Perry L. Glanzer notes that Christian colleges and universities often replicate the disciplinary structures and adopt the student development theories of the academy. However, these structures and theories emerged as a result of higher education’s failed search for a nonsectarian form of humanism. This problematic origin helps explain why these structures and theories exacerbated the tendency of secular universities to either neglect the moral development of the whole person or moralize about it. If Christian institutions wish to resist participating in the same dehumanization process as the secular university, they will need to transform the structures and theories they inherited from the secular university using a unique vision of redemptive humanism. Mr. Glanzer is Associate Professor of Educational Foundations at Baylor University.
In his recent work, The Decline of the Secular University, C. John Sommerville outlines a range of problems that he contends have led to the irrelevance of the secular university in the wider culture.1 Three of the problems he mentions deal directly with the moral dimension of university life. Secular universities, he argues, have trouble defining the human, struggle to maintain the fact/value dichotomy on which they were built, and often engage in moralizing as a bad habit. Interestingly, while Sommerville proposes that religious scholars may contribute solutions to these problems, he does not indicate what role Christian colleges or universities might play in dealing with these matters.
In this essay I contend that Christian colleges and universities can and should model an alternative that directly answers the problems Sommerville identifies. In fact, many of these institutions give extensive attention to character education in ways that attempt to overcome these problems.2 However, Christian higher education still hosts and supports structures, theories, and strategies, both consciously and subconsciously, that developed as the modern, secular university grew. By accepting these structures, Christian higher education treats character development as something extra to be added to an already established foundation. Thus, in order to address this difficulty, Christian colleges and universities must undertake a more radical restructuring of the curriculum and more critical engagement with theories of development used in the cocurricular realm if they really want to sustain redemptive forms of character development.3
Can Christian Colleges and Universities Provide Solutions?
In theory, Christian colleges and universities possess tremendous resources for countering the first two destructive trends identified by Sommerville: 1) trouble defining the human; and 2) the fact/value dichotomy.4 These two issues, as Alasdair MacIntyre reminds us in After Virtue, go hand in hand. The separation of facts and values became a common way of dividing knowledge due to the emergence of what philosophers identified as the naturalistic fallacy. According to the dominant version of the naturalistic fallacy, we cannot derive moral conclusions from factual premises. In other words, we cannot derive an “ought” from an “is” or the prescriptive from the descriptive. Thus, we cannot know who we are to become simply by knowing what we are in concrete terms.
As MacIntyre argues, the naturalistic fallacy emerged as a problem because we lost a certain understanding of human nature. If we identify commonly understood functions associated with particular identities of individuals, however, we can bridge the is-ought gap. For instance, MacIntyre writes, “[F]rom the premise ‘He is a sea-captain,’ the conclusion may be validly inferred that ‘He ought to do whatever a sea-captain ought to do.’”5 Specific human identities serve as functional concepts that carry moral content across the is-ought divide. Of course, there is always some debate about the skills, habits, attitudes, and so on of a good sea-captain or any other normative identity label (for example, what it means to be a good father, mother, nurse, doctor, and so forth), but there are clearly many moral elements on which those debating can find agreement.
If agreement can be reached not only about particular identities humans adopt, but also about the nature and function of the variety of human identities as a whole, we can then derive “ought” statements based on our agreement about what a good human is. As MacIntyre writes, “Within this tradition moral evaluative statements can be called true or false in precisely the way in which all other statements can be called.”6 Throughout the history of the Christian tradition, thinkers have identified and supported various visions of fully developed human and social good. Consequently, due to their ability to establish common beliefs regarding human function and flourishing, leaders and faculty at Christian colleges and universities have the tools to define the human and therefore properly overcome the supposed divide between facts and values.
Unfortunately, these same institutions have not always used these tools. In fact, often the failure to connect character education to a larger understanding of what it means to be human ends up producing the third problem Sommerville identifies: the reduction of moral teaching to moralizing. Sommerville claims, “Moralizing aims directly at the will by presuming on the audience’s existing values, in a drive toward creating a common mind.”7 Moralizers avoid the hard work of actually determining agreement about moral knowledge, particularly with regard to human flourishing. Sommerville contends that religions should help avoid moralizing because “religions call for a connection of mind and will, and they try to offer rationales for that connection.”8 The reality, however, may be that such connections are not always made. A series of self-studies by thirteen Christian colleges in 1986 confirmed this fact with regard to Christian colleges’ recent history. Arthur Holmes summarized the findings: “Apart from the occasional course and professor in religion or philosophy few claimed any competence or any preparation, and most departments admitted that little if anything was being done other than occasional moralizing or consciousness raising.”9 Thus, the question must be raised as to whether Christian colleges are able to connect their moral visions to a sophisticated account of human flourishing both in the curricular and cocurricular dimensions.
As mentioned earlier, one reason Christian colleges and universities have not always been successful in addressing the problems Sommerville identifies is that often they have replicated particular structures and adopted the theories of the secular university. However, these structures and theories emerged as a result of higher education’s failed search for a nonsectarian form of humanism to guide both moral and general education. They became particularly prominent in secular or secularizing research universities. Not surprisingly, these structures and theories exacerbate the problems Sommerville describes. The following section explains these claims.
