The Quiet Scandal of College Teaching

In 1925, student delegates from twenty colleges met at Wesleyan University to discuss a growing concern on America’s campuses: the poor quality of teaching. They decried dry-as-dust professors who filled up blackboards with irrelevant facts while students doodled, read novels, or dozed off. At larger schools, “section men” — soon to be known as teaching assistants — led aimless discussions or simply lectured, in a dull imitation of their elders. What was the point of going to college, the students assembled at Wesleyan asked, if you didn’t learn anything in class? “It is not that college boys have ceased to have a good time on the campus,” wrote a correspondent from the Boston Globe, one of several national newspapers that covered the conference. “It is rather that an increasing proportion of them are wondering what college is all about and why they are there.” The keynote address was delivered by

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