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This webpage reproduces an article in
New Englander [and Yale Review]
Vol. 28 No. 106 (January 1869), pp1‑18

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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p1 The System of Instruction at West Point:
Can It Be Employed in Our Colleges?

by Robert P. Keepa

The Military Academy at West Point, in the number of its students, its course of study, and its corps of instructors, may naturally and fairly be compared with any of our leading Colleges. Such a comparison seems suitable at the present time, when misgivings as to the wisdom of the systems defended by custom and tradition are so general, and when the disposition is so strong to recast the collegiate courses. The Academy, too, as an Institution in which the mathematics occupy the largest place, has a peculiar interest to those reformers who consider that the ancient languages engross too much time and attention. As an important National Institution, also, it should be familiar to the knowledge of the people who sustain it. And yet, it is believed that very few have any practical knowledge of its management, or internal arrangements.

There is a general belief that the teaching there is thorough, p2and that an appointment as a cadet is to be valued for a son; but beyond such vague impressions, there is little known.

In our Colleges the students, by their frequent visits home, make their friends, in a good degree, familiar with the methods of study and recitation; but a cadet, not seeing his home for two years after he enters the Academy, has, when he does revisit it, lost his interest in the details of his daily life; and the vocabulary which describes that daily life is peculiar enough to be a further hinderance to talking much about the system of instruction. He will tell at what time he gets up, of drills before breakfast, of the fare at the mess hall, of inspections, and will leave a strong impression in the minds of his friends of rigorous discipline, but of little besides.

The visit of the Board of Visitors, too, every June, though of some length, and intended to furnish just that information which the country should possess, usually, it must be confessed, fails of its object. The members of the Board are often appointed for political motives, and are neither able nor desirous to follow understandingly the subjects which are brought before them in the examination (and still less to report upon them), and so they are entertained as they desire, dinners are given them, officers attend the examination in full dress, a ball is given at the hotel, a "skillful," as they described it in their last report, boat race is witnessed by them, and they, in return, bestow praise so indiscriminately that it loses its value, noticing just what strikes the eye, and not recognizing wherein that thoroughness consists which is so characteristic of the Academy. If the visit of the Board of Visitors does not bring before the public the exact knowledge which is to be desired, still less do the sketchy letters of transient visitors. The Academy has won its high character by the earnest, faithful, patient labor of its Professors, who, not largely recompensed, nor greatly cheered by the intelligent approval of the world, have worked on year after year till they have produced a method of instruction which is both admirably carried out and attests by its results its worth.

It is believed that the distinctive features of the Academy appear in the daily recitations. To examine as clearly and as briefly as possible, and yet with some necessary minuteness, p3the method of instruction as there given, is the purpose of this Article.

Nothing will be said of the text-books or of the curriculum of study, since these can be learned from the Annual Register. Is it not true, also, that the method of teaching should always be the object of inquiry, rather than the books taught, and that a poor book and a good teacher are worth far more than a good book and a poor teacher, and that those who as champions of the practical condemn, for instance, the dead languages, perhaps condemn only a dead way of teaching them?

One should remember in judging what is done at West Point, the great diversity in preparation of those who enter, and, upon the whole, their inferiority both in energy and love of study, and in culture and refine most, to the candidates for admission to our leading colleges.

The requirements for entrance are only these, Reading, Writing, Spelling, Arithmetic, Geography, English Grammar, and History of the United States,1 and so low a standard is justified by Congress, on the ground that the Academy is a National School, and that it should be open to those who, from residence in thinly settled regions, have had opportunity to acquire only the rudiments of an English education. Doubtless a higher standard would throw out a large portion of those who report from the Western States, it not being a thing unheard of for men to receive appointments who can barely read, who have hardly heard the word English Grammar, who give California and Michigan as boundaries of Pennsylvania, and honor Gen. Jackson as the hero of the Mexican war.2