Borrowing Tainted Structures in the Curriculum
In American colonial colleges, such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton, a general agreement existed about the function of humans because the faculty undertook education primarily in the context of the Christian tradition. Such an education started from the premise that “every one shall consider the mayne End of his life and studies, to know God and Jesus Christ which is Eternall life.”10 This premise was reinforced by the fact that theology reigned as queen of the sciences. Despite an agreement about the importance of theology, important differences still existed regarding how a critical belief connected to human anthropology and moral knowledge. Puritans argued among themselves about the degree to which humans could trust reason unaided by revelation to discover God’s moral order. Some believed human reason was too fallen to discover the important dimensions of the moral order without the aid of special revelation. Others believed that while the human will certainly was corrupt, the human mind, unaided by special revelation, could discern a great deal of God’s moral order.11
Eventually the supporters of reason won this argument, in part due to the growing intellectual diversity in America, the influence of the Enlightenment and Baconian science, and the need for the new country to find a common source for moral knowledge that avoided sectarian differences. Due to this victory, moral philosophy eventually replaced theology as the capstone course that helped give coherence to both the curriculum and the vision for human functioning guiding the university.12 As John Witherspoon of Princeton told his students in 1770:
You may plainly perceive both how extensive and how important moral philosophy is… Its importance is manifest from this circumstance, it not only points out personal duty, but is related to the whole business of active life. The languages, and even mathematical and natural knowledge, are but hand maids to this superior science.13
Efforts to establish some sort of common ground humanism through rationality, however, proved problematic for a variety of reasons, three of which I will mention. First, reason proved unable to resolve moral disagreement.14 Second, as studies of texts in moral philosophy during this time demonstrate, often controversial moral issues still reverted back to foundational religious beliefs.15 In these classes and course textbooks, “The basis of moral authority,” Norman Fiering notes, “shifted slowly to ‘reason’ and ‘nature’ from Scripture and revelation, but it was a Christianized reason and a Christianized nature that came to the foreground, albeit well camouflaged.”16
Finally, the growth of knowledge during this time meant that the moral philosophy capstone course could not address the range of moral issues and problems. Thus, a whole new set of disciplines emerged out of the moral philosophy course, such as sociology and psychology, to tackle pressing moral questions. These new subject areas still carried the moral concerns of the moral philosophy course, but they also began to focus on the promising results provided not by the power of logic but by the power of the scientific method.17
Consequently, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, a secular form of humanism, one founded upon scientific methods, emerged as a possible answer for many to what seemed to be a growing array of intractable moral disagreements. Grounded in the new evolutionary story provided by science, proponents of this new form of humanism, such as John Dewey and James Tufts, believed it could provide a nonreligious moral foundation for human existence.18 For example, some claimed scientific advances in agriculture could lead to world peace and developments in biology could help us understand history and foreign policy. Others would argue that eugenics research could contribute to the progress of a nation and humanity as well an increased knowledge of both the true and the good.19
Yet, these new scientific approaches also failed. Not only did they lack appeal to a largely religious population, but fellow scientists found them wanting. The scientific method, this second group of critics claimed, only provided insight into the world of facts. Furthermore, science, they realized, could not solve our disagreement about the essence of human nature or discover the “oughts” of the moral order. Consequently, for the disillusioned proponents of secular humanism when disagreement about the essence of human purposes or functions occurred, a problem emerged: It began “to appear implausible to treat human judgments as factual statements.”20 This led to their claim that values were not matters of knowledge but subjective matters of aesthetics or emotion. The is-ought gap emerged as amajor ethical problem.
The results of these developments meant that the secular academy now had trouble identifying a universal understanding of what it means to be human. The problem was not anticipated. As Sommerville writes:
When American universities became officially secular, a century ago, the problem of defining the human was not foreseen. Much of traditional intellectual culture was taken for granted. Mistaking their habits of thinking for rationality itself, those founders thought religion was redundant and could be ignored without loss of substance.21
The failure of these various attempts to find a nonsectarian humanism disconnected from religion resulted in the marginalization of ethics from the curriculum during the early twentieth century. Without a common understanding of human flourishing, claims to moral knowledge proved difficult to substantiate. The social scientific disciplines, which had emerged out of the moral philosophy course in the late 1800s, such as sociology, psychology, and economics, began to focus lesson solving social problems and more on providing a descriptive picture of the world and how it functions. The practitioners of these disciplines wanted to be considered scientists.
Some faculty and administrators turned to the humanities and tried to offer moral answers, but these disciplines also proved unable to provide a common understanding of human flourishing.22 Ultimately, the failed quest to find a nonsectarian form of humanism undermined moral education in many universities and colleges and left it largely in the co-curricular realm of university life.23
Although the resurgence of ethics in the 1970s created what one scholar calls an “ethics boom” in the curriculum, this new resurgence was driven by much narrower concerns than those found in the old moral philosophy course.24 For the most part, the new ethics courses focused upon professional ethics instead of comprehensive visions of human flourishing. Instead of concerning themselves with what it means to be a good person or a good society, these classes focused on what it means to be a good business person, journalist, doctor, nurse, or accountant. One could argue that they provided less than human approaches to moral education.25
Due to these developments, secular colleges and universities today struggle to provide some sort of coherence in their general education that integrates ethical concerns.26 Although a university may claim that its general education provides “the fundamental knowledge, skills and experience essential for a full, rich and rewarding life,”27 the reality is that secular universities have difficulty defining exactly what that looks like or what beliefs, affections, habits, and actions are required to achieve it. Instead, general education courses are defended on the grounds that they provide the subjects or skills necessary to help fulfill not broad human ends but the functions necessary for some narrow human identity such as professional or civic competence.
A recent report by the American Council for Trustees and Alumni demonstrates this problem. In their report, What Will They Learn? A Report on General Education Requirements at 100 of the Nation’s Leading Colleges and Universities, the Council contends that students should take seven particular subjects: composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. government or history, economics, mathematics, and natural/physical sciences. One can imagine broad humanistic justifications for these particular subject areas. In fact, the opening quote by Harry Lewis, a former dean at Harvard College, appears to echo a broad humanistic concern with coherence and integrity: “At its best, general education is about the unity of knowledge, not about distributed knowledge. Not about spreading courses around, but about making connections between different ideas.”However, when setting forth the purpose that connects these ideas, Lewis claims that its goal is “producing an enlightened, self-reliant citizenry, pluralistic and diverse but united by democratic values.”28 Lewis’ suggested goal is a less than human one that pertains only to our identity as members of a particular political group. Of course, making citizenship the organizing identity will lead to a focus upon political skills and knowledge such as U.S. government or history. Other subjects are justified by the fact that “employers list writing, reading, comprehension, mathematics, science, and foreign language or important basic skills and knowledge.”29 In other words, the authors tend to settle upon our identities as citizens and future professionals as the moral grounds for justifying a particular type of general education. Not surprisingly, one scholar lamented recently how colleges and universities have given up addressing wider human concerns such as the meaning of life.30
Interestingly, in this general education program, ethical considerations are never addressed, nor are matters of human identity or flourishing beyond the narrow confines of citizenship and professional identity. In fact, a student’s general education is organized less around an explicit vision of human flourishing and more upon the disciplinary categories that have evolved in the contemporary university and the perceived needs of employers and the country. As mentioned earlier, these disciplinary categories emerged from the modern tendency to try to separate fact and value. Ironically, the early social sciences grew out of the old moral philosophy course and often contained moral elements. When the social sciences tried to be more objective later, however, they attempted to discard their earlier normative perspectives and assumptions. Consequently, requiring a certain kind of course from a particular social science discipline will actually prevent students from building bridges between theory and practice in ways that intersect with specific normative ends linked to their identities. It is doubtful that the courses the authors of What Will They Learn? identify as helping form citizens actually do so. As Colby, Beaumont, Ehrlich, and Corngold observe in their book, Educating for Democracy, “The focus that has dominated political science for the past half-century, however, is the objective, often mathematically driven study of political institutions and behavior rather than more normative goals or applied work of educating for citizenship.”31 Thus, merely requiring a political science course may contribute little to actually helping students explore and answer the normative question of what it means to be a good citizen.
