By Gerson Moreno-Riano, October 7, 2009 in Pedagogy and Teaching, Outside the Classroom
"Universities have no business teaching students how to be good people or good citizens."
I can still remember one of my colleagues adamantly stating this opinion almost a decade ago. Now I find myself in the interesting position of having to revisit this question in my current work of reviewing and revising my university's general education curriculum. Is there really a role for character and citizen education in a general education curriculum?
Beginning today and for the next two days, the Association of American Colleges and Universities is taking up this question in a conference whose theme is "Educating for Personal and Social Responsibility: Deepening Student and Campus Commitments." The goal of this conference is to "explore how to move education for personal and social responsibility to the center of institutional culture and academic practice. The program will feature promising practices that develop studentsí civic engagement and social responsibility in both a local and global context; personal and academic integrity; ability to examine and understand differing (and often competing) perspectives; and ethical and moral reasoning." Talk about a heavy agenda item!
Should "education for personal and social responsibility" really be at the "center of institutional culture and academic practice?" Maybe yes, maybe no. I confess that I find myself a bit torn regarding this question. On the one hand, it seems agreeable enough that if education is indeed the crafting of souls then, yes, character and moral education are at the core of the educational enterprise. On the other hand, the devil is always in the details. In short, I have no problem with education involving character and moral responsibility as long as I know who and what ideas are doing the educating.
In my own venture of reviewing and revising my university's general education curriculum, I have begun to think how to address this question of character education through both academic content as well as service learning. In future posts, I will address more specifically what this may entail. For now, let me simply suggest that I have been heavily influenced by the U.S. military's motto of "Know, Be, and Do." This approach, in my opinion, offers a strong starting point for thinking about the interaction between the intellect, character, and activity. This still does not ensure protection from the devil. But at least it does provide a fruitful and proven approach from which to begin.