p4 Let us now look in upon the daily recitations, and select for our examination the fourth or incoming class, which numbers from seventy-five to one hundred. At the commencement of the year it is arranged in alphabetical order, from A to Z, and divided into six or seven divisions or sections, each containing twelve to fourteen men. Each section has two recitations per diem, except on Saturday, when the second recitation is omitted. These two recitations, during the first half of the year, are in Davies's Bourdon's Algebra, and French. The Mathematical hours are from 8 to 11; the French from 2 to 4; and this general division of time holds good through all the classes. Mathematics have the heart of the day — the three best hours — and six recitations per week; English studies, including Law, Ethics, Tactics, and Modern Languages, usually the two hours from 2 to 4 P.M., and but five recitations per week.

To teach the Mathematics to the fourth class, there are three or four instructors besides the Professor, each of these instructors hearing two recitations in the three hours — i.e. an hour and a half is allotted to thirteen men. The sections are formed at the bugle call for recitation, in the area, within the barrack, by the "section-marchers," the roll is called, and they are marched to their respective recitation rooms, where the instructor meets them. The members of the section now file off to their places and stand there until the section-marcher, saluting the instructor, reports to him who are absent, and he returns the salute, when they take their seats. Five or six men are at once sent to the blackboard, and having taken their places there and written their names, are given each a proposition to demonstrate, while another is called p5up to recite on the reading matter of the lesson in answer to questions. He is catechised until one of those first sent to the board signifies his readiness, which he does by facing the instructor and assuming the attitude of attention.

He begins by describing in general terms his subject, then he enunciates the theorem or scientific statement, and lastly follows out the work he has put upon the board, indicating each point of progress by the pointer.

There are certain set phrases which are so much used as almost to be obligatory. A cadet begins to recite by saying, "I am required to discuss a theorem relating to," etc., etc., and concludes by saying, if letters have been employed to represent known terms, "which literal conclusion may be thus translated;" and all this, though somewhat arbitrary, is fitted to keep before his mind that he is evolving a principle, and that the principle, when evolved, has practical application. His demonstration concluded, he, having so far proceeded without interruption, is keenly questioned by the instructor. What has been imperfectly understood is elucidated, misconceptions are corrected, and when he is at last allowed to take his seat, he can hardly fail to understand throughout what he has recited. Nor do the questions asked cover only the point of demonstration, but run over the review and the back-review, including everything in any way hinted at by the recitation, so that one man may often recite half the lesson. The work is now erased, another takes the place with perhaps the same topic, and the second of those first stationed at the board is called upon for his demonstration, and so on through the section.

The lesson is gone over with so many times at each recitation, that an attentive scholar could learn it there by listening, and the reviews and back-reviews are so well kept up that we doubt not a large portion of the class, when the Algebra is finished, could begin at the beginning and, unprompted, proceed to the end.

Algebra is peculiarly adapted to be studied in this way, and any teacher who will make the trial, more and more disusing questions, and accustoming and encouraging his pupils to put the lesson on the board, will be surprised to see how they will p6themselves enjoy it, and how sure their progress will be. It is not meant, it must be understood, that the instructor at West Point does not question and communicate, only that the recitation and instruction are separated. The Cadet has a certain work set him to do, as, in Algebra, certain consecutive, connected courses of reasoning to master, and the first object of the recitation is to find if he has done it; the second, by free discussion and suggestion, to clear and fix his knowledge; but the mark is given chiefly for his work, and not for what he has done conjointly with the instructor. All the mathematical treatises at West Point are constructed on the synthetic plan, and especially aim at requiring the student to construct his own synthesis, and then to defend it — like a general besieged in a fortress, whose success in the defense will be just according to his skill and care in constructing his work and defending his approaches.3