In some cases, recent general education proposals move beyond subject- or skill-oriented evaluation grids connected to narrow human identities to address matters of human character. The best recent example is Derek Bok’s work, Our Underachieving Colleges.32 In this book, Bok proposes a smattering of purposes that he believes should guide colleges. These include general skills such as “learning to communicate” and “learning to think;” purposes related to our identity as citizens, professionals and global citizens, such as “preparation for citizenship,” “preparing for a career,” and “preparing for a global society,” and a general intellectual goal, “acquiring broader interests.” In this respect, Bok’s list appears quite similar to that of the American Council for Trustees and Alumni. However, Bokalso adds that universities should help develop what he labels first as “moral reasoning” and describes later as “building character.”33
Unfortunately, Bok’s notion of character education is rather vague as indicated by his interchanging the term with “moral reasoning” from time to time. Despite claiming that he thinks the university should build character, at times he appears to think professors should not make arguments for the superiority of certain virtues. Sounding like an outdated values clarification manual, Bok notes, “It is not the place of faculty members to prescribe what undergraduates ought to consider virtuous. But surely faculties should do whatever they can to prepare their students to arrive at thoughtful judgments of their own. ”Bok then adds that this preparation involves “teaching moral reasoning” and “strengthening the will to act morally.”34 Discussions of moral dilemmas and classical ethical theories accomplish the former, while the latter Bok suggests, can be accomplished by administrators and faculty modeling moral behavior, making clear their moral reasons for rules and actions, being fair in their enforcement of rules, and encouraging empathetic concern for the needs and interests of others.35 Clearly, Bok thinks that some virtues, such as fairness and empathy, are to be commended to students by faculty.
Beyond these recommendations, Bok provides few actual substantive examplesof virtue or moral principles (he does mention honor codes). He also demonstrates a tremendous amount of confidence in the ability of reason to help us resolve moral differences and suggests courses should avoid focusing too much on our intractable ethical differences. The differences produced by our unique moral traditions, Bok is confident, are really not that big of a problem as long as we apply moral reasoning and critical thinking skills.
Admittedly, certain kinds of common agreement regarding moral reasoning or character education can be reached using Bok’s approach. In fact, much of contemporary primary and secondary character education in U.S. public schools proceeds in this manner and in a few rare cases, colleges or universities have used this approach.36 However, there is not as much agreement as Bok might wish. Furthermore, this approach may be successful in allowing virtue talk to take place; however, the shallow nature of the agreement will limit its ultimate effectiveness.37 Its supposed neutrality is also doubtful. After all, universities orient students morally by the very environment they create, the identities they use to orient students morally (for example, professional, citizen, human), the types of moral formation they specify are most important, and those that they specify should be left to student choices.38
An example of a more sophisticated approach that takes into account a particular moral tradition can be found in Calvin College’s “An Engagement with God’s World: the Core Curriculum of Calvin College.”39 Clearly the authors see Calvin’s approach to character education as resting in Christian revelation and the Christian tradition. They write in a chapter on core virtues:
In the Christian community, moral formation is not a matter simply of drawing out and directing the innate potentialities of human nature. For Christian doctrine teaches us that human nature has been deeply damaged by the power of sin, far beyond the repair of any human agency. To live aright, we stand in need of God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, and the enabling power of God’s Spirit. The virtues we enjoy are not of our own making. They are the “fruits of the Spirit,” the results of God’s work with us (Galatians 5:22-23; Philippians2:12-13).40
The chapter lists fourteen different virtues that arise from the Biblical tradition.41
While I find their justification and list exemplary, how these virtues are integrated into the core curriculum demonstrates limitations. The authors note that these virtues are not effective when taught directly in a Virtues 101 course. Therefore, they suggest, “virtue, and its nurture in the souls of our students, then, will be primarily a matter of pedagogy.”42 I find this outlook limiting, because it primarily treats virtue as something that should be added to pedagogy and neglects to consider how a Christian vision for human flourishing, which includes the acquiring of certain virtues, could and should transform the purpose and substance of the general education curriculum. This tranformation is required because the structure of the secular university and the way it organizes knowledge according to certain disciplinary categories, especially in a general education curriculum, has undercut the ways Christians can and should integrate moral formation into general education curriculum. Consequently, in a manner similar to Bok, the Calvin model of character education could simply become an addition to the core competencies (foundations of information technology, written rhetoric, rhetoric in culture, foreign language, and health and fitness) and the core studies (biblical foundations, history of the west and the world, philosophical foundations, mathematics, the natural world, literature, arts, persons in community, societal structures in North America, cross-cultural engagement). Students may not learn how the core competencies and core studies need to be ordered and brought into unity in light of an overall vision for how to order our loves and identities. In one of my interviews with Calvin administrators about this approach, one noted that some faculty actually saw character education as a forced add-on to what is being taught:
When we first started the core curriculum, it has this whole section: here are the knowledge outcomes that we have, here are the skill outcomes, and then here are the virtue outcomes. And everybody, right away says “Oh gosh … virtue outcomes. We know they happen, but we don’t really know … how we do it, and we certainly don’t want to measure it. Are we going to assess this knowledge?” So there’s a bit of skepticism. But in order to get a course approved in the core curriculum, faculty had to write a statement about how it would lead to virtues, some of these virtues. Now, we did get some cynical statements, like “Well, by asking people for three drafts, I’m encouraging the virtue of humility.” And, of course, there’s that. And some of it’s legitimate, really.43
A More Human Alternative
