A CONSIDERATION OF THE PROPER FOCUS OF HIGHER EDUCATION
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As many of you doubtless recognize, my title has an Aristotelian ring, and my perspective is in a general way Aristotelian, but an Aristotelianism with its essentialism and realism curtailed. To some of you, my title will have sounded entremely optimistic or grandeous. Our times are complex and troubled enough that talk of flourishing virtues may sound sachrine or naive. I hope you don't find what follows either of these; I would, instead, like to think of my stance as determined. There is certainly no easy formula that will transform contemporary institutions of higher education into effective and enlightened media for the development of key attitudes, values, and excellences--either intellectual or personal and emotional. But that, in fact, must be our goal. Let me start with the obvious.
Teachers and institutions of higher education promote a variety of values, whether they do so unconsciously or with self- awareness. Teachers and educational systems inevitably do and should promulgate values, both intellectual and moral. In some fashion, we all know this. However, there is a tendency in some circles to maintain that public education deals, or should deal, only with "facts," and this stance has come to play a part in the current "culture wars." Thus, speaking of "outcome standards," Bruno Manno (1995), a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, recently argued that such standards should "be academic and not deal with nonacademic concerns like students' values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors . . . "
Often, we are only aware that be are in the business of promulgating, and sometimes enforcing, values when our expectations are frustrated. One can not conduct a class discussion if no one is paying attention, and one can not even lecture if the room is full of the noise of numerous private conversations. Of course, we encourage, expect, and sometimes demand that students behave with a certain prescribed degree of "consideration" for us and for other members of the class, and that they pay a certain amount of respect and attention to the values and expectations of the institution. And we punish in various ways transgressions against certain core intellectual and moral values, such as plagiarism, harassment, inattentiveness, etc.
We enforce, and we seek to nurture and encourage. Thus, in the realm of intellectual values and virtues, almost all of us seek to help our students develop at least some of the following qualities: honesty, perseverance, curiosity, creativity, mental discipline, flexibility, and discernment. In fact, we should focus on nurturing should qualities much more, and much more systematically and consciously than most of us do. Of course, the values, virtues and attributes promoted and prized will vary somewhat from discipline to discipline, but it is not difficult to construct a sketch for a core list, such as the one given above.
As I have just suggested, we need to make our core intellectual values explicit so that they can be more effectively built into the curriculum and transmitted. Currently, basic intellectual values and virtues, especially those other than honesty, are mostly left for students to pick up by osmosis. Indeed, the same has traditionally been true to a very surprising extent not only of intellectual values, but of basic disciplinary assumptions and ways of working. Gerald Graff has recently commented on this phenomenon with respect to the teaching of literary criticism in the 1950s and 1960s (Graff, 1887 pp. 231- 32), and I am sure it would be easy to demonstrate the same phenomenon in others fields. Teachers most often have thought of themselves as teaching subject matter or conveying subject matter to students, rather than thinking of themselves as teaching students, or, much better, helping students to learn and develop. Part of this traditional mind set has been to leave unexplored and unarticulated the most fundamental questions and assumptions in one's discipline. The emphasis has been on passing along received wisdom, the current synthesis, the mechanics of the currently favored methodologies, etc.
Seemingly, the rest was to occur by osmosis, or, at least, by imitation. Faculty were assumed to model the important values, intellectual virtues, professional procedures, etc., which would then rub off on students without the need for much being said. But most student do not effectively pick up values, virtues, or modi operandi in this manner, and this is particularly true at schools where there is not extensive and close contact between students and faculty and great selectivity in the choice of students. Put simply, reliance on such tacit modeling and absorption is inappropriate, and increasingly inappropriate, almost everywhere.
Lacking almost utopianly close contact with faculty, some of the values and habits that many students pick up, and some which are unintentionally promoted by aspects of the way high school and college education are organized, are at odds with those that most faculty assume or would theoretically like to encourage. For example, most of us are aware of the emphasis many students come to place on what they will be held "responsible for" on tests, the assumption that what is wanted is one answer right for this course or teacher, the more general assumption that what they are supposed to do is absorb information, and the assumption that they will not have to pay attention to or be accountable for a certain amount of what goes on in class. Just as the intellectual virtues and values prized by faculty in different areas may vary somewhat, so the working assumptions of students probably vary somewhat from major to major and course to course, but here, too, it probably would not be hard to come to a widely accepted core list.
