The Care and Culture of Men by David Starr Jordan


I bought this book five years ago because it was old and looked cool. That's essentially my filter when buying books in an antique store. I read a few essays from it at the time because I was in a big transcendentalist stage, but never revisisted after that.

Earlier this month, I saw it on my shelf and in a moment of boredom, decided to see who wrote it–David Starr Jordan. Huzzah! The founding president of Stanford University?! I was hooked. And enjoyed it. It turned out to be a beautiful illustration of what college is meant to be. It's a collection of his speeches and in it, he shares his vision for what higher education should mean, the relationship between the State and the school, and much more.

The following are direct quotes from the book. Italiziczed words are personal commentary unless otherwise stated.


  • So, if you learn to use it rightly, this the college can do for you: It will bring you in contact with the great minds of the past, the long roll of those who, through the ages, have bone a mission to young men and young women, from Plato to Emerson, from Homer to Euripides to Schiller and Browning. Your thought will be limited not by the narrow gossip of to-day, but the great men of all ages and all climes will become your brothers. You will learn to feel what the Greek called the “consolations of philosophy.” To turn from the petty troubles of the day to the thoughts of the masters, is to go from the noise of the street through the door of a catherdral. If you learn to unlock these portals, no power on earth can take from you the key. The whole of your life must be spent in your own company, and only the educated man is good company for himself. The uneducated man looks out on life through the narrow windows, and thinks the world is small.
  • The world's work, the world's experience does not begin with us. We must know what has been done before. We must know the paths our predecessors have trodden, if we would tread them further. We must stand upon their shoulders–dwarfs upon the shoulders of giants–if we would look farther into the future than they. Science, philosophy, statesmenship, caanot for a moment let go of the past.
  • The young man who is aiming at nothing and cares not to rise, is already dead.
  • If you say to yourself, "I will be a naturalist, a traveler, an historian, a statesman, a scholar"; if you never unsay it; if you bend all your powers in that direction, and take advantage of all those aids that help toward your ends, and reject all that do not, you will some time reach your goal. The world turns aside to let any man pass who knows whither he is going. (Author's emphasis)
  • A college cannot take the place of a parent. To claim that it does so, is a mere pretense. It can cure the boy of petty vices and childish trickery only by making him a man, by giving him higher ideals, more serious views of life.
  • It is the noblest mission of all higher education, I believe, to fill the mind of the youth with these enthusiasms, with noble ideas of manhood, of work, of life. It should teach him to feel that life is indeed worth living; and no one who leads a worthy life has ever for a moment doubted this. It should help him to shape his own ambitions as to how a life my be made worthy. It should help him to believe that love, and friendship, and faith, and devotion are things that really exisit, and are embodied in men and women. He should lern to know these men and women, whether of the present or the past, and his life will become insensibly fashioned after theirs. He should form plans of his own work for society, for science, for art, for religion. His life may fall far short of what he would make it; but a high ideal must preced any worthy achievement.
  • Jordan believed the country wasn't supporting higher education properly. He thought the funds were going to plant more schools, instead of watering the ones that already exisisted. Naturally, this created a place where there weren't any great schools, just a lot of ok ones.

    "The funds available [for higher education] have been used for planting, rather than watering–to found a multitude of weak schools, rather than to make a few schools strong."

  • The best political economy, Emerson tells us, is the care and culture of men.
  • The essence of manhood lies in the growth of the power of choice. In the varied relations of life the power to choose means the duty of choosing right. To choose the right, one must have the wit to know it and the will to demand it. In the long run, in small things as in large, wrong choice leads to death. It is not " punished by death," for nature knows nothing of rewards and punishments. Death is simply its inevitable result. No republic can live--no man can live in a republic in which wrong is the repeated choice either of the people or of the state.
  • A Japanese writer, Uchimura, says this of education in old Japan: "We were not taught in classes then. The grouping of soul-bearing human beings into classes, as sheep upon Australian farms, was not known in our old schools. Our teachers believed, I think instinctively, that man (persona)is unclassifiable; that he must be dealt with personally -i.e. face to face, and soul to soul. So they schooled us one by one -each according to his idiosyn-crasies, physical, mental, and spiritual. They knew each one of us by his name. And as asses were never harnessed with horses, there was but little danger of the latter being beaten down into stupidity, or the former driven into valedictorians' graves. In this respect, therefore, our old-time teachers in Japan agreed with Socrates and Plato in their theory of education. So naturally the relation between teachers and students was the closest one possible. We never called our teachers by that unapproachable name, Professor. We called them Sensei, men born before, so named because of their prior birth, not only in respect of the time of their appearance in this world, which was not always the case, but also of their coming to the understanding of the truth.