General education remains a slave to subject disciplines instead of a larger vision for human flourishing. Consequently, faculty committees housed in disciplines with particular professional ends tend to approach the task of shaping general education or a core curriculum as an arena in which their interests, classes and professions need to be defended. In the end, students are merely encouraged to take a smattering of classes designed to improve certain skills (e.g., writing, research and speaking), develop an appreciation for certain subject areas (e.g., a course or two in Bible or theology, composition, history, literature, economics, mathematics, and the sciences), and possibly enrich the civic and vocational elements of our human lives.44 Such efforts are often justified under the guise that these courses make a person a well-rounded and/or a critical thinker.45
In contrast, if Christian colleges and universities wish to directly address the problem of defining the human, they should restructure their general education around a normative vision of what it means to be fully human. Of course, what it means to be fully human is subject to some debate even within the Christian community. At the core, however, if one considers what Christ identifies as the core commands, the central human issue for Christians is the direction of our loves or desires and shaping this direction involves our whole being. In recent scholarship,a number of ethicists draw upon Augustine’s articulation of this biblical point. For instance, both Stanley Hauerwas and Shawn Floyd quote Alasdair MacIntyre’s argument:
Morality…is in a very important way educative of desire. And the desires people bring to their education are ones which they are going to have to modify, or even abandon, if they are to acquire the intellectual and moral virtues. If we treat students’ desires as given, the students’ original goals as given, we are in effect abdicating from the task of educating them into the intellectual and moral virtues.46
James Smith’s recent work, Desiring the Kingdom, also makes this same point and embeds it clearly in the Christian story. He argues that we need to “re-envision Christian education as a formative rather than just an informative project.”47 My basic suggestion merely echoes what these authors have already so forcefully and helpfully argued and expands upon it in the curricular and cocurricular spheres of the college or university.
Worship must be the central priority when undertaking efforts to shape students’ desire and identity. Smith and Hauerwas stress the ways that particular types of Christian worship practices shape our desires by forming our habits and social imagination.48 As Smith states it, Christian worship is “its own pedagogy of desire.”49 Employing this pedagogy means encouraging students to engage in worship practices that shape their affections, desires and imagination. For instance, Jim Fodor identifies one way that listening to the Christian story in the context of worship could possibly serve to form students’ affections:
It is in the liturgy . . . that Christians are schooled and exercised in the scriptural logic of their faith; here desires are cleansed, realigned, and given concentrated focus. Indeed, the repetition and regularity with which the faithful gather to listen to God’s Word serves to collect, arrange, position, and coordinate the entire spectrum of practices and habits that comprise Christian life.50
In this manner, worship in the academy can and should play the central and definitive role in shaping the identities and schooling the desires of both faculty and students.
General Education and the Complexity of Love
There is some slight disagreement in the Christian community, however, about the vision of humanity that should guide this process. Are we essentially moral, believing animals as Christian Smith contends51 or are we humans, as James Smith argues, essentially “liturgical animals, whose fundamental orientation to the world is governed not primarily by what we think but by what we love, what we desire?”52 The answer to this question shapes the importance attached to the moral order communicated through the general education curriculum. For example, at the end of Desiring the Kingdom while James Smith provides a range of innovative and creative suggestions for changing the structure of the Christian college or the pedagogical practices of faculty, he does not suggest that the curriculum of a Christian college or university, particularly general education, should be transformed by his outlook.53 His suggestions for reform ignore the disciplinary structure of the larger academy.
Thus, while I wholeheartedly agree with James Smith that “A Christian University Is for Lovers,” it involves “The Education of Desire,”54 and this focus means placing a priority on Christian worship, I also contend that our general education should be transformed by this vision.55 Traditional academic categories and practices can serve as liturgies that shape or deform our identities and loves.
Simply speaking, for general education to reflect a Christian ordering of our loves it should be organized around loving God, our neighbors and ourselves, but it should also consider the multiple identities God gave us. Richard Foster ’s quote below reflects a more specific focus that takes into account our multiple identities and loves:
As apprentices of Jesus we are learning, always learning how to live well; love God well; love our spouse well; raise our children well; love our friends and neighbors—and even our enemies—well, study well; face adversity well; run our businesses and financial institutions well; form community life well; reach out to those on the margins well; and die well—ars moiendi.56
Foster identifies the multiple identity directions of our love and the challenge we face in ordering, informing and guiding our loves in these varied directions. The following sections outline what I believe should be the content and direction of a general education that seeks to help students with this task.
Learning to Love Our Creator and Redeemer
Theology: Deep and Discerning Lovers. James Smith observes that we often mistake the acquisition of information for Christian formation. Nowhere does this occur more than in Protestant institutions that include teaching about the Bible in general education. A theology class should cultivate and deepen one’s understanding of God and one’s own Christian identity both cognitively and with regard to one’s desires and habits. A theology class that addresses this issue holistically proves quite different than some sort of religious studies class focused upon cognitive learning alone. In fact, as I argue elsewhere,57 I believe Christian colleges, such as my own, should rename their religion departments as theology departments in order to highlight the fact that we seek to help students become worshipping theologians versed in the narratives, affections and practices of the Church and not merely critical thinkers about religion. General education courses pertaining to Bible or theology could also use this reorienting.
Embodying the Love: Worship and Church History. Beyond theology, a Christian liberal education should both deepen our understanding of Christian practices and help us think critically about them. Eating lutefisk or lefse may be connected to my friend’s Norwegian identity, but it certainly loses meaning and richness if she does not understand the narrative engulfing and surrounding the practice or the general narrative connected to what it means to be a Norwegian. Understanding the rationale of practices and the stories linked to our identities helps us to sustain and strengthen both. Learning the church’s story of how it has lived and taught does the same. Consequently, as I and a colleague have argued in more detail in this journal, one of the required courses of any general education should be church history.58 In this story, we learn how we have practiced and thought about our loves, the liturgies expressing that love, and our overall story of faithfulness.
