'Will they be wiser?'

IN the year 1800, when Middlebury College was granted its charter: There were no railroads, of course; Travel was extremely difficult - most often by water;

Few people ever left the towns in which they were born;

And Thomas Jefferson had not been elected president;

George Washington had been dead less than a year;

Napoleon was not yet emperor;

The young Beethoven had just had his first symphony performed;

Bryon, Shelley, Keats, Carlyle, and Schubert were not yet even teenagers;

The population of the United States was 5.3 million, of whom nearly 900,000 were slaves;

And the entire standing army of the United States, some 4,000 men, could today be seated on the bleachers of Porter Field.

The civilization of Western Europe in 1800, despite the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, remained closer to that of Plato and Aristotle than to our own.

Science, agriculture, medicine, technology - as we know and accept them today - all were merest infants.

Historian Henry Adams wrote that a Saxon farmer of the 8th century, dropped onto a New England farm of the 18th, would have felt enough at home to set right to work, so little had agriculture changed in 1,000 years.

There were fewer than 20 colleges in the entire 16 states - and they were very small. The typical graduating class at Harvard was 40; 30 at Yale; 15 or 20 at Columbia. Others were smaller.

Truth to tell, it was not thought that ''higher education'' was all that important for very many people. But today, expectations have altered drastically. Students, parents, and even professors have different hopes and expectations of students today.

Will they be wiser?. . .

Will they be more humane, or more kind and considerate?. . .

Will they be more moral or ethical?. . .

Will they get good jobs?. . .

But we want them also consciously to accept the fact that their being here implies a commitment to the common good and to the larger purpose of making this society and this world a better place in which to live.

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