Such a system of instruction puts upon a level men of equal mental power, who are unequal in power of expression. The work may be put upon the board slowly and thoughtfully, and then it is easy to follow it out. On the other hand, if a man knows nothing, it at once becomes evident, there being no middle ground between success and failure. In all that has been just said, the use of the blackboard has been implied. It has, in fact, for years at West Point almost taken the place of an additional instructor. Its importance in education is now so universally recognized by its use in all our schools, Sunday as well as secular, that nothing need be added on that point. It is employed, however, at West Point, not only in Mathematics, but in all departments. Grammar, when studied there, was taught from a text-book constructed with special reference to recitation upon the board, great pains being bestowed upon the classification, and upon the divisions p7and subdivisions of the subjects. French, too, is now taught in connection with a "Tabular System" constructed by the Professor, and these tables are put upon the board each day by the cadets. It would seem that, when the system is not too stiff, and the subject one which admits of analysis, there is great advantage in this mode. The process of writing in connection with reciting, fixes subjects in the memory, and the student is held to the point by the guide which he has himself provided in his headings upon the board. Even if the subject admits of no subdivision, the custom is to write it upon the board, and to speak, as it were, upon that subject. In Ethics, a man might say, I am required to discuss the soul. In French, a man might say, I am required to discuss the verb être.

May it not be said that in connection with almost any department of study, there is opportunity in teaching a class to introduce a daily exercise upon the blackboard; as in Greek, upon the analysis of verbs and the formation of words, in Latin, the analysis of the sentence? The board tells so much in few words that time is saved by such instruction, and a thing which comes by the eye often strikes home and is remembered.

The Instructor marks daily upon a scale as follows: 3, thorough, 2.5, good, 2, fair, 1.5, imperfect, 1, bad, 0, failure, and each Saturday transfers his marks to a printed blank which shows the daily and aggregate rank of each cadet of the section for the week. These blanks are exposed every Monday, at noon, to view,4 and those who have doubts about the power of emulation would have removed, by once seeing the stream of men which, between the first and second dinner call, pours out to the corridor of the library, eager all of them to see how they have done during the week. The marks are thus shown every week, in every department, for the four years. Dependent upon this is the system of transfers, which has been in operation some forty years. The sections do not remain the same from week to week. As soon as the class are p8fairly at work, perhaps a month from the beginning of the new year, the poor scholars who, in alphabetical arrangement, may have fallen into the first section are put down into the third, fourth, or fifth, and the bright S's and W's are elevated to their places, and thus the class is rough-hewn into shape. In succeeding weeks, as the marks of a man are unusually high or unduly low, he is transferred to a higher or lower section; according to the severity of the studies, men rising or sinking like the mercury in a thermometer. These transfers are made in each class and in all departments. They are read out before the whole battalion at Dress Parade every Saturday evening, which corresponds almost exactly to reading them out in a college chapel.5

The result is that men are stimulated throughout the class — are led to work not for the first or tenth place alone, but for the fortieth instead of the forty-first. They strive as hard to keep out of the lowest section, in cadet phrase the "Immortal," as to gain the first; studying sometimes as hard at the lower end of the class as at the upper.

With such a system of division the good scholars are continually incited by the example of each other, and there are no dead weights upon them. By a judicious arrangement, too, the course is varied, the more difficult and intricate parts being omitted for those who cannot understand them, and the first section in the class accomplishing from one-third to one-half more than the "Immortals." In such a study as French, the difference is very marked. The first section, being fine French scholars, are reading four or five pages per day, besides oral and written exercises, while the last are stumbling over one page.

