Values?

An article written by Ann Colby entitled, “Whose values anyway? “is the reference for my commentary today. I always struggled with the conflicting notions of Western philosophers as have many others. Later in life, I turned to the eastern philosophies in the effort to find some clarity by looking at the other side of the coin, so to speak. Whose Values Anyway touches on these conflicts.

Higher education has trended toward specialization and commercialization. With the emphasis on job preparation and the absence of meaningful discussion of values, higher education has left the college educated person to rely on their religious moral dogmas as guides. Those with no specific religious orientation are left with little basis to construct a moral identity. Again, education shirks its responsibility to educate a citizenship deep in understanding and appreciation for its fellow citizens. This is especially true today in the 21st-century technology era.

The commercialism of higher education, including corporate sponsorship of  Faculty and student research, corporate underwriting of certain courses, Advertising on websites, and exclusive beverage-poring rights given to products such as Coke or Pepsi at sports and other events, though it provides some institutional benefits, also acts to reinforce themes of materialism and commercialism that are pervasive in the general culture (Colby, in Damon, 2002).

These values are apparent and not without moral interpretation, which becomes embedded in the moral identity of the college student. Although there may be the occasional reference to the hidden curriculum, enrollment in business colleges continues to rise while education and the social studies continue to decline.

Learning takes place from many different sources. The media and social media are very notable today, but also, religion and in our elementary and secondary schools. Nevertheless, the University remains the final stage in preparing the next generation of teachers, doctors, business men and women, and citizens.

Many argue that higher education should remain value neutral. This disengagement contradicts the pursuit of education for its own sake, as well as the desire for young adults to find answers to both textbooks as well as inner questions. The university culture breeds thinking individuals whose goals are to take a place alongside those graduates who came before them and make lasting contributions to society. While developing a moral identity that must withstand the moral conflicts with those around them, most students, when faced with moral issues in the classroom are guided away from exploring for answers and in fact, are trained to not engage in such discussion that is not germane to the subject matter.

It should be noted that the students in a recent c graduate course all suggested to “look away” from any discussion of universal morals to declare that there are only differences in morality among individuals, cultures, etc. and to my dismay but not surprise, proceeded to defend this point. And most interestingly, from where I sat, they were content to just leave it at that and make any further discussion of morality based on the premise that we are all different and therefore we will all have our own morality. This pluralistic view combined with the relativist position that one view of morality is as good as another is not so surprising when compared with the tenor of today’s American society. On the other hand to slip into moral relativism, where one assumes there are no distinguishable differences between moral positions and therefore, one position is considered of no less or more valid than the other (Colby, 2001), becomes a simplistic view supported by the theory that humans are governed by the “rational choice” model  of self-interest.

However, research as demonstrated that even among different countries moral commonalities can be found. Colby (2001) continues to argue that if different countries and cultures can find commonalities then regardless of the amount of diversity in America a common moral ground can be distinguished.

I agree with Colby (2001):

“… discussion of the most difficult questions of conflicting values can and should be left open to debate. Moral and civic education provides the tools for such debate. This means that we need not begin with agreement on the most difficult and controversial cases of conflict between values. This makes it possible to reach a consensus on the initial set of core values.”

Although I believe that planting the seeds of good moral character should be accomplished in the younger years, it is apparent to many that the development of one’s character can continues throughout the college years and beyond. Mahatma Gandhi is a prime example of character being a developmental process. His phase of adolescent rebellion, marked by secret atheism, petty thefts, smoking, and meat eating, nevertheless gave way to the visionary and godlike presence of the man.

It can be futhered argued that this development of good character can be a constant endeavor not reaching full fruition until much later in life. With the seeds planted on the young but mostly ignored through adolescence, the opportunity to rekindle the childlike feelings of empathy, kindness and love cannot be ignored in our colleges and universities.  A holistic approach that concerns the education of the “whole” person can serve to develop a citizenry that better understands themselves and to position that person for the “good life.” Life’s winding road is a divided highway. One side is bookish knowledge and all of its material rewards and the other with “self” knowledge with all of the rewards of leading the “good’ life.