What did College Students Study in 1915?

Physical Culture Class similar to PE today

Here’s something different – a lighter read, a tidbit of educational history, a visual, that also gives us a glimpse into the educational ‘identity’ of a college student in 1915.  I’ve been sorting through family documents that I acquired recently. I stumbled upon a gem, the college schedule of my great-aunt dated September, 1915. My great-aunt, Margaret Kastner, apparently attended St. Margaret’s College of Toronto, Canada if we use her schedule as evidence. St. Margaret’s College no longer exists from what I can tell, but I did find the school referenced in various archived documents. It appears to have been a Liberal Arts College for women. I included a few  articles at the end of this post that reference previous students from St. Margaret’s College (one was Amelia Earhart’s sister, Muriel).

What did a College Student Study in 1915?
Below is Aunt Margaret’s (ironically the same name as the college) schedule. It’s a full schedule, no sleeping in; classes began each day at 9:15, and though she had a break mid-day she finished at 6:00 pm. The scanned image of Margaret’s schedule is further down the page, though I’ve listed the subjects as outlined by her hand on her schedule  below for ease of reading.

Subjects Studied by Margaret Kastner as a Junior College Student

  • Chaucer
  • French
  • Canadian History
  • Grammar and Composition
  • Piano
  • Arithmetic
  • Scripture
  • Sewing (once per week for two hours)
  • Physical Culture (one half-hour, four times per week from 5:30 to 6:00 pm).

Physical culture was the term used for a form of physical education, the term that we are more familiar with today. Physical culture was a movement that arose in 19th century due to the perception that the middle and upper classes were becoming sedentary and suffering from ‘diseases of affluence’. The physical culture class would have consisted of light gymnastics both with and without dumb-bells, dance and folk games. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that physical culture became known as physical education in English-speaking countries. I found a picture of physical culture class from the University of Northern Iowa shown at the beginning of the post. The image was dated just a few years prior to my great-aunt taking physical culture classes at St. Margaret’s, which leads me to believe that it would have been similar.

As someone involved in education, I found this schedule quite interesting, a snapshot into one student’s study plan for a year of college. If we looked at an average college student’s schedule today [granted it would be different given the selection of courses available and other influences] I wonder if we’d see a robust selection of liberal arts courses in his or her course of study?  Is there a correlation that students today are struggling with analysis and writing given the decline of liberal arts curriculum?  This topic is complex, yet there is something to be said for the value of a liberal arts education, for what it teaches, how it enriches and what it contributes to society.

References to St. Margaret’s College in Toronto
Canadian Women Artists History initiative, Canadian artist Vaughan Grayson went to St. Margaret’s College
Biographies of Women Mathematicians, Louse Duffield Cummings, Instructor at St. Margaret’s College
Amelia Earhart Papers, Amelia’s sister Muriel went to St. Margaret’s College in Toronto in 1916 – unknown

Photo credit: Physical Culture Class, University of Northern Iowa, Rod Library

Why Socrates and Open Education should be Friends

 Is there value in studying Socrates?

Some suggest we should ditch the study of Humanities altogether, others are supportive, some just plain indifferent and scholars like Stanley Fish suggest that the study of humanities has no intrinsic value at all. Though we’ve all heard that the study of humanities is valuable for something, I happen to wholeheartedly agree, and there’s convincing research that supports this point of view — that cross-disciplinary study is of value. Most  recently a study conducted at Harvard University found that,

“The further the problem [to be solved] from the solver’s expertise, the more likely they are to solve it,” K.R. Lakhini, Harvard Professor. [More on this later].

As the announcements of new online learning ventures multiply, though exciting, I am concerned that the possibility of the fading emphasis of studying such works as  Plato’s Cave,  Soren Kierkegaard’s Journals, Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, and on and on we could go. What I am referring to is the study of humanities. I’m all for much needed reform – an accessible and relevant model for Higher Ed is needed, and I’ve written about promising initiatives recently. However, there appears to be an abundance of mathematics, and science topics within the open learning resources and open online universities, and it’s more than a little scant on the arts, history, literary studies and languages.

If you peruse through Kahn Academy‘s over 3,200 video lectures [all quite excellent] – you’ll find the majority are related to math and science, (granted they are working on expanding the humanities side, and have even partnered with SmartArt), – or how about Udacity (granted the founder S. Thrun is a math genius), or MIT OpenCourseWare (granted it’s a Computer Science school) , and Open Lectures [granted newly launched]. Yet there are the bright spots, Cousera, [one of the newest open university course platforms] has a category devoted to Humanities and Social Sciences, (though only 5 courses so far), and Open Yale Courses which appears to offer a robust selection of history, art and language courses. Encouraging.

Why study Humanities?
Though really, should we bother following the historic path of educating students in the Arts, History, Literature and such? Yes I believe so — and not just to produce a well-informed, literate, highly functioning citizen who makes solid contribution to his or her society, but because people who study a breadth of topics, and who have many interests are better problem solvers when they do. And, we have an abundance of problems that need solving.

An interesting study done recently as mentioned, at Harvard Business School’s InnoCentive (similar to a ‘think tank’) by Professor Lakhani, analyzed hundreds of scientific problems posted by companies that for whatever reason had failed to solve. Lakhni found InnoCentive’s network solved nearly 30 percent of the problems, and that the more diverse the interests of the solvers, the more likely the problem was to be solved. Also fascinating – the study found that expertise [held by the problem solver] in the field of the problem, actually hurt a solver’s chances. (Ronsenberg, 2012).

The Practical Side
This post points alludes to a broader topic which I won’t get into here, but mention briefly, is the purpose of higher education to become an educated individual who can think critically with breadth and depth, which may mean studying within various disciplines, OR is the purpose of higher education to focus on a vocational track and that leads to a specific job path and career? I’d like to say both – but they can be at cross purposes for a young college student. On this same vein, the Wall Street Journal reported this past week  in For most graduates a grueling job hunt Awaits, that the top 5 majors companies are hiring from this year are engineering, business, accounting, computer science, while [sadly] the majors being least hired were from social studies, humanities, agriculture, health science and education (Weber and Korn, 2012).

However, we DO need the scientists and engineers, and those that study social sciences, education and others, and within these groups the innovators, problem solvers, critical thinkers and risk takers to solve the problems at hand just as we have with every crisis that has presented itself in years of past.

In summary, I suggest we study humanities to…

  1. be creative problem solvers.
  2. be informed of history, the parallels to current problems in order to contribute to solutions that are relevant using sound knowledge and rationale.
  3. be able to think with depth and breadth, ask questions, think critically.

I hope we can work towards an OPEN and Online education model that offers humanities, science, mathematics, communication and the Arts that will educate a to produce a bright, informed and intellectual problem-solver.

Further Reading:
Prizes with an Eye towards the Future, Tina Rosenberg, The Opinionater
Why Colleges Don’t Teach the Federalist Papers, Peter Berkowitz, WSJ
Will the Humanities save Us? Stanley Fish, The Opinionater
Why are the Humanities important? Stanford University