Moral Character in Higher Education
For most people in today’s culture going to college is not even a question. Higher education is perceived as extremely important and is seen as necessary in order to achieve a successful life. A college degree has become known as an admission ticket into desirable careers allowing for access to at least a middle-class lifestyle. With over six thousand colleges in the United States, a professional degree can be readily earned. Amongst most American families it has become expected for the children to pursue a degree in a predetermined profession and thrive in college.
With this pressure to succeed and possible uncertainty they feel going into it, forty six percent of students who enter college fail to even graduate within six years. Although the “purpose” of higher education is to obtain a degree of some sort, that is not the reason to attend college. Multiple years of tenuous studying, hard work, and collaboration with peers gives students the opportunity to discover, refine, and develop their character. Unlike major specific courses or general education requirements, the various dimensions of one’s moral character are cultivated through various experiences over many years.
Moral Character in Higher Education Essay Example
Possessing a certified degree can be admirable but also can mean nothing without proper social and moral skills. A student’s intention of attending college and his or her time spent enrolled is indeed directed towards earning their degree, but the greatest purpose of higher education and its global function is to develop and enroot moral character. A university’s purpose is not to pump out and issue thousands of degrees every year; it is to help mature an individual’s character.
A problem in American society is that too many people have a self-centered mentality due to a lack of morality. Allan Bloom, a philosopher, classicist, academician, and author discusses the purpose of higher education in his novel, “The Closing of the American Mind”. He argues that the purpose of a student’s education “is not to make them scholars” but is instead intend to “provide them with a moral virtue—openness” (645). This “moral virtue” allows a student to be equipped with the necessary values and beliefs to be a well-rounded individual.
As Bloom explains, much of our culture is “ethnocentric”, meaning that we believe “our way is better than others” (645). Being apart of a school system helps students become more aware of their surroundings and enables them to become less prejudice in a culturally diverse setting. History and social science classes can teach a student about other lifestyles and beliefs, but the only way to truly absorb an understanding is to be exposed to these different beliefs. Being exposed helps students grasp the magnitude of humankind.
This allows them to realize their “preferences” and customs are simply “accidents of their time and place”, by-products of a random generation that could of turned them out anywhere in the world (645). Realizing one’s individual size raises tolerance of other culture’s ideas and beliefs, promoting a more civilized society. In addition to being physically exposed to other people, many colleges require students to take a course in non-Western culture to educate them about the many other ways of thinking and that no one way is better.
By studying these other cultures, students recognize a “cultural cave” that is caused by all the “limitations” people within different cultures are influenced to follow (650). This “cave” often leads to isolation amongst people and a segregation of cultures. Culture should not be the standard by which we solely follow due to the barriers it sets. Instead, as a human race, people should act upon their moral beliefs. Earning a degree is essential, but gaining a ripened moral character with diverse cultural tolerances is far more important.
A college’s educational quality and breadth of degrees is of high value and should not be sacrificed, however, a greater focus on building moral character is essential. A discipline in a degree certainly has to be accompanied with respectable ethics in order to be complete. The main reason it is important for a university to concentrate on the development of an individual’s character is because this is not something automatically acquired after going through college. Most students become engulfed in their coursework and focus all of their attention on passing their classes.
They can tend to believe the number out of one hundred defines who they are and learning anything else other than the textbook becomes less important. The level of reported character gain does however vary by major. For instance, The National Survey of Student Engagement states that students in “social sciences report the highest gains in general character development and ethical behavior” as well as “general knowledge”, unlike math or science majors who “report the lowest gains on nearly every character development measure” (Kuh, Umbach, 47).
Having good ethics can be extremely important when it comes to certain careers and lacking this morality can lead to severe problems. For instance, a civil engineer who is constructing a new bridge across a body of water could realize a potential problem that he or she is unable to figure out. The bridge would hold up fine given moderate conditions, but the support beams and column braces would not be strong enough to support the bridge in case of a powerful storm or earthquake. If the engineer lacks proper ethics, he or she might ignore the issue due to its unlikelihood in order to complete the project in time.
Even though this could be a potential threat to many people’s lives, an individual can ignore the problem if he or she was not correctly influence to have good morals. This is not however a major concern because although some students lack the opportunity to grow their character, around eighty two percent of students claim their “college experience contributed substantially to their work ethics and efficiency” (Kuh, Umbach, 51). This ability comes from the university’s efforts to prepare students for their careers by having them work together to complete tasks and influencing them to develop an understanding of other cultures.
Pursuing higher education to earn a degree is simply not enough; one must not only master a discipline in a profession, but also have a strong moral ground with a confident social outlook. Having proper ethics does not come natural for all people and therefore must be taught or influenced. In order to achieve such morality, one must learn to change their “human default setting”(199). This default setting is described by author, David Foster Wallace as the centralization of one self in respect to the world. In his commencement speech at Kenyon College, Wallace emphasizes the importance of having a sense of awareness of the surrounding world.
The common cliche universities tend to adopt is that a higher education teaches you “how to think”. Wallace contends the idea that the importance is not solely about how one thinks, but “the choice of what to think about” (199). A true education should instill empathy regarding one’s thought process in various settings. For Instance, take the common scenario of ordering dinner at a restaurant. One might ask for their steak to be rare and no cheese on their vegetables. After the waiter brings about the food, the customer realizes that the steak is cooked too much and the vegetables he or she received had cheese on them.
Typically, the customer would bark for the waiter only to give him a lecture on how the food is not the way it was ordered. Little does the customer know, the waiter did give the cook the correct order but due to the frantic rush of orders the cooks made a mistake. Even though the cooks were to blame, the furious customer put the automatic blame upon the waiter. An experience such as this shows how the customer believes he or she must be the most important person in the restaurant, not the numerous others also expecting their orders.
This is what David Wallace would define “our default setting” to be, “hard-wired into our boards at birth” (199). Humans rarely naturally think about others in situations like this, for every experience one goes through it is seen through a self-centered egotistical lens. People’s thoughts and feelings are centered to them selves and view their lives more important then others. But this is not an individual’s fault but a flaw in human nature itself. It is so automatic for us to think this way that we must be taught otherwise.
College allows humans to interact and learn in such a way as to understand other people’s lives and discover selflessness. Colleges are amongst the most diverse places in the world. People from all over the globe come to various universities in the United States to acquire a degree. Colleges supply a copious amount of peers to interact with and the influence from one’s peers significantly impacts an individual’s values and beliefs. Learning how to “consider the possibilities” of others and being “well-adjusted” in this world will undoubtedly improve the quality of life by allowing an individual to understand others.
Being well adjusted simply means to be experienced in many incidences by which one’s moral values are put into place. Having a higher education is to be seasoned, wise, and sensible in life. The “real value” of a higher education “has nothing to do with knowledge” but “everything to do with simple awareness” (209). The simple awareness that we as mankind are all here on this rock floating in space for one reason, to survive, not to survive as an individual but as a species.
This is only possible if we as humans can change our default setting by pursuing a higher education, because college is not about cramming as many textbooks as we can into our head or acquiring the greatest degree. It is about growing our moral character so that we see life more clearly and respond to situations with empathy for the true meaning of survival is live together peacefully and to be able to understand one another. Colleges improve humankind itself and the overall quality of life. This is why the main purpose of a higher education is to develop moral character.