The Great Creational Identities: Loving God’s Creation in Light of God’s Story
A general education concerned with our full humanity must be holistic. It must shape our desires and practices as well our minds. But it must also do these things in every aspect of our identity and with all of our human identities and purposes. How am I to be a better Christian professional, a husband, a father, a son, an American, a male, a neighbor, a friend, a Texan, a middle class steward of resources, a steward of my body, a steward of culture, and a steward of the natural world? These are the Great Creational Identities that almost everyone shares, practices and must somehow prioritize. Of course, I do not mean we all are sons, Texans, or Americans, but we share certain universal identities such as being a child or a member of a nation-state. The direction of our love is always complicated by the competing goods associated with our multiple identities.
The Christian classroom, I would argue, should be, and sometimes is an even better place for sorting through this task, because it can focus specially upon different aspects of our identity in ways that liturgical habits may not. For example, virtues often need to be learned in particular identity contexts because, as David Brooks summarizes, “people’s actual behavior is not driven by permanent traits that apply from one context to another….People who are courageous at work can be cowardly at church….Behavior does not have what the psychologists call ‘cross-situational stability.’”59 A holistic general education can address each of these identities connected to our humanity to cultivate the purposes, virtues, and wisdom necessary for that identity context. These identities include:
1. Student (the current vocation)—What are the ends, virtues, principles, wisdom and practices needed to be a good student? Many colleges already offer such a course to freshmen.
2. Friends, Neighbors, and Enemies—Learning the affections, knowledge, and actions needed to love our friends, neighbors and enemies.
3. Marriage and Family—What does it mean and how do we become good sons or daughters, wives or husbands, etc.?
4. Citizenship—What does it mean to be a good citizen and how do we becomeone?
5. Race, class, and gender—What does it mean to be a good man/woman, African-American etc.?
6. Steward of creation
• One’s body—Physical education is more than biology or exercise. What does good stewardship of our bodies entail?
•The nonhuman world—What does creation care of the natural world involve?
•Culture (e.g., money, art)—How should we be good stewards of human creations? A Christian general education that cultivates a deeper understanding of humanity would involve helping students learn to love these beings and objects in the proper way.60
There would be numerous advantages to forming a general education program around how to understand, shape and direct one’s love toward what I call the Great Identities. First, the Great Identities are clearly universal in nature. As Anthony Kronman contends, one of the tasks of general education is “to identify the elements of our common human nature and to help us understand the consequences that flow from them.”61 Every student, in every part of the world, must wrestle with the normative questions about what it means to be a good person and how to integrate their answer with what it means to be a good student, a good family member, a good citizen, a good man/woman, a good steward of one’s body, the culture one inhabits and the natural world in which one lives. Moreover, except for a few cases, these questions are continual questions. For one’s whole life one will be a citizen, a man/woman, a steward of the natural world. Part of being a student is learning what it means to be good or how to direct one’s love in one’s present vocation. Later, students will always have to balance various competing loves such as love for one’s vocation and love for one’s spouse, children or country.
Second, far from focusing on the isolated individual or a narrow professional identity, the study and examination of the descriptive and normative aspects of one’s Great Identities will require students to see the connections between who they are and the wider world around them. Contemplating these Great Identities forces students to gaze beyond their narrow personal selves to see how their identities connect them to the wider world. Consider a general education class addressing one’s family identities. Students are sons and daughters as well as grandsons and granddaughters. Most are currently single, and the vast majority will marry. In addition, the vast majority will become mothers and fathers and later grandparents. A whole range of moral expectations pertain to these roles regarding what moral principles one should follow (e.g., what are my responsibilities to my parents? Should we live together before marriage?) and the virtues one should demonstrate (e.g., what does it mean to respect my parents? What does self-control mean as a single person?). Interestingly, students may go through their whole college experience and not encounter these matters as ones worthy of academic study and practice or institutional concern. One possible reason is that the secular university in a liberal democracy has deemed them too personal, controversial, or particular. Another possible reason is that, as Sommerville demonstrates, the secular university simply does not have the ability to answer these kinds of questions.62 Ironically, however, these are the issues students are more likely to face continually than more common academic questions, such as what to do about the death penalty or stem-cell research, that are often chosen for their political relevance.
Third, such classes would necessarily be complex at many different levels. To begin, classes addressing these matters would need to be interdisciplinary. Sociologists or psychologists cannot tell us by themselves what it means to be a good husband or wife or good father or mother. Nonetheless, their scholarly insights prove crucial for exploring and analyzing what exactly the answer to such a question may involve in a particular culture. Likewise, political scientists, social philosophers and Christian ethicists would all need to come together to help students work through what it means to be a good citizen. Furthermore, although they should be guided by a Christian vision of what it means to be fully human and seek to form students’ desires, such classes would also require complex forms of critical thinking. A whole variety of Christian traditions and answers have been given regarding, for example, what it means to be a good citizen under certain kinds of political regimes.
Fourth, since the classes focus on performing a particular practice in an excellent manner, students would need various types of intellectual and ethical guidance. They must clarify and sort through possible ends and how different metanarratives might influence those ends. Next, they would need to consider the virtues, principles, wisdom, practices and mentors needed to reach particular ends.They may also need to start engaging in particular practices.63 While I agree with James Smith when he suggests that such imagination begins in worship, students still need more cognitive help in this area. The approach I am suggesting would require students to think about their present and future identity commitments more deeply and in more complex ways. In this case, a subject such as health and fitness should be studied and practiced under the category of stewardship of one’s body. In this type of class, knowledge about obesity rates in America, learning how to critique studies of sexually transmitted diseases, or gaining an appreciation of and ability to play racquetball can be placed in a normative theological vision about caring for the bodily health of one’s self and one’s community. Likewise, when placed in the context of loving the stranger and hospitality, foreign language becomes less a competency than an important component of Christian living.64 Virtue becomes embedded into the ends of general education courses and no longer exists as something merely found in the pedagogical practices of the professors.
