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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How college has changed in 319 yrs

~ Sir Christopher Wren Bldg, Coll. of William & Mary

Not much to write about in today's news worth the effort to type nor time it would take to read (though I have plenty of antacids ready for when Greece officially agrees to send its nation back to feudal times).

So for fun, I looked at the various events which took place in history on this day, February 8th.  There were significant events like US military forces securing Guadalcanal in 1943 and the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904.

And there were many interesting but trivial events as well such as an Irish race horse stolen in 1983 and the film 'Birth of a Nation' opening in movie theaters today in 1915.  But one trivial event or rather anniversary occurred today which interested me:  today being the 319th anniversary of the founding of the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA (1693).

W&M was the second oldest college in North America (Harvard was first-- 1636), and I thought it interesting to show a glimpse of how different college was back in pre-colonial and colonial times vs today, and I speak of more than obvious technological advancements and changes in social norms.

Back in the 17th through mid 18th century, college had four very specific functions: "1) to establish a secession of learned ministers, 2) to establish a secession of learned laymen for civil and political duties, 3) to civilize and educate the Indians and 4) a general love of higher education" (NY Times- Apr. 8, 1883)

The students were taught mathematics, ancient history, ancient languages like Latin & Greek, Philosophy and Theology.  Sciences like astronomy and physics, modern history and politics were introduced into curriculum in the 18th but not as a main academic focus.
Some colleges would admit students as young as 14 or 15 years old, and until the mid-18th century, the overwhelming majority of American college graduates became Protestant clergymen. It wasn't until towards the end of the colonial period, that law became another popular career choice for college graduates.

As for the typical life of a college student back then, this summary of life at Harvard from the same NY Times article written in 1883 paints a glimpse:

"Punch and "flip" (strong beer sweetened with sugar, molasses, or dried pumpkin) were forbidden, and any student out after 9 P. M. was adjudged guilty of whatsoever disorder might occur in the town that night... Students were allowed a pound of meat and a pint of beer at dinner... For snack they could choose between a half-pint of milk and a biscuit. They were given clean table-cloths twice a week... Pudding was a delicacy three times a week."

"Until 1734 corporal punishment was inflicted at Harvard. The president or tutors could administer public whipping in the hall, and overseers were called in on special occasions to witness the proceedings. This form of punishment degenerated into ear-boxing in 1754, and then to a tariff of college sins (profane swearing, sending for liquor,etc..) "

Pretty interesting to compare to the modern day.  Wonder how many college students, both in the present and within the last 50 years would have chosen to still attend college if prohibited and prevented from constantly partying and getting wasted, or receiving physical punishments for such actions?

~ Brafferton Bldg, Coll. of William & Mary

Its hard to figure in today's society how many people attend college and rack up enormous student loan debts truly to get a quality education vs enjoying all the social diversions and to escape/delay adulthood for an additional 4-6 years.. 

College has changed since those days, and not really for the better.  Back then, it was set up with moral and altruistic goals; a means to get an education and produce learned gentleman.  Now, all genders are able to attend but the role of college is far different today-- its nothing more than a business.

Back then, you did not need to attend college to become employable and support yourself or your family.  Today, the system is set up that without college education, you have No chance to survive.  And even with a bachelors' degree, so many people now acquire it and with such ease, that even committing 4 years and tens of thousands of dollars of debt loans doesn't guarantee anything beyond Wal-Mart caliber employment.

Back then, revenue acquired by colleges went back into the colleges in the form of building & expanding libraries, professor/instructor salaries, etc.  Today, revenue goes into sports teams, building new stadiums and over-beautification of the physical campuses to attract prospective new students.

You can argue that college is better today.  Overall, I will disagree.

So Happy 319th Anniversary W&M! You don't look a day over 315.