Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

distinction between lecture and laboratory reacts unfavorably on the latter. Since the professor does not give it his personal supervision, the student is tempted to regard the laboratory as of lesser importance. Especially is this true in engineering, where the laboratory exercises approach the conditions of common manual labor. The class distinctions which are so sharp in most South American countries almost debar an engineering student from certain laboratory exercises that form the veritable basis of his profession.

The teaching consists almost uniformly of formal lectures; class discussions are rare, and questions and answers on an assigned topic still more so. However, the Latin-American student is not averse to these latter methods. The livest class I witnessed was conducted by the class discussion method on an assigned topic.

The common lecture method of teaching necessarily throws great emphasis upon the final examination. Attendance on the part of the students upon lectures and even upon laboratory exercises is nowhere strictly enforced. There are seldom written or oral examinations during the year.

The great emphasis is laid upon the year-end examinations. During the last month, lectures are relaxed, if not discontinued altogether. Sometimes this is by tradition and is at the option of the professor; sometimes it is by formal university statute. This month is allotted to the student in order that he may prepare for his final year-end examination. Each student is examined individually and orally in each subject. There may be also a written examination, but it is the oral test that is the great event. It takes place before a jury of three professors. The student draws by lot a certain number of topics which he develops, and in addition he may be asked questions by any member of the jury. The jury ballots secretly on the grade to be assigned. If the candidate passes, he is promoted to the next class. If he is conditioned, he may apply for another examination before the opening of the next session. If he fails, he must remain in the same class another year and the period of his graduation is thus deferred a year.

The organization of a Latin-American university as outlined above necessarily produces certain conditions, which are striking to a North American.

The assignment of but a single course to a professor requires a relatively large faculty. An institution of less than three hundred students may have as many as forty professors, not including the substitutes and the laboratory assistants. The pay roll, therefore, will be a long one, but the total expenditures will not be greater than in the United States. In proportion to the time he devotes to teaching, the Latin-American professor is paid about the average salary of the North American professor. The stipend varies greatly however in different countries.

Since the student enters the professional school directly from the secondary school, the length of the professional course is long as compared with our practice. In medicine, six and seven years; in law five or six years; in engineering, four, five and six years. The last years in the medical college are devoted almost wholly to clinical study and practice and, therefore, take the place of the post-graduation interneship. The law course is much broader and more comprehensive than the average course in the United States, including as it does, political science, history and philosophy of law and international law.

On account of the close relation existing between the professorate and the political administration, and also on account of the students coming from families that compose the governing class, the university is a strong center of political influence. In the olden time when commercial influence counted for little and even today in these countries least affected by economic ideas, the university is the most potent force in politics.

PRODUCT

The almost total disappearance from the university of the college of letters and philosophy should not lead to the conclusion that all Latin-American graduates are devoting themselves only to the professions. In Latin America a professional course, especially in law, is a traditional liberal education. Not more than one-half of the graduates, even of the medical schools, enter upon the practice of the profession. The sons of landed proprietors return to the administration of their estates; others turn their attention to journalism, governmental administration, etc.

Neither should it be concluded that because higher education is compressed into professional schools, that the liberal culture is lacking. The secondary school curriculum embraces the elements of subjects not usually attempted in the United States in schools of this grade economics and philosophy are almost everywhere taught in the last year of the Latin-American high school. It is true that the classics rarely have a place, but on the other hand, modern foreign languages, always two and sometimes three, are taught throughout the entire course. In the professional schools, too, many subjects are included that with us are found only in the pre-professional college course. In law, psychology, history, economics, finance and sociology; in medicine, general courses in botany, zoology, physics, etc.; in engineering, general courses in the physical sciences. Besides, the whole trend of the professional courses is toward a broader education than would be a professional course with us, were it not preceded by the college. Especially is this so in law. The stress universally laid upon Roman law and the customs that were the base of it compensates for the omission of classical studies, while the importance ascribed to the history and philosophy of law and to international law gives a breadth of view not usually obtained in our relatively narrow law curriculum. The fact that Latin America has produced more than her share of eminent international lawyers is a direct effect of the type of legal training in vogue. Indeed the law school is the college of liberal arts in Latin America. Its curriculum has supplanted in large part the department of philosophy and its students are there quite as much for liberal culture as for professional training.

Latin-American universities look abroad for post-graduate study; to Europe principally for law, medicine and general culture; to the United States principally for engineering and dentistry. In agriculture the honors are more equally divided. Almost every country maintains a considerable number of fellowships for foreign study, to say nothing of the large number of young men who go abroad for study on their own account.

This dependence upon foreign countries for advanced studies and also for ideals in art, science, literature and social progress has its disadvantages for Latin America. Native ideas are often mistrusted and as a consequence initiative in the higher things of life is discouraged. Strong characters, who would work reforms social and economic, are looked upon as dreamers; the weaker men become pessimistic in the face of the greater local difficulties. A recent work of South American fiction portrays such a returned scholar who finds conditions at home so difficult as compared with what he has seen abroad, that he loses his patriotism and declines to help the fatherland whose pensioner he has been for years. I am certain that such a person is not an empty imagination of the author. The situation is a perplexing one. Latin America needs graduate study for its leaders in science, but the traveling fellow often loses on one side as much as he gains on the other. Sympathy with his own people and with home conditions is as necessary for the public man as knowledge of the sciences themselves.

Real graduate study cannot progress in Latin America until university teaching becomes a distinct profession. The teacher who gives three hours per week of his time to the class and the rest to non-academic pursuits may be a good teacher for a professional school, but he can never become the scholar that the graduate school demands. The best prospect for the development of this grade of instruction (at least in some lines) is at the University of La Plata. This institution is of very recent foundation and takes pride in being different from its neighbors. It has tried to break away from the professional tradition and to stimulate research and an academic atmosphere.

Aside from this institution, however, the tendency in Latin-American universities today is to accentuate the professional and the practical. In the University of Buenos Aires, the largest in Latin America, the department of philosophy and letters is the only department that is not growing. Elsewhere it either does not exist or is stagnant. The emphasis is all laid on professional schools, particularly on the colleges of engineering and agriculture. However the enrollment is not the largest here. Young men still enroll in excessive numbers for the professions of law and medicine, although the authorities, both university and political, are urging students toward the more commercial vocations of engineering and agriculture. These schools receive large appropriations and are fostered in every conceivable way. It is not easy, however, to thwart a tradition. The so-called learned professions still receive the larger quota of the university population. It is only where commercial life has become intense that the predilection for the time-honored law course has begun to lessen.

THE JOURNAL OF RACE DEVELOPMENT, VOL. 5, NO. 1, 1914

« AnteriorContinuar »