Finally, ordering general education around the Great Identities would recognize the need for curricular flexibility. A class addressing what it means to be a good citizen at a Christian college or university in India will be quite different from a comparable class in America. The necessary knowledge and particular moral virtues, practices, wisdom and models that need emphasis would need to be shaped accordingly.
Redemptive Development and Student Development Theory: Placing Student Development Theory in the Christian Story
Redemptive forms of character education cannot be perpetuated solely through the curriculum. Curricular offerings are rather limited forms of education. In fact, as Ernest Pascarella and Patrick Terenzini demonstrate, a large degree of college’s impact actually takes place through co-curricular educators.65 A college attempting to promote Christian humanism should set forth a coherent human vision that applies to and integrates both the curricular and cocurricular realms.
In contrast to the curricular, the cocurricular realm of student affairs or student development does not suffer significantly from problematic structures, because it was created to deal with the marginalization of moral education from the curriculum. In fact, the arena of student development remains one of the few places in the secular university where attempts are still made to offer an ideal of what it means to be human that crosses the is-ought gap. Consequently, despite the fact that the faculty teaching the curriculum often can offer no coherent ideal of what it means to be fully human, cocurricular administrators and staff at every college and university proceed as if they have a clear view of the end of human development. Thus, they produce some of the most holistic approaches to education, such as learning communities and service-learning, that one finds Christian scholars and colleges seeking to incorporate into their Christian vision and practice.
The major problem with this arena, particularly with regard to Sommerville’s critiques, stems from the theories guiding the ideal offered and the way the is-ought gap is crossed. As most cocurricular job titles suggest, the dominant strategy they employ in the area involves the concept of “development” or psycho-social stage development. James Davison Hunter provides a helpful summary of this fundamental concept:[T]he modern concept of development suggests that children grow up by moving through a hierarchy of qualitatively distinct stages of evolution and maturation, much like the development of an egg to a caterpillar to a butterfly. Each stage is unique in that it represents a new way for children to order their experience and perceptions of the world. The process is not reversible—each stage depends upon and presupposes the prior stage. Unlike a butterfly, however, children do not automatically move to higher stages of development. Rather the shift from lower to higher stages requires some sort of catalyst, typically provided by certain experiences from other human beings, experiences which propel a shift from lower to higher stages.66
Employing the concept of development provides cocurricular administrators with a helpful ideal and moral mandate. Typically, student development personnel are trained to view these stages as ways they ought to guide students toward higher levels of development by providing the catalysts that propel students’ developmental progress.67 Just as parents provide food, cocurricular administrators provide students “experiences” to help students grow.
If these theories simply served as an extension of the doctrine of creation—that they helpfully describe how God designed human beings to mature during their lives—they could easily be adopted into Christian understandings of student development. Admittedly, some descriptive parts of theories related to moral development, such as William Perry’s theory of intellectual and ethical development or68 Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development,69 prove descriptively accurate although they also have clear shortcomings.70
These developmental theories, however, are not merely descriptive accounts. They combine creational insights with larger metanarratives that set forth a vision of human flourishing. What Mark Schwehen notes of William Perry’s developmental theory could be said of other theories such as Kohlberg’s, “Perry’s work looks like the modern, secular equivalent of a medieval manual of spiritual discipline.”71 In other words, it provides an alternative secular narrative of a student or pilgrim’s progress toward a particular individual and social ideal of human flourishing. Unfortunately, these universal theories fail to provide specific guidance or insight into these ideals beyond generalities, and they offer little normative argumentation to justify their ideals. For example, Perry approves of complex forms of commitment but gives no attention to the actual objects or subjects of commitment or the complex nature of the multiple commitments humans must make (e.g., commitments regarding vocation, family, citizenship, life purpose, etc.). Likewise, a moral development theorist such as Kohlberg says little about the ordering of moral principles and ends and nothing at all about the directing of virtues.72 He also largely relies upon the narrative of liberal democracy to justify his approach.73 The underlying assumption governing these two theories, as well as a host of others, is that students are atomistic beings. As a result, student development professionals provide educational opportunities for students but in no way should those offerings infringe upon the sovereign nature of the individual identity of their students. In contrast, those offerings should merely provide space in which students can be prompted to pass through various psycho-stages deemed true for all of humanity (in the case of Perry and Kohlberg) or a particular segment of the human population (such as Belenky, et al., and Gilligan).
Not surprisingly, the limited and problematic nature of universalized theories of human development has led to an increased focus on race, gender and sexuality. While perhaps more helpful than theories that harbor universal aspirations, these more recent contributions are still only able to speak to the lives of students on a micro-level. For example, the reductionist nature of student development theories has led us to know a fair amount about the racial, gender, sexual orientation, and spiritual identity of our students. However, no macro-level theory is able to help us understand how one form of identity relates to another. In essence, the absence of a larger understanding of what it means to be fully human creates the understanding that somehow one’s spiritual identity is divorced from one’s sexual identity. Although student development professionals still speak of the education of whole persons, their theories fail to indicate how being fully human is somehow greater than the sum total of various developmental parts.
What is needed is a distinctively Christian understanding of redemptive growth for student affairs professionals on a Christian campus—a topic a colleague and I hope to address in the future in a project currently underway that will provide not only a critical history of student development theory but also an alternative that takes far more seriously the complex set of ramifications of what it means to be fully human. In this essay, I will merely mention three adjustments that student development professionals should make to the theory base that defines their work.
First, psycho-social development should not be confused with development or formation defined in light of the Christian metanarrative. This means that the journeys of Christian saints, real or imagined, provide better developmental guidance than most “natural” developmental theories when they portray the efforts of individuals seeking to place their stories in the larger Christian narrative (e.g., Augustine’s Confessions, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress). It also means Christians need to undertake a more thorough critique of student development theories in light of the Christian narrative. For instance, one of the most obvious shortcomings of the whole field of developmental theory is that it usually fails to take account of sin. Of course, students may be described as dealing with numerous difficulties or problems (e.g., a lack of meaning, lack of competence in social relationships, an inability to properly handle emotion, a lack of independence or autonomy, having a desire to escape or engaging in dualistic thinking, etc.),74 but sin or alienation from God is not a term used to describe a barrier to human growth or development. Instead, most development theories place students on a stage continuum, and students cannot move backwards in the stages. They usually progress by throwing off the ways other individuals or institutions encumber their lives.