    It was this, our idea of relationship between teacher and student, which made some of us to comprehend at once the intimate relation between the Master and the disciples which we found in the Christian Bible. When we found written therein that the disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord; or that the good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep, and other similar sayings, we took them almost instinctively as things known to us long before."

    Thus it was in old Japan. Thus should it be in new America.

    In such manner do the oldest ideas forever renew their youth, when these ideas are based not on tradition or convention, but in the nature of man.

  • The best spent money of the present is that whichis used dfor the future.
  • In other words, the people will always have as agood a government as their intelligence and patriotism deserve, and no better. In the long rungovernemtncan be made better only by the improvement of the public opinion on which it rests.
  • It is not your duty to join yourself to organizations which can take away any part of your freedom. It is not your duty to vote the ticket of my party, nor of your party, nor that of any one of the time-honored political organizations into which men naturally fall. For you and I know that the questions which divide the great parties of a free country are not, as a rule, questions of morals or good citizenship. The sheep are never all on one side, nor the goats on the other. Party divisions are based, for the most part, on hereditary tenden-cies, on present expediencies, and hopes of temporary gain, and too often on the distribution of power and plunder, of power to plunder.

    When your party is led by bad men, or when its course is headed in the wrong direction, your State expects you as educated men to know it.

  • That you stand aloof from the majority is no proof that you are right and they are wrong.
  • The good citizen is a citizen of the world; itself, as citizenshipimproves, becoming one vast community, the greatest of all republics.
  • The story of the decline and growth of empires is the stry of the growth of man.
  • The degree of tolerance which is shown by any people toward those whose opinions differ from their own s one of the best tests of civiliization.
  • The growth of tolerance is one of the most important phases in the hsitory of modern civilization. The right of freedom of the mind, the right of private interpretation, is a birthright of humanity. As the scholar has taken a noble part in the struggle which has won for us this freedom, so should he guard it in the future as one of his highest possessions. It is each man's right to hew his own pathway toward the truth. If there be in this country a town, North, South, East, West, on the banks of the Yazoo, or the Hudson, or the Sacramento, where an honest man cannot speak his honest mind without risk of violence or of social ostracism, in that town our freedom is but slavery still, and our civilization but a barbarism thinly disguised.
  • The value of life is measured by its aim rather than by its achievement. Loftiness of aim is essential to loftiness of spirit. Nothing that is really high can be reached in a short time nor by any easy route. Most men, as men go, aim at low things, and they reach the objects of their ambitions. They have only to move in straight lines to an end clearly visible. Not so with you. You are bound on a quest beyond the limit of your vision. There are mountains to climb, rivers to ford, deserts to cross on your search for the Holy Grail. The end is never in sight.
  • What you have done thus far is little in itself.

    You have reached but the threshold of learning. Your education is barely begun, and there is no one but you who can finish it. Your thoughts are but as the thoughts of children, your writings but trash from the world's waste-paper basket. Nothing that you know, or think, or do but has been better known or thought or done by others.

    The work of your lives is barely begun. You must continue to grow as you are now growing before you can serve the world in any important way. But the promise of the future is with you.

    You have the power and will of growth. The sunshine and rain of the next century will fall upon you. You will be stimulated by its breezes, you will be inspired by its spirit. It is not an easy thing to grow. Decay and decline is easier than growth-so the trees will tell you. Growth is slow, and hard, and wearisome. The lobster suffers the pangs of death every time he outgrows and sheds his shell; but each succeeding coat of armor is thicker, and stronger, and more roomy. So with you. You will find it easier not to develop. It will be pleasanter to adjust yourself to old circumstances and to let the moss grow on your back. The struggle for existence is hard; the struggle for improvement is harder; and some there are among you who sooner or later will cease struggling. Such will be the cases of arrested development-those who promised much and did little, those whose education did not bring effectiveness. Be never satisfied with what you have accomplished, the deeds you can do, the thoughts you can think. Such satisfaction is the sting of old age, the feeling that the best is behind us, and that the noble quest is over forever.

  • To be known as an apostle or as the devotee of some special idea, often prevents a man from learning or from growing.
  • Be a life long or short, its completeness depends on what it was lived for.
  • Sin is a man's failure to realize his highest possibilites.


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