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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Dialogue on Education at Carleton: Should our professors be invested in our development as human beings?

<t does it mean to develop as a human being? As it’s meant here, development is something akin to the process of forming habits, beliefs, values, and characteristics that are in themselves conducive to well-being and equanimity. Because such development seems of a fundamentally different nature than the acquisition of knowledge and skill sets, whether this specific kind of education should be a part of our learning here in a classroom setting is by no means clear. Note that this question as presented here, is seen to apply to humanistically-oriented courses more so than it does to the hard sciences. 

Halfway through last term, what was then a few friends and I started a student organization – Dialogue on Education at Carleton – whose goal is to start a discussion surrounding this issue. As our first project, we undertook a survey in which we’ve so far spoken with fourteen professors and thirteen students about this very question. What we found was not surprising: a range of answers, covering either extreme and the ground between them. Because this is an issue that concerns what we are doing here as a liberal arts college, it seems important for us to have a more or less clear consensus on. By facilitating fair-minded discussion, our hope is to bring about greater clarity on this issue of precisely the kind of edifying effect the things we do in our (specifically humanistically-oriented) classes are meant to have on us.

That being said, it would be dishonest to cast the group as a collection of disinterested facilitators. Among the students in the organization, most are in some form or another of the mind that a liberal arts education should help students to work through issues of fundamental human importance such as “What should I value?” and “How should I lead my life?” by doing more than just teaching them the critical thinking skills they need to do this on their own. Having experienced a lack of what many of us felt to be this important dimension of our education was in fact a large part of the impetus for the group. Of course, it is by no means a given that it is one of the tasks of a professor to be facilitating our development in this way. Therefore, we’ve made it a point to attempt to start an open dialogue rather than pushing for any kind of reform, as the latter presupposes a knowledge of what it is we need to be doing as a college in this capacity, and moreover how we need to be doing it, neither of which we by any means claim to have, or even to have reached consensus on among ourselves. The more neutral and the greater the range of opinions the dialogue includes, the better we’ll be able to understand the issue at stake, and this seems much more important than anything else. 

In keeping with our efforts, we plan to release an update as to the findings of our still on-going open-to-the-public survey next week. As the survey was in no way meant to be a scientific or precise undertaking, but rather simply an effort to speak to interested people about issue with which we were concerned, this update will be meant only to give a general and overarching sense of what we found, without getting into too many statistical details. If you have any thoughts on what we’re doing, it’d be great to hear from you on the web at [email protected].

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