Students do not automatically understand "what it takes" to do what teachers are asking them to do. On a simple, straightforward level, this lack of automatic understanding manifests itself often in an inability to grasp the nature of a task, problem, or question. If students grasp, in some reasonable sense, the nature of the task, they are often unable to think about how to break the task down and develop a sequence of sub-tasks that will lead to an efficient solution to the problem or attainment of the goal. If students are able to strategize effectively about how to attack a task, they may lack the dedication to follow through. Thus, there is a basic need for faculty to talk about both the assumptions and procedures that underlie or constitute the discipline in which a course is located, and to "talk up" and explicitly promote the intellectual values and the virtues of character upon which participation, and, even more, success, in that intellectual endeavor depend.
If one is teaching students, or, better, helping students learn and develop, this learning and developing needs to include not only mastery of a body of information but ways of thinking, valuing, and behaving. After all, a good physicist is not one who has memorized all the available data, nor is a good political theorist one who can recite for you the most widely received theories on political justice, nor is a generally well-educated person one who has attained a Bachelors degree. Physicists are people who value, feel and think like physicists and who do what physicists do; good political theorists create good political theories; and generally well-educated people possess a degree of intellectual sophistication and, hopefully, practical wisdom, that most other people lack. In all cases, coaching is required- -coaching in ways of thinking, valuing, feeling, and, one might as well say, "being." Coaching does not rely simply on imitation or modelling, although these, too, are important. Coaches also encourage, explain, and promote.
Before going farther, I want to face the problem of competencies, literacies, and content, for the almost overwhelming tendency of people thinking about higher education is to focus on the question of what should be "taught," what skills or competencies "mastered." This kind of language is tilted toward a too exclusively cognitive perspective. There is a fair amount of evidence that "mastering" moral theories does not necessarily have much effect on studentsú behavior, for example (Boss 1994b). Fairly obviously, memorizing handfuls of terms for literary or artistic schools need not increase one's love of painting or fiction.
But there is another serious problem with allowing our thinking about education to be sucked into the centripetal funnel of competencies, namely that that discussion becomes hostage to the competing claims and demands of different subject areas and academic departments. One quickly confronts a seemingly infinite list of things an educated person "has" to know and a similarly daunting list of all the competencies, skills, or "literacies" she must acquire. Quickly we are engulfed in arguments about "turf," but also arguments that cannot be seen as simply battles for students, courses, and faculty slots. There are many subjects about which it is theoretically important for people to be knowledgeable--far too many to build into the college curriculum as requirements. Richard Wilke, for example, can make a reasonable case for the importance of adding "environmental" literacy to the list of required "basic education" categories, along with critical thinking, writing, speaking, civic literary, and scientific literacy (Wilke 1995). This is the current list at The University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. But what about "numeracy," computer literacy, consumer literacy, mass media and visual image literacy, cultural literacy, historical literacy, etc.? Of course one can object to the term literacy being overworked and overextended; but that is not a key issue. Substitute, if you will, the concept of competence. To the foregoing, one could add some concept of language competence that might include a degree of mastery of a foreign language. One could also develop a concept of aesthetic competence. And one can manufacture a very long list of essential skills and sensitivities--e.g., multicultural sensitivity, and conflict resolution skills. Various scholars have recently been making arguments for the inclusion in the curriculum of peace education, human rights education, education for cooperation rather than competition, and, as I have already mentioned, education for democracy and democratic citizenship. The list seems overwhelming. What gets lost in this shuffle is concern with the basic personal attributes that will be most necessary to individual and societal survival, let alone flourishing.
What, then, are the most centrally important skills and abilities, attitudes, and values we should be trying to develop and nourish? What are the things that seem most important when we remember that what we should be doing is not teaching subjects or subject matter but, rather, helping individual people to prepare to live well and successfully in the world?
