Introduced by Dr. Alex Standish
Saturday, March 28, 2009, 3pm
This timely book by Stanley Fish, Professor of Law at Florida International University, has one main task at hand: to remind the world of the educational purpose of colleges and universities. One might imagine that such a task would not be necessary. Many people would imagine that colleges and universities are institutions where people seek a higher understanding of knowledge through education and research. However, as Fish points out, a trail through some mission statements of American institutions of higher education and journals of education reveals a mélange of aims many of which have a more tenuous relationship to education. These include:
- To foster awareness, respect, and appreciation for a diversity of experiences, interests, beliefs and identities (Wesleyan University);
- The development of students’ moral, civic and creative capacities to the fullest (Yale)
- To produce an effective and productive citizen (Michigan State);
- Help young people to learn to speak in their own voices and to respect the voices of others (journal of Liberal Education);
- Shaping ethical judgment and capacity for insight and a concern for others (journal of Liberal Education).
These and other aims for colleges and universities illustrate the extent to which the purpose and nature of higher education has become confused in today’s world. Should higher education be nurturing moral capacity and empathy, citizenship, preparedness for the world of work, political awareness, a concern for the environment or a sense of social justice? To which Fish responds, “No, no, no, no and no,” which, as he suggests, places him in a minority of about 900 to one, relative to most American university leaders.
Who is right? Can and should colleges and universities focus purely on intellectual aims or is education more complicated than that? Is it still possible to teach objective knowledge or is all knowledge tied to the social and political environment in which it was produced? What about the other personal, social, and economic aims? Are these not important for institutions of higher education in the twenty-first century? These and other questions will be up for discussion.