Liberal Education

From the Editor

What do phrases like "moral education" mean within the context of both secular and religious universities, and whose morality ought to guide or influence the education of today's students? Which duties to self and society are to be cultivated, and how? Does the academy have a legitimate role to play here? These sorts of questions have been explored along many different lines of thought--lines tending more toward intersection than convergence. In this issue, we adopt the phrase "educating for personal and social responsibility" as a useful, if still imperfect, way to mark their intersection within the context of a liberal education.

A liberally educated person is committed to intellectual honesty, accepts responsibility for the moral health of society and for social justice, and participates actively in the civic life of our democracy. Bringing about that result is a vital but nonetheless difficult and uncertain task. There's the problem of language, for one thing. "Morality," "spirituality," "character," and the like are heavily freighted terms, and many in the academy are uncomfortable with them for a variety of reasons. And even if colleges actually can significantly influence ethical or moral or civic development--and, in her review of the literature in this issue, Lynn Swaner suggests they can--it must be borne in mind that college is not a totalizing experience. The moral atmosphere within which the individual student operates is formed by many, often competing, influences.

Last fall, in order to identify and assess undergraduate education's contribution, actual and potential, to students' ethical and moral development, AAC&U and the John Templeton Foundation convened a national panel of leading educational researchers. The panel concluded that there is a need for greater emphasis on educating for personal and social responsibility as an essential purpose of liberal education, and urged development of robust assessments colleges and universities can use to demonstrate and improve upon their success in this regard. This issue of Liberal Education, supported by the Templeton Foundation, is an outgrowth of the panel's discussions.

While it's serviceable enough, the phrase "educating for personal and social responsibility" remains a sign of common questions, not common answers. Some of these questions are raised and explored, but by no means exhausted, in the articles in this issue.

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