Francis Wayland (1796–1865) - American Education
American educator and theologian who was one of the leaders in the reform of higher education during the first half of the 19th century. Born in New York City, he graduated from Union College, Schenectady, New York, and went on to earn his medical degree, but he never practiced. Having experienced a religious conversion, he went instead to Andover (Massachusetts) Theological Seminary and became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Boston. In 1826, he returned to Union College as a professor of mathematics and natural philosophy, and, a year later, became president of Brown University, a post he held for the next 25 years.
Wayland took over Brown at a time when student rioting had forced his predecessor to resign, and his first presidential moves hardly reflected the liberating philosophy he would later espouse for higher education. Indeed, he immediately obtained power to dismiss any students who violated school rules and ordered all members of the faculty to live on campus to oversee student living quarters. The residence requirement led to the closing of the medical school, whose faculty refused to relinquish their lucrative off-campus practices.
Although he did expand the curriculum somewhat, Wayland instituted a set of conservative academic reforms at Brown that related primarily to increased academic and behavioral discipline, lie increased the number of required daily student recitations and banned textbooks, to force faculty to teach and make students learn and display their knowledge in discussions. “It is the action of mind upon mind, exciting, awakening, showing by example the power of reasoning and the scope of generalization, and rendering it impossible that the pupil should not think; this is the noble and the ennobling duty of the instructor.” Wayland also expanded the library and developed a system of cumulative grades to inform parents of their sons’ educational achievement. He personally taught moral philosophy to seniors, visited students and established a ubiquitous presence on campus.
With order restored, he gradually developed a new theory of the role of learning in an American university, dictated by the needs of an emerging industrial society rather than by classical tradition tied to theology. He gradually converted the science curriculum from one based on theory to one of “adopting the course of instruction . . . to the wants of the whole community. The abstract principles of a science, if learned merely as disconnected truths, are soon forgotten,” he said. “If combined with application to matters of actual existence, they will be remembered.” In addition, he recognized the need for broadening the reach of education. If education, he wrote, “is good for one class of the community, it is good for all classes. Not that the same studies are to be pursued by all, but that each one should have the opportunity of pursuing such studies as will be of the greatest advantage to him in the course of life which he has chosen.”
Combining his ideas on the connections between theory and practice and the universal need for education, he developed a program for higher education in his highly influential tract, Thoughts on the Present Collegiate System of the United States, which was published in 1842. Wayland expanded that document in an 1850 report on “proposed alterations in the course of study” to the Brown trustees and in a subsequent address at Union College in 1854 called “The Education Demanded by the People of the United States.” Together, the three essays helped convert American higher education into a unique curriculum that differed substantially from the traditional English system in that it catered to a new class of individuals with special educational needs. “It is manifest to the most casual observer,” he wrote in his report to the Brown trustees, “that the movement of civilization is precisely in the line of the useful arts. Steam, machines and commerce, have built up a class of society which formerly was only of secondary importance. The inducements to enter the learned professions have become far less, and those to enter upon the active professions, vastly greater.”
Wayland called on institutions of higher education to broaden their curricula to meet the needs of all classes of society, to open their doors to all classes of society and to give students free choice among the programs, courses and educational offerings at those colleges. Moreover, he urged colleges to reach out to the community at large, opening their doors to adults as well as students of traditional college age. Each college, he said in his oration at Union College, should become “the grand center of intelligence to all classes and conditions of men, diffusing among all the light of every kind of knowledge and approving itself to the best feelings of every class of the community.” During the quarter-century before the Civil War, in an era in which demands for reform of education were triggering campus riots, Wayland’s program became the best known and most influential program of reforms. It eventually formed the basis for creating the public landgrant colleges in the last half of the century.