In a 1990 lecture at the Harvard Extension School, renowned educator Mortimer Adler identified what he believed to be the “three main objectives of schooling”:
- “preparation for earning a living”
- “preparation for intelligent fulfillment of one’s civic duty, to be a good citizen of the republic” and,
- “preparation for fulfilling one’s moral obligation to lead a morally good life.”
Each objective, Adler noted, would be “enriched by the continuation of learning after all schooling is terminated.”
Last week, I wrote about how many American colleges and universities are embracing the values of the New Gilded Age and retreating from their obligations to help us create a better society. Adler’s main objectives of schooling offer a useful framework for that critique.
Plenty of schools are emphasizing jobs and careers, and that’s fine. A college education should enhance someone’s employability and facilitate their vocational future. But this shouldn’t occur at the expense of preparing students to become useful, knowledgeable citizens and helping them grow into better human beings.
Indeed, one of the perverse ripple effects of the economic meltdown is how so many standard brand universities are cutting back on instruction that might shed insights on the very political, economic, social, and moral dynamics that led us to the Great Recession in the first place! More concretely, this has manifested itself in the decline of the liberal arts and humanities in the basic college curriculum.
Especially given the runaway costs of higher education, I understand the significance of a college education having some “return on investment” in terms of the job market. But it must be about more than economic gain. A higher ed industry that simply readies the next generation of worker bees is failing our society. We need a world of good workers, good citizens, and good people, with hopefully most of us possessing a healthy mix of all three qualities.