Articulating an Educational Philosophy: All people have inherent worth.
Virtually everyone receives some amount of formal education. We commonly call this schooling. Schooling can take place at any age and can occur in almost any setting. Without it, human societies cannot maintain knowledge or culture.
The type of schooling one receives varies with abilities and needs. It also depends on circumstances, aspirations, and myriad other factors. Some of these factors, such as the family in which we are born, lie beyond our control.
Schooling prepares individuals to assume certain tasks and responsibilities. A high school diploma allows graduates to choose some paths, but not others. The same is true for every level of educational attainment. Our society, however, often grants higher status and salaries to those with advanced degrees. This suggests that post-secondary education functions primarily as an economic sorting mechanism.
Furman University rejects this formulation, even if it places us at odds with the values of the marketplace. We would fail in our mission if students graduated from Furman feeling superior to those who have not had the opportunity or the inclination to attend college. All people have inherent worth. Everyone’s contribution to society possesses utility and dignity, whether made by the hands, head, heart, or a combination of aptitudes. This is the core of our educational philosophy.
Knowledge Exists to be Imparted
One of the chief objects of a college education is the acquisition of knowledge. By transmitting knowledge from one generation to the next, societies obviate the necessity of learning everything anew. We do not have to spend time rediscovering gravitational laws, genetic principles, or grammatical rules. Nor do we have to wait until we get a disease to learn about it. “Knowledge,” as Ralph Waldo Emerson eloquently opined, “exists to be imparted.”
Knowledge is important because it enable us to engage with other similarly educated people in a meaningful dialogue—to share their vocabulary, their standards of reason and evidence, and some of their perceptions. It also permits us to identify the ways in which we might have been mis-educated.
Knowledge helps us to understand our experiences, as well as phenomena that we have not experienced. We could observe innumerable sunrises and sunsets, but we comprehend them only because of our knowledge about the solar system. Conversely, we do not have to have firsthand experience with peoples or cultures that are different from our own in order to understand them or to recognize that we share a common humanity.
The knowledge we deem important for Furman graduates includes an understanding of:
• The natural world, in both its biological and physical
• The history and culture of various societies throughout the world
• Human behavior on both an individual and collective level
• The artifacts of the human imagination as manifested in art, literature, and music
• The spiritual and philosophical dimensions of the human experience
The Necessity of Intellectual Skills
The purpose of a college education should not be limited to the propagation of subject matter. Just as knowledge of wood or paint is not sufficient to make an individual a carpenter or an artist, academic knowledge by itself does not automatically confer the ability to analyze or communicate in a logical manner. If we expect artisans to complete apprenticeships, during which they practice various skills that have been modeled for them, we should expect the same from those who wish to hone their intellectual capabilities.
Intellectual skills are important because they enable us to assess complex phenomena and to explain them to people who are not experts in the field. They allow us to detect flaws in one’s reasoning or rhetoric. They help us discern the difference between facts and opinions, and to recognize that not all opinions are based on the same evidence or make the same claims for acceptance. Finally, intellectual skills are necessary if society is to be composed of a thoughtful public instead of a persuaded audience.
The intellectual skills we deem important for Furman graduates include:
• The ability to use quantitative reasoning to evaluate
phenomena and to solve problems
• The ability to logically and clearly communicate ideas, opinions, and analyses in writing
• The ability to logically and clearly communicate ideas, opinions, and analyses orally
• The ability to logically and clearly communicate ideas, opinions, and analyses via electronic media
Dispositions for Effective and Ethical Citizenship
While the mission of this institution is primarily the dissemination of knowledge and the cultivation of intellectual skills, those are not our only goals. We acknowledge that many influences shape an individual’s beliefs, behavior, and attitudes. Nevertheless, we hope that an education at Furman University will incline students to be effective and ethical citizens. Doubtless, these broad goal are—and should be—open to numerous interpretations. We believe, however, that students are poorly served by educational programs that ignore the plight and potential of the human condition.
An array of widely supported values (for example, honesty and civility) constitutes the foundation of effective and ethical citizenship. Other dispositions are also important, especially since “citizenship” increasingly refers to membership in global, not just local or national, communities. These dispositions should prompt individuals to conduct examinations of their own lives; to engage in reflection on the lives of others; and to consider the ecological needs of our planet.
The dispositions we deem important for Furman graduates include:
• Tolerance for different individuals, groups, and
• Openness to critical scrutiny of personal beliefs, assumptions, and received knowledge
• Willingness to engage in behaviors conducive to physical and mental health
• Respect for the environment
• Appreciation of the need to cultivate empathy
Posted by love at
September 20, 2004 12:48 PM
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