of which is too obvious to call for any description. Yet it is a world full of social contraditions. It is impossible to try to sum up the malaise of the page 29 modern world in the space of a short talk and it would be Quixotic to try; but a clue may be found in the fact that we have seen in the past few years the finest products of the human intellect used by groups of people in the service of inhuman passion. Fascism in Europe used the products of scientific thinking in a revolt against thought itself. Here is our anxiety and our danger. The remedy lies, not in murdering thought but in giving it more life; not in less thought but in more. It is very true, as Lyman Bryson, the American educationist said recently, "the most valuable possession we have that is not widespread among the people is the scientific attitude of mind." Partial, unscientific theories based merely on local, economic or racial considerations must be replaced by more complete and more scientific thought in the service of human decency and freedom. Much may yet be achieved in this direction at the world level by Unesco, but we cannot hope for a real understanding unless there is teaching and research at the local level. It is here that the university has its part to play.

In the work of applying the principles of scientific thinking to the problems of the life of the community, Victoria College has been a pioneer in this country. In 1904 Mr T. A. Hunter (now Sir Thomas Hunter, Principal of the College) was appointed to a lectureship and later to a Chair in the twin subjects of Mental and Moral Philosophy and Economics. Into the first of these the new lecturer introduced the teaching of psychology for which he had a particular flair. Psychology, long subservient to philosophy, had acquired a new independence. The monumental work on the Principles of Psychology by William James, which appeared in 1890, had gone far to establish it as a science. Experimental work on the nature of the human mind was being undertaken in America and on the Continent. It seemed as though man, who had made such strides throughout the nineteenth century in understanding the material world might soon begin to understand himself! At the time of Hunter's arrival the scientific world was hearing of Freud's discovery of the unconscious, a discovery that was giving us a new conception of mind, just as Max Planck and Einstein were revealing a new conception of matter. It was a good time to be alive, for people of imagination saw in the new outlook the possibility of understanding the problems of human nature and of man's relation to society. But between the dream and the reality a Herculean labour of research had to be undertaken.

In 1906 Hunter went abroad to study psychology in the United States, Britain and Germany. He saw all the experimental work there was to be seen and on his return he set up at Victoria College the first psychological laboratory in the Southern Hemisphere. From then on he set himself the task of establishing psychology in the curriculum of the university, a task which proceeded by degrees until it was completed last year in the establishment at Victoria College of a separate chair of psychology.

Since 1904 the College has moved steadily along the line of developing and expanding the range of its work in social science and in the social studies generally. In 1920 a Chair of Economics was established; in 1920 also a Professor of Education was appointed. History followed in 1921 and in 1938 a Chair of Political Science and with it a School of Public Administration was set up. And this Jubilee year of the College will see established, under Professor D. C. Marsh, a School of Social Work. It is expected that the School will provide trained workers for voluntary bodies, the churches, the Y.M.C.A. and the Y.W.C.A., for liaison work in hospitals, for public relations and personnel work in industry. The School should provide, in effect, the necessary training for all whose work lies in the realm of human relations.

The social studies demand work in and for the community beyond the walls of the College. It is impossible for anyone working in this field to confine his thinking to the study, or his teaching to the lecture room. One cannot enumerate all the ways in which teachers of the social sciences are linked with the community; it must be said, however, that Sir Thomas Hunter and his colleague however, that Sir Thomas Hunter and his colleagues have been responsible for the setting up of a Child Guidance Clinic at the College and also for the establishment of research in Industrial Psychology in conjunction with the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. The Professor of Education has always been in close touch with the Department of Education, the Teachers' Training College and the schools; local bodies and the Public Service generally are in frequent collaboration with the college department of Political Science.

In the realm of historical research the College has widened its horizon by the recent appointment of Dr J. C. Beaglehole as Research Fellow in Pacific History. His work will entail much field work in the Pacific area; it is good to know that the compilation of his researches will link the College with the work of history in the making.

The College has always been aware of its responsibility in the matter of voluntary adult education. When Dr Albert Mansbridge founded the W.E.A. his aim was to provide a link between the universities and the workers. The movement came to New Zealand in 1915 and the College gave it immediate support. The College Council has taken a large share in the administration of adult education and the staff has assisted in teaching. The College encouraged the work in its early stages and is now represented on the Regional Council for Adult Education, the body which is responsible for this work throughout the Victoria College district.

It is pleasing also to remember in this Jubilee year that the New Zealand Council for Educational page 30 Research was sponsored in its beginnings by Sir Thomas Hunter and the late Professor Gould. Sir Thomas has been its chairman since its inception in 1934 while Professor Gould was its first secretary. The Council has published some thirty studies of the practice of education in New Zealand.

It will be seen from this brief resume that one development of the work of the College since Sir Thomas Hunter arrived nearly 45 years ago has been along the lines of the social studies, and it is to be hoped that the administration will pursue this course until it is able to say that the College is giving the fullest possible service to the community in this respect. Victoria is well placed for the work; situated in the centre of the country it has easy access to all parts of the Dominion. Within the College there is close collaboration between the various studies connected with the life of man in society. Yet the work has only just begun. The frontier lies now in the development of research in social science. The need is urgent. New Zealand has never been lacking in social experiments; the time has come to give to local conditions the close objective study of the social scientist. In this field, techniques suitable to New Zealand have to be worked out, and the principles have to be taught. A number of problems suggest themselves concerned chiefly with the effects of our housing policy, social security, medical care, the ageing population, the conditions of the rural life, the effect of the rising birth-rate. It is possible to apply to all these the principles of scientific method that have been so effective in increasing our knowledge of the physical world. And the place to apply them is in the laboratory atmosphere of the university.

H. C. D. Somerset