How can values be taught in the University? (Analysis)

Citation metadata

Author: Toni Morrison
Date: Summer 2002
From: Peer Review(Vol. 4, Issue 4)
Publisher: Association of American Colleges and Universities
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,902 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

It is the right question and I think appropriately the first one, glancing away, as it does, from an associated, perhaps even precursor one: whether univesities should teach values. The "whether" ripples through late twentieth-century debates in several forms. Certain disciplines pride themselves on the value-free nature of their intellectual inquiries, and the pursuit of "objectivity" is at the heart of their claims, claims which are understood to place the stature of these disciplines far above interpretive ones,

Nevertheless, explicitly or implicitly, the university has always taught (by which I mean examined, evaluated, posited, reinforced) values, and I should think will always follow or circle the track of its origins. When higher education leapt or strutted out of the doors of the church (whether by license from the crown, permission of the diocese, or charters from guilds) it was extricating itself from the church's charge, where monastic schools and libraries were centers of learning and most students were expected to take (and did take) orders--ecclesiastical orders, that is--but it did not slam the cathedral doors or the Calvinist parish gates behind itself, The faculty-cum-clergy carried the same religious principles and preoccupations with them.

Like other institutions of higher learning, Princeton was founded by a collection of laymen and clergy exiting a college founded by other clergy and laymen who made that move because of a dispute concerning religious belief and the dissemination of those beliefs to its student body. The founding of the university was never understood to be a severance from ecclesiastical scholarship, but rather a segue into the more exciting and demanding realm of the conjunction of faith and reason--applying reason to faith, faith to the worldly, and abjuring the shadow of Scholasticism which tainted both. The history of moral philosophy and its transformation into humanistic studies can be seen as an argument with and among definitions of reason, its status in spiritual life, and its impact not on faith, but on moral orientation.

The genesis of higher education is unabashedly theological and conscientiously value-ridden and value-seeking. There is not much point in and certainly not much time for rehearsing the evolution of the university to its present state of arrest over questions of value and ethics. We can simply note that the academy has, for the most part, shed its theological coat, relegated those high purposes to departments, schools of religion, and seminaries, and wrapped itself instead in a moral cape made of panels of cloth woven in enlightened and pre-enlightenment theses: that knowledge is a good; that the rightly trained mind would turn toward virtue; that the commitment of higher education was to train leaders to envision, if not effect, a desirable future.

The university's reinvention of itself and its mission responded to major historical upheavals: wars, transformations in economy, new populations, etc., and as newer, better, and more likely provable...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A91914872