Peer Review, Summer 2002

Vol. 4, 
No. 4
Peer Review


The essays in this issue of Peer Review are expressing nothing less than a dynamic re-visioning of the academy. Without exception, the authors call for resisting the pressures to reduce a college education to the facts, tools, and skills needed for future occupational success. Rather, my reading of their ideas suggests that a liberal education ought to be guided by four natural principles that define and shape the human condition:

We are truth-seeking creatures. Although the quest for truth is an ongoing enterprise that will hopefully last a lifetime, the authors in this issue suggest that colleges and universities need to do more to equip our students with the intellectual virtues-such as courage and integrity-to pursue truth in a spirit of humility. The question here is not whether one or another religious faith has a lock on the Truth, but rather that colleges and universities need to reinforce the question that Gandhi regularly asked of himself: "What have I done today that expresses my truth?"

A life without purpose is a life wasted. The college experience ought to help shape and illuminate the vitality of a life lived with purpose. While several authors marshal anecdotal and empirical evidence that the college years are a formative, if not critical, period for cultivating a sense of what I call "noble purpose," all of the scholars write with great passion and urgency about ways to inspire our students to live a life of purpose and meaning that extends beyond oneself. This dynamic vision of a "purpose-centered education" appears poised to resist the prevailing sentiment that the college experience is solely about maximizing one's self-interest.

Educators have a responsibility to transmit core values to their students. As Toni Morrison and Alan Wolfe argue in this issue, albeit in different ways, the experiment of the 1960s has ended. As Ms. Morrison suggests, it is time for the academy to take seriously and rigorously its role as a "guardian" and "preserver" of our democratic practices and ideals. Her clarion call reminds me of John Dewey's plea seventy-five ago for educators to "conserve, transmit, rectify, and expand" the heritage of values common to the American experiment. Every one of the essays in this issue, and especially the contribution by the educators at Bridgewater College, provides a compelling argument that the academy is taking up anew Dewey's prescient understanding of what it means to be an educator.

We are searchers of the Sacred. Whether it is the sacredness of our cherished American values (such justice, equality, freedom of speech) or our search for an object, principle, or concept that transcends the self, each of these authors argues that a liberal education ought to be about providing ample opportunities for students to identify, articulate, maintain (and perhaps be transformed by) what is sacred to them and therefore worthy of devotion and commitment. As the philosopher Charles Taylor once suggested: Strong convictions require strong sources.

In sum, while we are a long ways from turning rhetoric and research into widespread practice and lasting change, the vision of what is needed to transform the academy shines brightly within these pages.

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