This last point leads to my second suggestion. Student development professionals need to learn to see the atomistic impulse at the root of their theory base as more of a result of the fall than a resource to a Christian understanding of what it means to be fully human. Drawing upon the work of Michael J. Sandel and Christian Smith, student development professionals would be well served to view students as what these two scholars identify as encumbered selves.75 In essence, human identity and well-being is far more contingent upon the specific love commitments students make than the root commitments of psycho-social stage theory might lead us to think. In this vision of humanity, the process and end of development entails arousing, directing and connecting students’ desires and loves so that they reflect an order, depth and connection similar to that outlined for the general education curriculum. We become more fully human through learning to love God, a spouse, an enemy, a parent, a neighbor, a country, etc.
Third, if students are more encumbered selves than atomistic selves, student development professionals will need to come to terms with the fact that the spaces they create and the practices they initiate are not neutral. Such spaces and practices always direct student loves regardless of how hard they may work to conceal them. Thus, instead of seeing students who inhabit these spaces as atomized tenants, these students would need to learn to love their neighbors and perhaps their new enemies. As a result, a reality such as roommate conflict (which happens every fall to almost every first-year student once the novelty of this new person in his or her life has worn off) would not be viewed as something to be dismissed via a quick room change but, in contrast, as an instructive opportunity. Instead of shying away from such conflict, students would be expected to participate in Christian practices such as reconciliation to one’s neighbor (and perhaps enemy). These practices may take considerable amounts of time. They may also require any number of attempts. They may even require a considerable amount of vulnerability on the part of the participants. However, only in such contexts can virtues such as love and justice flourish. The end result is not that we teach students to succumb to some sort of sentimentality that simply propels them to overlook difference. In contrast, the end result is to teach them that living in community with others who were also created in God’s image calls for a radical form of redemptive love.
If Christian institutions wish to resist participating in the decline of the sec-lar university, particularly in the moral realm, they will need to transform the structures and theories they inherited from the secular university. They cannot remain content to offer value or virtue education as an add-on to structures or theories inherited from secular universities and theorists. Particularly in the areas of general education and student development they will need to abandon limiting structures or theories and engage in the difficult project of transforming their visions in line with redemptive forms of humanism. While such challenges will likely increase both the complexity and the volume of work for both curricular and co-curricular educators, such efforts will prove worthwhile as we come together and determine what it means, in the light of God’s grace, to be fully human.76
Cite this article
- C. John Sommerville, The Decline of the Secular University (New York: Oxford, 2008).
- See, for example, Perry L. Glanzer and Todd C. Ream, Christianity and Moral Identity in Higher Education (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 131-58.
- Popular texts used in graduate programs of higher education that train future leaders instudent development usually introduce them to a certain canon of developmental theories such as those described in volumes like Nancy J. Evans, Deanna S. Forney, Florence M. Guido, Kristen A. Renn and Lori D. Patton, Student Development in College: Theory, Research and Practice, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009) and Ernest T. Pascarella and Patrick T. Terenzini, How College Affects Students: A Third Decade of Research vol. 2. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass,2005). In the moral realm, such theorists usually include William Perry, Mary Field Belenky, Lawrence Kohlberg, and Carol Gilligan.
- Sommerville believes that the secular university’s failure to maintain the fact-value distinction is actually a good thing. Whereas “the fact/value dichotomy progressively narrowed the scope of the university’s activities,” the critics of the fact-value distinction actually help “broaden the university’s activities” (45, 46).
- Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (South Bend, IN: Notre Dame, 1984), 57.
- Ibid., 59.
- Sommerville, 112.
- Arthur Holmes, Shaping Character: Moral Education in the Christian College (Grand Rapids,MI: Eerdmans, 1991).
- “Laws of Harvard College,” Edwin Gaustand, ed. A Documentary History of Religion in America (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 201.
- Norman Fiering, Moral Philosophy at Seventeenth Century Harvard: A Discipline in Transition(Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, 1981).
- Frederick Rudolf, Curriculum: A History of the American Undergraduate Course of Study Since 1636 (San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass, 1977), 42.
- John Witherspoon, Lectures on Moral Philosophy, Varnum Lansing Collins, ed. (Princeton,NJ: 1912), 140.
- MacIntyre, chapters 1-5.
- D. H. Meyer, The Instructed Conscience: The Shaping of the American National Ethic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972).
- Fiering, 62.
- Douglas Sloan, “The Teaching of Ethics in the American Undergraduate Curriculum, 1876-1976,” in Ethics Teaching in Higher Education, eds. Daniel Callahan and Sissela Bok (NewYork: Plenum Press, 1980), 1-57.
- John Dewey and James Tufts, Ethics (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1908).
- Julie A. Reuben, The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1996), 133-175.
- MacIntyre, 59.
- Sommerville, 24.
- Reuben, The Making of the Modern University, 211-29.
- Ibid., 230-65.
- Michael Davis, Ethics and the University (New York: Routledge, 1999).
- For the most part, Christian colleges and universities imitated secular colleges and univer-sities by adding professional ethics courses. See Perry L. Glanzer and Todd Ream, “Has Teacher Education Missed Out on the ‘Ethics Boom?’ A Comparative Study of Ethics Requirements and Courses in Professional Majors of Christian Colleges and Universities,” Christian Higher Education 6 (July 2007): 271-88.
- Christianity and Moral Identity in Higher Education.
- What Will They Learn? A Report on General Education Requirements at 100 of the Nation’s Leading Colleges and Universities (American Council of Trustees and Alumni, 2009), 4.
- Ibid., np.
- Ibid., 5.
- Anthony T. Kronman, Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007).
- Anne Colby, Elizabeth Beaumont, Thomas Ehrlich, and Josh Corngold, Educating for Democracy: Preparing Undergraduates for Responsible Political Engagement (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008), 4.
- Derek Bok, Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), 67-81.