But do not the poor scholars suffer a serious loss in having the example of the good withdrawn? Doubtless there is a loss, but there are other considerations. Every teacher has felt that the recitation of the good scholar is, in large part, p9thrown away upon the really poor, being just as far above them as theirs is below his, and the question often occurs whether this attempt to combine two so different elements, to find the profitable mean for two such extremes, is not impossible? Does not the good scholar become careless by being asked many questions which are nothings to him, and is he not led to calculate on a certain amount of success without much work? and is not the poor scholar discouraged at being asked continually questions entirely out of his range, in the hope that the time spent on him may not be wholly lost for the good scholars? The good influence of superior recitations is strongest upon those who below, are not out of sight of the good scholars, and these are the men who, in a division into sections, will work their way up into the society they desire. Every man who can feel must be saddened to see the many worthy men, some from dullness of mind, some from insufficiency of preparation, who are compelled to endure the humiliation of always failing; who, before they rise, expect to be unsuccessful; who, for four years, live in the fog. What worse preparation for life than the loss of confidence in self, which such an experience brings? Yet there is no doubt, in most cases, that if these men could be taken by themselves and time could be given for slow and patient explanation the light might come into their mind, and in their place they might make a success. Comparison may discourage as well as stimulate. Is there not a loss in our colleges where all are trying to do the same thing, where there is no Pass and Class System, as at Oxford and Cambridge — no division into Sections, as at West Point?

Another important result is, that a place is provided for that large, unworthy class who are wilfully lazy; and an opportunity is afforded of putting some stigma of disgrace upon them, which plainly hints that as they are classed with the naturally dull and incompetent now, there will be their place in life, unless they reform.

Again, a large part of those who leave home to join a large institution, and, for the first time, to mix with strangers, are exceedingly diffident and judge themselves very humbly. It will be advantageous to them to let them see early how they stand as compared with their fellows. Information instead of p10reticence in reply to their inquiry what they are doing, may greatly cheer them. There are so many times when the slightest influence may so alter a man's course in life that not even the effect of a mark ought to be despised. Others, also, who rate themselves to highly soon know their present level and they lose their conceit or rise to the place they desire.

A practical difficulty of exposing the marks frequently to the students in our colleges, is that the instructors are already overburdened and cannot conveniently compute the marks. But the labor is not really great. True, it is done often, but the amount of labor is so much the less, and at West Point, since they foot up not averages, but aggregates, the work of each week is merely combined with that of the week before. The whole work is done there by the instructor in fifteen minutes on Saturday noon, just after his last recitation.6

But admitting that an arrangement like that discussed is possible, objection is sometimes made to its wisdom. Marks, it is said, are a system of guesses at a student's proficiency, no one exact, but, in the average, and for a long enough time sufficiently correct; if marks are shown, injustice may often be done, and, in some cases, ill-feeling toward the instructor excited. True, we may say, the mark does not always represent the student's knowledge of the whole lesson, but it should always be understood to represent accurately his knowledge of what he recites, and students themselves are ready enough to admit that if a man who intended to make a part of the lesson pass for the whole, is caught upon a point which he has neglected, his failure upon a part ought likewise to count as a failure upon the whole. And certainly suspicion of injustice will be removed by a frequent exposure of the marks, and opportunity to correct erroneous impressions will be afforded the pupil, while the teacher will be kept constantly on his guard against that constant danger of marking the student according to his impression of his ability instead of according p11to the recitation which he is now making. The difficulty of marking justly, though increased by the necessity which large divisions impose of giving each man few questions and a short trial, does not seem to warrant the concealment of the mark.

Another objection, and perhaps more difficult to meet, is that which discountenances marks, as appealing to a low motive, represents that they are used at all, only because of the "hardness of hearts" of scholars, and would dissuade from calling attention often or actively to them.

Without forgetting that the truth lies between two extremes, and that a system which carried to moderate lengths produces excellent results, often fails if pushed too far, it may be said that there are two courses open. We may say that men of mature age ought to love knowledge for its own sake, and that all competition, and everything which promotes it, is unworthy; or we may take the other course, and, remembering that those whom we teach, though men in years, are not altogether men, and recognizing the universal power of emulation upon the young, decide to avail ourselves of it. In this case, it seems more philosophical to make our system as thorough-going in its operation as possible. At West Point there seem to be no jealousies, nor heart-burnings, nor excessive regard for marks. The system only affects all, whereas, in almost all of our colleges only a few are reached, those the very ones who do not need the stimulus, while for the lower and larger part of every class, the system of marks as an incentive to study, might as well not exist.