Thoughtfulness might seem like one such key quality, or, put differently, the ability to think well about how to approach various kinds of activities, problems, value conflicts, etc.-- what some might call "meta" thinking. There is some disagreement about the extent to which such thinking follows general patterns as opposed to being field or activity-specific (Canfield and Ceci, 1992 p. 286). Still, it would certainly seem reasonable for us to emphasize thoughtfulness throughout the curriculum. In every course, there are, or certainly should be, opportunities to practice reflecting on how to approach the kinds of tasks, problems, and goals at hand in appropriate and promising ways and opportunities for teachers to incourage students to monitor their efforts in order to get in the habit of making desirable changes in their attitudes, lines of approach, etc.
On an elementary level, this kind of thoughtfulness is essential to being an effective student. It comes into play whether one is figuring out how best to do a French assignment, write an essay, help improve the social dynamics and thus the effectiveness of a group project, or how to study for a chemistry test. College teachers rarely pay enough attention to helping students learn how to be thoughtful in the sense of monitoring their own activities and thinking about how best to do what they need to do.
Clearly, we should not focus our efforts simply on the cognitive, on the mere "mastering" of "information" or the logical relationships between theoretical entities. We can, though, use cognition and the best current thinking and knowledge to help students deal with the non-cognitive aspects of personal development by increasing the attention we pay to the emotions and what might be called emotional education (Goleman 1995), and this in several senses. Psychologists have placed considerable emphasis on the importance of people "being in touch with" their emotions. Mill, Fromm, Maslowe, Perls and many others have developed the theme that people often get out of the habit of attending to their preferences and desires because they are so thoroughly trained to attend to what others think they should want or prefer. The result may be a somewhat listless person not intensely alive or focused, but not aware of what is wrong. In various ways in various courses, time and means can be found to help students become more aware of "who they are" in the sense of becoming more aware of their current tastes, emotions, values and needs.1
The self-understanding and flexibility that will become increasingly important in coming decades can also be increased by helping our students become aware of the extent to which our ideas, values, self-concepts, etc., are much more matters of local history and much less a matter of universal necessity than we usually think. Scholars in fields ranging from physiology to psychology to geography have become increasingly aware of the extent to which our ways of thinking, feeling, seeing, and valuing are historically and socially constructed (Harre and Gillet 1994; Sampson 1993; Pile and Thrift 1995). Such processes of social construction are the source of our current concepts-- eg., our concepts of democracy, equality, individualism, and self--but they also have played a large part in the creation of our ways of feeling. Thus the development of "emotionology," the study of how concepts of emotion and feeling, as well as specific affects, vary over time and between cultures (Harre and Gillett 1994; Stearns and Stearns 1988). One important function of the college curriculum may need to be cultural continuity, but another needs to be helping people to see the difference between universal, necessary phenomena and the things about ourselves and our society that can perfectly well be changed. On a personal level, this includes at least some amount of self-control over our emotions. Adolescents often feel completely at the mercy of their feelings, whether these be anger, love, laziness or hate. An important part of personal maturation, let alone the flexibility that will required in the future, is the experience of self-creation in the sense of the exercising of some influence over how one sees, experiences, and feels.
An ERIC search of recent articles on higher education and values reveals a number of kinds of values some people think need to be built into the curriculum in as effective a manner as possible and not simply discussed or debated. Thus, one finds many works dealing with education for democratic citizenship and with moral development. The authors of such works are rarely content to envision their desired effects in purely cognitive terms. Some assume that such basic "democratic" and moral concepts as mutual respect and equality are proper subjects for what one might call "attitude adjustment" (Kimball 1995 p. 91; Walsh 1995; Bode and Krolokke 1995; Couto 1994; Giles and Eyler 1994; Boss 1994a; Boss 1994b).
Obviously, however, we are very far from all sharing the same intuitions or convictions about service learning, teaching morals, or even the concept of democracy. When individual teachers build elements of this sort into their courses, they tend, obvioulsy, to be acting according to their best lights, but another way of putting that is to say that they are acting on the basis of their own moral and political convictions. There is certainly a danger that teaching of this type can degerate into indoctrination, which would be objectionable on several fronts. First, it would be in conflict with the generally held, or at least espoused, intellectual/academic goal of fostering careful and self-aware thought and personal moral responsibility. Second, such random indoctrination would mean that students could be subjected to vastly different kinds of indoctrination depending upon the luck of the registration line. To some extent, this has always been the case, subteraneously. And to some extent the same thing happens concerning professional values and practices. A literature course taught by an inflexible deconstructionist, social concstructionist, or romantic can easily involve a good deal of crass indoctrination.