- Ibid., 69-72, 146-71.
- Ibid., 150.
- Ibid., 150-71.
- Perry Glanzer and Andrew Milson, “Legislating the Good: A Survey and Evaluation ofContemporary Character Education Evaluation,” Educational Policy 20:3 (2006): 525-50.
- James Hunter, The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil (New York: Basic Books, 2000). Recently, a different version of common ground humanism is currently gaining traction in colleges and universities. It attempts to establish its appeals in academic findings that identify what human character qualities lead to human flourishing. The major scholars behind this movement, psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, possess confidence in the various methods of the social sciences, particularly psychology, and believe we can find substantive moral virtues which we agree are essential for human flourishing (both individually and socially). As a result, Peterson and Seligman’s book Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification (CSV) attempts to provide a classification system that mirrors the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). While the DSM may be used to determine what is plaguing humans, the CSV, they hope, may be used to determine what is right or good. They also hope that their classification could be used for “the deliberate creation of institutions that enable good character.” The CSV sets forth ten criteria by which to identify character strengths and then goes about identifying six general classifications of character qualities (wisdom and knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence). Within these categories they also place other virtues or character qualities. While I believe this approach holds some possibility and may give evidence to common grace, it is not sufficient for Christian colleges. See Christianity and Moral Identity in Higher Education.
- Christianity and Moral Identity in Higher Education, chapter 1.
- An Engagement with God’s World: The Core Curriculum of Calvin College, chapter 5, <http://www.calvin.edu/admin/provost/core/chap_5.html.> (Accessed September 4, 2009).
- Ibid. It should be noted that love is not on the list because it is seen as the master virtue which tempers and binds them all together.
- Personal interview with administrator, October 13, 2004.
- For my praise of Calvin’s program see Christianity and Moral Identity in Higher Education, chapter 7.
- For my praise of Calvin’s program see Christianity and Moral Identity in Higher Education, chapter 7.
- Alasdair MacIntyre, “Values and Distinctive Characteristics of Teaching and Learning in Church-Related Colleges,” (unpublished paper), as quoted in Stanley Hauerwas, The State of the University: Academic Knowledges and the Knowledge of God (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007),128 and Shawn Floyd, “Morally Serious Pedagogy,” Christian Scholar’s Review 36.3 (Spring2007): 256.
- Desiring the Kingdom, 18.
- In addition to the works cited earlier, Hauerwas’ edited collection on Christian ethics, Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells, eds., The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics (Malden, MA:Blackwell Publishing, 2004).
- See Christianity and Moral Identity in Higher Education, 181-200.
- Jim Foder, “Reading the Scriptures: Rehearsing Identity, Practicing Character,” in The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, 141.
- Christian Smith, Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture (New York: Oxford, 2003).
- Desiring the Kingdom, 215.
- My critique and the suggestions share sympathies with Shawn Floyd’s suggestions in “Morally Serious Pedagogy,” Christian Scholar’s Review 36.3 (Spring 2007): 245-61, although Floyd’s suggestions about integrating ethics (256-60) largely take for granted contemporary curricular structures.
- Desiring the Kingdom, 215.
- I believe that Smith sometimes goes too far in emphasizing the role that liturgical habits can play in shaping our affections while at the same time downplaying the cognitive importance of Christian belief and identity. The cognitive dimension of our love relationships should remain vitally important. An emphasis upon first understanding Christian identity and theology can be found in virtually every New Testament epistle and indicates that the writers believed Christians could only properly appreciate ethical admonitions by first more deeply understanding God’s story and our identity and role in light of that story. See also Perry Glanzer, “The Thinking Heart,” Christian Scholar’s Review 39.2 (Winter 2010): 218-20.
- Richard Foster, “Spiritual Formation Agenda,” Christianity Today (January 2009): 31.
- Glanzer and Ream, Christianity and Moral Identity in Higher Education, 196-97.
- For a fuller explanation of my argument regarding this issue see Perry L. Glanzer and Todd Ream, “Whose Story? Which Identity? Fostering Christian Identity at Christian Colleges andUniversities,” Christian Scholar’s Review 35.1 (2005): 13-27.
- David Brooks, “Where the Wild Things Are,” The New York Times, 20 October 2009, A31.
- For further explanation about the suggested nature and content of these courses see Christianity and Moral Identity in Higher Education, 207-15.
- Kronman, Education’s End, 77.
- Sommerville, The Decline of the Secular University.
- See Christianity and Moral Identity in Higher Education, 181-220.
- See Christianity and Moral Identity in Higher Education, 181-220.
- See Ernest T. Pascarella and Patrick T. Terenzini’s How College Affects Students: A Third Decade of Research (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2005).
- Hunter, The Death of Character, 82.
- See Student Development in College.
- William G. Perry, Jr., Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years: A Scheme (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999). The original study was first published in 1968.
- Lawrence Kohlberg, The Philosophy of Moral Development: Moral Stages and the Idea of Justice,vol. 1 (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981).
- See for example Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1982); R.A. Shweder, “Liberalism as Destiny,” Contemporary Psychology 20 (1982): 421-24; Mary Belenky, Blythe McVicker Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger, and Jill Mattuck Tarule, Women’s Ways of Knowing: the Development of Self,Voice, and Mind (New York: Basic Books, 1997).
- Mark Schwehn, Exiles from Eden: Religion and the Academic Vocation in America (New York:Oxford, 1993), 100.
- For additional critiques see Craig Dykstra, Vision and Character: A Christian Educator’s Alternative to Kohlberg (New York: Paulist Press, 1981), Don S. Browning, Christian Ethics and theMoral Psychologies (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006).
- Kohlberg, Lawrence and Mayer, R., “Development as the Aim of Education,” Harvard Educational Review 42(1972): 449-96.
- See for example, Student Development in College.
- See Michael J. Sandel’s Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (New York: Cambridge UniversityPress, 1982), and Christian Smith’s Moral Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture
- I would like to thank Todd C. Ream, Scott Waalkes, Konstantin Petrenko and two anonymous reviews for their comments on various versions of this paper. In addition, I would like to give a special thanks to Todd C. Ream for his significant contributions to the last section on student development.