A practical difficulty in carrying out fully in our colleges a system of division according to merit in each department will be found to exist. At West Point the recitations usually not exceeding two a day, and the hours of recitations being wholly independent of the others, a man may be in the first "section" in mathematics and third in French, but where there are three or, as at Yale, four departments in Freshman and Sophomore year, to do the same would require twelve consecutive hours of recitation, i.e. beginning at 8 A.M., and allowing a recess of one hour for dinner and one hour for supper, recitations could not close until 10 P.M. Two courses remain open, to classify according to proficiency p12in some one department, as in Mathematics, or which is nearly the same, in Greek and Latin combined, or according to the average of all the studies. The latter course seems more in harmony with the present plan, only doing earlier what now is delayed until Junior Exhibition or Commencement.

Under such a system a man would, perhaps, say if asked how he stood in college, not as now, I was a high oration man, but I stood in the first division of my class, which would carry a far clearer idea to people outside. It seems right, too, that those men who in the early part of their course are embarrassed by a scanty preparation, and who rapidly improve during their latter years in college, should not, as now, be weighed down by a previous low average, and have no way of showing to others their improvement. It is fit that they, having really done so much more than those who started with greater advantage, should, as they improve, be advanced to the higher divisions, and be made to feel that they have earned a place among the fraternity of scholars. Then at different points in the college course there are parts of the text-books that try men's souls, difficult places, chances for a man who has an original mind to show its power. In the long list of marks recorded in cipher in a professor's book, and never exposed, but finally burnt up or thrown away, nothing will be known of improvement or retrogression; but a system of transfers, as those who merely cram or crib, sink, and the honest workers rise, will show to the class and to the instructors, who are really the leading men.

It seems desirable now to inquire how the other motives of study at West Point and in our colleges compare? Perhaps there is no situation in life in which a man can so accurately forecast his position a dozen years hence as in that which a newly appointed cadet holds. This may not be quite so true now as before the war, when the regular army was small, and the only entrance to it was through the Academy, but still graduates are commissioned according to class rank, in the different staff and line corps, and the pay is less, and the posts are generally less pleasant as one descends.7

p13 Add to this that after an officer has been assigned to his own corps, a difference of one file in class-rank may make a delay of ten or fifteen years in promotion, and it will appear that within a narrow range one's future is in one's own hands.

While in the Academy, too, the fact that there is no other way to distinguish oneself than by scholarship — excellence in riding, in tactics, fencing, artillery practice, all coming under the head of scholarship — the circumstance that there are no prizes to be given for composition, declamation, or debates, and the consideration that the cadet officers8 are made for military proficiency, all show how many influences there are to hold one to the course of study.

But a system in which external restraint and self-interest are the prominent features, however perfect, will not accomplish everything, and young men will not always keep an eye upon the future and the connection between patient work here and reward there.

All these incentives to study in the way of personal advantage, it seems to us, are hardly able to compensate for the great evil that most come to the Academy merely to enter the army through it, and, that end gained, care for nothing beyond. There is not that constant, ever ready stimulus, so far superior to all others, of the love of knowledge for its own sake, and for the mental power which it gives; whereas among college students, most of whom have enjoyed a preparatory training more expanding than admission to the Academy implies, there is not uncommonly a genuine enthusiasm for learning, an enthusiasm fostered, too, in a higher degree by the studies themselves than at West Point.b

