Thursday, March 12, 2009


University Education

In 1816, the Governor of Virginia, Wilson Cary Nicholas, sent a circular letter asking advice about public education. Among those who replied was Thomas Cooper, professor of chemistry at Carlisle College in Pennsylvania, who advised:
It should be scrupulously insisted on that no youth can be admitted to the university unless he can read with facility Virgil, Horace, Xenophon, and Homer; unless he is able, as a preliminary to matriculation, to convert a page of English at sight into Latin; unless he can demonstrate any proposition at sight in the six first books of Euclid, and shews an acquaintance with cubic and quadratic equations. Without this, your university will become what all the American colleges and universities are, so far as I know them, mere grammar schools. You will have fewer students, but they will do credit to the institution, and raise its reputation; and entrance at such an university will be sought as an honor....The more difficult Latin and Greek classics should be read at the university,—Euripides, Sophocles, Longinus, Demosthenes, etc. No week should pass without at least three pages of composition in Latin prose, and one in verse, upon given subjects. All the prominent political men, all the learned men, all the scientific men of my day, have entered upon active life as good classic scholars and good mathematicians....Attendant on these classical studies should be the higher parts of the mathematics, conic sections, fluxions, spherical trigonometry, etc. Also the study of the French language, with drawing, fencing, and the manual exercise.
"The manual exercise" is military drill (present arms, etc.) — see e.g. Isaac Maltby, The Elements of War (Boston: Thomas B. Wait, 1811), p. 23.

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