Read IX.  The New Education of Frenzied Fiction, free online book, by Stephen Leacock, on ReadCentral.com.

“So you’re going back to college in a fortnight,” I said to the Bright Young Thing on the veranda of the summer hotel.  “Aren’t you sorry?”

“In a way I am,” she said, “but in another sense I’m glad to go back.  One can’t loaf all the time.”

She looked up from her rocking-chair over her Red Cross knitting with great earnestness.

How full of purpose these modern students are, I thought to myself.  In my time we used to go back to college as to a treadmill.

“I know that,” I said, “but what I mean is that college, after all, is a pretty hard grind.  Things like mathematics and Greek are no joke, are they?  In my day, as I remember it, we used to think spherical trigonometry about the hardest stuff of the lot.”

She looked dubious.

“I didn’t elect mathematics,” she said.

“Oh,” I said, “I see.  So you don’t have to take it.  And what have you elected?”

“For this coming half semester ­that’s six weeks, you know ­I’ve elected Social Endeavour.”

“Ah,” I said, “that’s since my day, what is it?”

“Oh, it’s awfully interesting.  It’s the study of conditions.”

“What kind of conditions?” I asked.

“All conditions.  Perhaps I can’t explain it properly.  But I have the prospectus of it indoors if you’d like to see it.  We take up Society.”

“And what do you do with it?”

“Analyse it,” she said.

“But it must mean reading a tremendous lot of books.”

“No,” she answered.  “We don’t use books in this course.  It’s all Laboratory Work.”

“Now I am mystified,” I said.  “What do you mean by Laboratory Work?”

“Well,” answered the girl student with a thoughtful look upon her face, “you see, we are supposed to break society up into its elements.”

“In six weeks?”

“Some of the girls do it in six weeks.  Some put in a whole semester and take twelve weeks at it.”

“So as to break up pretty thoroughly?” I said.

“Yes,” she assented.  “But most of the girls think six weeks is enough.”

“That ought to pulverize it pretty completely.  But how do you go at it?”

“Well,” the girl said, “it’s all done with Laboratory Work.  We take, for instance, department stores.  I think that is the first thing we do, we take up the department store.”

“And what do you do with it?”

“We study it as a Social Germ.”

“Ah,” I said, “as a Social Germ.”

“Yes,” said the girl, delighted to see that I was beginning to understand, “as a Germ.  All the work is done in the concrete.  The class goes down with the professor to the department store itself ­”

“And then ­”

“Then they walk all through it, observing.”

“But have none of them ever been in a departmental store before?”

“Oh, of course, but, you see, we go as Observers.”

“Ah, now, I understand.  You mean you don’t buy anything and so you are able to watch everything?”

“No,” she said, “it’s not that.  We do buy things.  That’s part of it.  Most of the girls like to buy little knick-knacks, and anyway it gives them a good chance to do their shopping while they’re there.  But while they are there they are observing.  Then afterwards they make charts.”

“Charts of what?” I asked.

“Charts of the employes; they’re used to show the brain movement involved.”

“Do you find much?”

“Well,” she said hesitatingly, “the idea is to reduce all the employes to a Curve.”

“To a Curve?” I exclaimed, “an In or an Out.”

“No, no, not exactly that.  Didn’t you use Curves when you were at college?”

“Never,” I said.

“Oh, well, nowadays nearly everything, you know, is done into a Curve.  We put them on the board.”

“And what is this particular Curve of the employe used for?” I asked.

“Why,” said the student, “the idea is that from the Curve we can get the Norm of the employe.”

“Get his Norm?” I asked.

“Yes, get the Norm.  That stands for the Root Form of the employe as a social factor.”

“And what can you do with that?”

“Oh, when we have that we can tell what the employe would do under any and every circumstance.  At least that’s the idea ­though I’m really only quoting,” she added, breaking off in a diffident way, “from what Miss Thinker, the professor of Social Endeavour, says.  She’s really fine.  She’s making a general chart of the female employes of one of the biggest stores to show what percentage in case of fire would jump out of the window and what percentage would run to the fire escape.”

“It’s a wonderful course,” I said.  “We had nothing like it when I went to college.  And does it only take in departmental stores?”

“No,” said the girl, “the laboratory work includes for this semester ice-cream parlours as well.”

“What do you do with them?”

“We take them up as Social Cells, Nuclei, I think the professor calls them.”

“And how do you go at them?” I asked.

“Why, the girls go to them in little laboratory groups and study them.”

“They eat ice-cream in them?”

“They have to,” she said, “to make it concrete.  But while they are doing it they are considering the ice-cream parlour merely as a section of social protoplasm.”

“Does the professor go?” I asked.

“Oh, yes, she heads each group.  Professor Thinker never spares herself from work.”