The position of a professor at West Point is somewhat p14peculiar, and his influence is very great. He is a professor, not a mere teacher. He delivers a few lectures, but his chief duty is, during the hours of recitation in his department, to pass from one section to another, aiding and cheering instructor and pupil, suggesting and meeting difficulties with a skill which forty years experience has taught him. He may remain in one section five minutes or an hour and a half, according to the need there seems to be. He thus superintends and makes uniform all instruction, and is the head of his department in reality. His corps of assistants, who do the work of instruction, consists of young officers detailed by the War Department upon his recommendation as possessing special qualifications. Their time of residence depends very much upon their success in teaching. If they find it a congenial occupation they sometimes remain upon the post six or even ten years; but if they desire a more active life, and if the work of instruction is irksome, they apply to be relieved at the end of a year, and their request is almost sure to be granted. One sees here the advantage which the Academy enjoys in the power which it has to draw upon the whole army for its supply of teachers. Among so many there must be a large number specially fitted to give instruction, and the fact that the service is not forced makes it more valuable. There is no temptation to an incompetent teacher to remain from considerations of support, as he is paid not as a teacher but as an officer, and his salary is the same in each case. Those who do remain as assistant professors, being young men, are fresh to the subject they teach, are urged by a personal pride, since their pupils are soon to be their associates, to master thoroughly their department, and are favored in that they have only two recitations a day to hear.9 º

It will be seen that the permanent professor gives great stability and uniformity to the system of instruction; the text-book is his own, he regulates the length of the lessons, the transfers are approved by him, the machinery of recitation all p15feels his controlling hand. There is, in fact, a true coöperation realized between the professor and his assistants, which would hardly be thought possible until seen; two minds unite in the work. We wish we could paint the picture of the young teacher and veteran professor, the former sharpened in wits and stimulated to study since his work must pass under the inspection of one who so thoroughly understands it; the latter fresh and active, made young as it were by his young assistant, and the pupils all interested in this joint labor in their behalf. Perhaps it would seem to some a lowering of the dignity of the instructor that he should be himself interrupted, that the professor should put in a word, break in upon his questions by an inquiry of his own; but there is nothing of the kind, and no loss of respect before the class, because it is plain that neither is thinking of himself but both of their work. Such a course, it will be seen, brings the professor in contact at once with all the students of an institution, and the influence of his personal power extends early to all. At the time when students are young, easily influenced, full of good purposes, laying the foundations, the wise master builder is present, and lends his superintendence and help. As the course of studies in our colleges is more varied than in the Academy, and the departments, which extend through a considerable part of the course, are less numerous, there would be a correspondence to the system of West Point, if the classes now taught in Greek, Latin, and Mathematics by the professor were taught by an assistant professor, and he could go at will to the rooms of his other assistants, and aid them in their work. At West Point the professor, in fact, spends most of his time with his "first section," and so the professor in the college might give his chief labor to a particular class, only his visits should be so frequent to the other classes as always to be expected, and so irregular as never to be calculated upon, and the end will be attained.

A description of the Corps of Instruction is not complete without mentioning the cadet assistant professors.

As each assistant professor hears two sections, when the whole number of sections is not a multiple of two, there must be one section unprovided for. To supply this deficiency the superintendent is allowed to detail meritorious cadets, in p16number not exceeding one or two in each department, who, while continuing their own studies, may act as assistant professors. They hear only one recitation per diem, are zealous, fresh, enthusiastic, and do well. This may be called an undergraduate tutorship, in which with the incumbents gladly serve without pay, in consideration of the honor. They are exempted from military duty, are distinguished by a variation in their uniform, have their names printed as among the Faculty in the Annual Register. The section which they hear recite is visited by the professor in the same way as the others, and the method of instruction is precisely the same. Of course the opportunity of forming acquaintance with the professor is one of the things which makes the position desirable. The time during which they serve is quite indefinite, it may be a fortnight or a year.

There is always in a large institution a small number who, in some special direction, are far beyond their fellows, superior classical scholars, born mathematicians, men who have enjoyed the advantage of residence abroad, and know French and German. From this class it is that at West Point cadet assistants are selected. And this system, which perhaps originated there from convenience, seems peculiarly worthy of consideration in an institution which is training many of its sons for the profession of teaching.

The occasional embarrassment caused in a college by the sudden sickness of an officer, might be avoided in some such way as this. This indeed is the service which at Yale the incumbent of the "Macy Fellowship" is expected soon to render.