Perhaps in all these cases what is called for is open discussion of the competing claims and positions, in classes, in faculty meetings, and across campus generally. But we can also come back to the importance of modeling. Many of our standard academic practices do not contribute effectively to the thoughtfulness that we need from ourselves or our students as citizens and as members of academic or professional communities.
We are in the habit of assuming more order, and more consensus than in fact exists, and we are in the habit of espousing, at least in certain ritual contexts, values, virtues and attitudes at least partially at odds with our daily practices and/or the institutional constraints within which we work. Do we value intellectual boldness and creativity? If so, in what ways are our pedagogical practices well calcuated to help our students, or ourselves, develop these qualities? In what ways may our grading and other practices in fact discourage the qualities we say and think we value? Do we value curiosity, intensity of intellectual commitment, fairmindedness, perserverence? How do our individual and collective practices encourage or facilite the development of such qualities, and how do they discourage them? How thoroughly do we embody and model such qualities ourselves? At times even our own intellectual and character virtues inadvertantly become impediments to our students, as when the passionateness of my intellectual commitment may make me intollerant of those who lack such dedication. What then? Certainly it will be easier for me to analyze and think about the problem if I am in a environment rich in talk about the whole assortment of values and virtues important to effective teaching and learning. So too will it be easier for students to develop a modicum of the dedication and intensity I seek in such an environment.
When you think about it, how different are the basic qualities--the basic virtues of intellect and character--one would wish for citizens from those one would desire for either students or faculty? Various types of service and experiential learning may well be valuable as ways to sensitize students to things of which many might otherwise be unaware. And there is definitely a need for a great deal of discussion about the values and attitudes to be fostered among all members of our society and about the areas of difference and disagreement that we should expect to have and that we should learn to live with. But, I would say that creating a rich and vital stratum of public talk about the values and virtues appropriate to students, teachers, and all members of the university community is not at all a separate endeavor; rather, it is an important and furtile way of defining and promoting the full range of our immediate and our larger, societal goals.
Bode, Rober A. and Charlotte Krolokke. 1995. Teaching comunication ethics by encouraging values and habits. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Western States Communication Association (Portland, OR, February 10-14).
Boss, Judith A. 1994a. The effect of community service work on the moral development of college ethics students. Journal of Moral Education 23, 2, 183-98.
______________ 1994b. The autonomy of moral intelligence. Educational Theory 44, 4 (Fall 1994), 399-416.
Canfield, Richard L and Ceci, Stephen J. (1992) Integrating learning into a theory of intellectual development. In Intellectual Development, ed. Robert J. Sternberg and Cynthia A. Berg, 278-300. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Couto, Richard A. 1994. Teaching democracy through experiential education: Bringing the community into the classroom. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (New York, NY, September 1-4).
Giles, Dwight E. and Janet Eyler. 1994. The impact of a college community service laboratory on students' personal, social, and cognitive outcomes. Journal of Adolescence 17, 327-339.
Goleman, Daniel. 1995. Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books.
Graff, Gerald. Professing literature: An Institutional History. Chicago and London: The Unviersity of Chicago Press, 1987.
Harre, Rom and Grant Gillet. 1994. The Discursive Mind. Thousand Oaks, London, New Delhi: Sage.
Kimball, Bruce. 1995. The condition of American liberal education: Pragmatism and a changing tradition. New York: College Entrance Examination Board.
Manno, Bruno. 1995. Educational outcomes do matter. The Public Interest (Spring), 19-27.
Pile, Steve and Nigel Thrift eds. 1995. Mapping the subject: Geographies of cultural transformation. London and New York: Routledge.
Sampson, Edward. E. 1993. Celebrating the other. Boulder and San Francisco: Westview Press.
Stearns, C.Z. and P.W. Stearns. 1988. Emotion and social change. New York: Holmes and Meier.
Walsh, S.M. (1995) Toward a philosophy of instruction: What is the role that values should have in the curriculum of a college-level business course? Paper presented at the Annual Spring Meeting of the National Council of Teachers of English (Minneapolis, MN, March 16-18).
Wilke, Richard. 1995. Environmental literacy and the college curriculum. EPA Journal 21, 2, (Spring 1995), 28-30.
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