“Dear me,” I said, “you must be kept very busy.  And is Social Endeavour all that you are going to do?”

“No,” she answered, “I’m electing a half-course in Nature Work as well.”

“Nature Work?  Well!  Well!  That, I suppose, means cramming up a lot of biology and zoology, does it not?”

“No,” said the girl, “it’s not exactly done with books.  I believe it is all done by Field Work.”

“Field Work?”

“Yes.  Field Work four times a week and an Excursion every Saturday.”

“And what do you do in the Field Work?”

“The girls,” she answered, “go out in groups anywhere out of doors, and make a Nature Study of anything they see.”

“How do they do that?” I asked.

“Why, they look at it.  Suppose, for example, they come to a stream or a pond or anything ­”

“Yes ­”

“Well, they look at it.”

“Had they never done that before?” I asked.

“Ah, but they look at it as a Nature Unit.  Each girl must take forty units in the course.  I think we only do one unit each day we go out.”

“It must,” I said, “be pretty fatiguing work, and what about the Excursion?”

“That’s every Saturday.  We go out with Miss Stalk, the professor of Ambulation.”

“And where do you go?”

“Oh, anywhere.  One day we go perhaps for a trip on a steamer and another Saturday somewhere in motors, and so on.”

“Doing what?” I asked.

“Field Work.  The aim of the course ­I’m afraid I’m quoting Miss Stalk but I don’t mind, she’s really fine ­is to break nature into its elements ­”

“I see ­”

“So as to view it as the external structure of Society and make deductions from it.”

“Have you made any?” I asked.

“Oh, no” ­she laughed ­“I’m only starting the work this term.  But, of course, I shall have to.  Each girl makes at least one deduction at the end of the course.  Some of the seniors make two or three.  But you have to make one.”

“It’s a great course,” I said.  “No wonder you are going to be busy; and, as you say, how much better than loafing round here doing nothing.”

“Isn’t it?” said the girl student with enthusiasm in her eyes.  “It gives one such a sense of purpose, such a feeling of doing something.”

“It must,” I answered.

“Oh, goodness,” she exclaimed, “there’s the lunch bell.  I must skip and get ready.”

She was just vanishing from my side when the Burly Male Student, who was also staying in the hotel, came puffing up after his five-mile run.  He was getting himself into trim for enlistment, so he told me.  He noted the retreating form of the college girl as he sat down.

“I’ve just been talking to her,” I said, “about her college work.  She seems to be studying a queer lot of stuff ­Social Endeavour and all that!”

“Awful piffle,” said the young man.  “But the girls naturally run to all that sort of rot, you know.”

“Now, your work,” I went on, “is no doubt very different.  I mean what you were taking before the war came along.  I suppose you fellows have an awful dose of mathematics and philology and so on just as I did in my college days?”

Something like a blush came across the face of the handsome youth.

“Well, no,” he said, “I didn’t co-opt mathematics.  At our college, you know, we co-opt two majors and two minors.”

“I see,” I said, “and what were you co-opting?”

“I co-opted Turkish, Music, and Religion,” he answered.

“Oh, yes,” I said with a sort of reverential respect, “fitting yourself for a position of choir-master in a Turkish cathedral, no doubt.”

“No, no,” he said, “I’m going into insurance; but, you see, those subjects fitted in better than anything else.”

“Fitted in?”

“Yes.  Turkish comes at nine, music at ten and religion at eleven.  So they make a good combination; they leave a man free to ­”

“To develop his mind,” I said.  “We used to find in my college days that lectures interfered with it badly.  But now, Turkish, that must be an interesting language, eh?”

“Search me!” said the student.  “All you have to do is answer the roll and go out.  Forty roll-calls give you one Turkish unit ­but, say, I must get on, I’ve got to change.  So long.”

I could not help reflecting, as the young man left me, on the great changes that have come over our college education.  It was a relief to me later in the day to talk with a quiet, sombre man, himself a graduate student in philosophy, on this topic.  He agreed with me that the old strenuous studies seem to be very largely abandoned.

I looked at the sombre man with respect.

“Now your work,” I said, “is very different from what these young people are doing ­hard, solid, definite effort.  What a relief it must be to you to get a brief vacation up here.  I couldn’t help thinking to-day, as I watched you moving round doing nothing, how fine it must feel for you to come up here after your hard work and put in a month of out-and-out loafing.”

“Loafing!” he said indignantly.  “I’m not loafing.  I’m putting in a half summer course in Introspection.  That’s why I’m here.  I get credit for two majors for my time here.”

“Ah,” I said, as gently as I could, “you get credit here.”

He left me.  I am still pondering over our new education.  Meantime I think I shall enter my little boy’s name on the books of Tuskegee College where the education is still old-fashioned.