It seems natural, in closing, to say a few words more generally as to the two systems of education. Very different is the relation in which the cadet stands to the professors and officers from that which a student holds to the Faculty. The student surrenders few of his privileges, and comes under the control of others for only a small number of hours each day; but the cadet really loses his liberty. West Point itself, a little spot of land separated from the State in which it is situated, and ceded to the General Government, is an illustration of his own loss of personal freedom. In entering the service, he takes a place in the army between that of non-commissioned and commissioned officers, so all his instructors are his superiors in p17rank, and respect, and obedience may be exacted of him in the same way as of the private. His trial for offenses is by courts martial, and his punishment is confinement, extra tours of guard duty, or being drummed out of the service. Now, though the behavior of the instructors towards cadets is always most courteous and gentlemanly, the consciousness of the power in which they hold them must almost unavoidably separate and prevent that direct personal influence which it is so important and so easy to exercise in a college. For such reasons it is that we find little spontaneousness, no attachment to the institution, no dread of the day when one must leave, and wish to stay longer, which are so much a part of college experience.

At West Point the buildings are finer than any of which our colleges can boast. The place is beautiful beyond description; of its kind unequalled in the country, combining the grand hills, the grassy plain, the noble river; the whole settlement, in fact, corresponds to one's idea of a university town — and seems the very spot where the strongest and dearest associations would cling. The institution has more than half a century in age — in our country almost antiquity. It has furnished many men whose names are in history — and yet, among the cadets, there is no enthusiasm for it, no love. This is doubtless owing to the constraint of the life that is spent there. On the other hand, student jollity, songs, and cheer, though owing partly to a love for ivy-clad buildings which recall those whom in other days they have sheltered, partly a sense of the privilege of living in an atmosphere of study, are perhaps chiefly due to youth and freedom — to the life so untrammeled and unconstrained.

Though cadets have not the abandon of students, they carry with them, at graduation, a punctuality, an accuracy in knowledge, an honesty, a truthfulness which are greatly to be praised. A low, immoral fellow seems at times almost a hero, because he holds to the truth. Said a man who left one of our colleges of the enter West Point: "For some months I was in great fear that I should be caught in a falsehood and dismissed in the service, I had got so in the habit of lying." Said a Professor of one of our leading colleges, some years since: "It is my opinion that it takes a man several years after graduation, p18to throw off the lowering influence of the habit of untruthfulness in dealing with instructors, which college standards half sanction." These exaggerated statements have some truth at their foundation. Two points in which students chiefly sin, are — giving untrue excuses for failure in college duty, (the persuading oneself that laziness is sickness), and using unfair helps in the recitation room. Neither of these is possible at West Point. All men who consider themselves unwell report to the surgeon, and, after an examination, are by him excused from duty; and as the recitations are all made at the board, all materials for help, so easy to use at one's seat, must be left behind. On most points, indeed, the power of public opinion is greater at the academy than at college, at least the lines between things allowed and things forbidden are more sharply drawn, and evasive or misleading answers to questions of an officer, answering to another's name in roll call and the like, are not at all tolerated; the guilty man is reported by one of his own fellows, and with the approbation of the whole corps dismissed fromº the service.

How wonderful the effect which holding the body under control has upon the mind. Take a rough, uncouth fellow, not only clumsy in movement but clownish in manners, let him stay at the academy a few months and he is transformed, in externals, to a gentleman. Deference and courtesy, so rigidly exacted in daily intercourse with the officers, his superiors, come to be naturally paid to others, and poise and control of body give steadiness and possession of mind, so that he can not only stand and look like a gentleman, but even talk like one. And so everything which is done by a cadet gains greatly from the prompt soldierlike way of performance. Even in the daily recitations, the promptness with which the place is taken at the board, the exactness of the diagram, the attitude on the bench, and the attitude in reciting, are all the reverse of the careless, slouching habit which so often disfigures the demeanor of students.

The Author's Notes:

1 The last two requirements have been added within the past two years.

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2 If such facts should lead any one to ask, Why not establish a system of competitive examinations, and let all who wish to enter the national service have opportunity to do so? the answer is, the system of Congressional appointment is continued because congressmen are unwilling to give up so important an item of influence, and, if they choose, of profit. It should be understood that the Professors at West Point have long been in favor of a system of appointment by merit (as shown in a test examination) and it is only two years ago that a bill which seemed to combine everything that was needed, was rejected by the House. This bill provided that each Representative should appoint five cadets instead of one, and that the President should make fifty appointments "at large" instead of ten, and then that the whole number should be reduced four-fifths by an examination. On the present system of appointment, only about one-third of those who enter graduate, and as each graduated cadet costs the country a large sum, there is a great waste; while if men were admitted by selection from the large number who apply, nearly all who entered would probably graduate. In our Eastern States congressmen are, to a considerable extent, throwing open the appointments from their districts to competition, and in every such case that we have known, the cadet has distinguished himself. Let the people demand competitive examination of Congress.

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3 This remark is true of the Treatises on Algebra, Descriptive Geometry, Calculus, Analytics, Natural Philosophy, and Engineering. In fact, the only methods which find favor there are those which lead to discovery, the proofs of general propositions; hence, for example, Algebraic processes are preferred to Geometrical ones — because the latter only apply to just the case in hand — change a line and the conclusion fails, but the former cover an infinite number of cases.

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4 In addition to this, once every month, notice is sent home of the progress of each cadet in scholarship and deportment.

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5 Early in this century the custom was for the Chaplain to march out upon the Parade Ground, with the Cadets, at Evening Parade, and, in the interval just before the giving out orders for the morrow, to offer prayer. Any one who has seen Evening Parade, must feel how beautiful was the old custom.

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6 There is much less routine work to be done by instructors at West Point than in a College. All the letters to parents respecting progress or deficiency of their sons in scholarship or conduct, are written by a clerk employed for the purpose, and the noting reports of improprieties of all kind is done by cadets themselves who, as Cadet officers, are placed "in charge" of their fellows.

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7 The order of commission is about this: The first five or six are engineers; three or four enter the ordnance; twelve or fifteen the artillery; and the remainder the cavalry and infantry.

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8 These cadet officers enjoy certain privileges, and their duty is the care of the buildings and general supervision of their fellows. They report all improprieties of manner or of dress, maintain order in the mess hall, and do most of the routine work which would otherwise fall to their superiors. It is remarkable that there is scarcely ever the least personal ill-feeling excited by their reports. A man who walks an extra tour of guard all the afternoon of a cold winter's day, with musket on his shoulder, will not have a hard thought toward the cadet officer who procured his punishment by reporting him for throwing a piece of bread across the mess room.

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9 The number of instructors is probably larger, in proportion to the number taught, at West Point than in any other institution in the country. We find, by the last Register, forty instructors to two hundred and ten cadets, giving an average of one instructor to every five students.

Thayer's Notes:

a At the time he wrote this paper, Robert P. Keep, identified as the author only in the journal's Table of Contents, was a recent Yale graduate. His obituary in The New York Times, June 4, 1904:

Farmington, Conn., June 3. — Dr. Robert P. Keep, head of the school for girls formerly conducted by Miss Sarah Porter at this place, died to‑night from pneumonia. Dr. Keep was born in Farmington April 26, 1844, and was a nephew of President Porter of Yale. He was graduated from Yale in 1865. For eighteen years he was Principal of the Norwich Free Academy, resigning in 1903 to assume charge of the school made famous by his aunt, Miss Porter. A son, Robert P. Keep, Jr., is an instructor at Andover.

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b Many of today's readers, if careful, will be puzzled by this — by the notion that universities exist to foster the love of knowledge. Once a curious exception, West Point anticipated the way to today's state of affairs, where college is merely a technical means to advancement: you need college to "get ahead". The attitude is still something very bad, and rightly to be complained of, but now so general as to be the norm; our author would be very unhappy at the change.

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