The topic of this week’s writing assignment immediately interested me, because before we even answer the question, we must first be in agreement that having virtue and good character is important in the quality of a person. I know, I know, what am I saying? Of course it’s important for people to have integrity, to be honest, and to be “good citizens,” but why? Well, it’s for the sake of civility and order and because that’s what perpetuates human existence, and that’s what we want. But what might happen if we regressed into a savage land where human rights were nonexistent and we were forced to live out a never ending rat race of deception, betrayal, power, lies, and precariousness? We do live in that kind of world, but at least in the United States there are laws and regulations to mitigate the intensity of it all, and because of these restrictions, being honest, having integrity, and abiding by rules are all considered to be survival qualities. They’re safer for all of us. By establishing a foundation of civility and sympathy and punishing bad behavior, we are attempting to preserve ourselves in large quantities, because let’s face it, if this became a truly dog-eat-dog world, our population would thin out rather quickly. So, it’s important to be good. I get it.
In fact, it’s so important to us that we’ve created institutions all over the world in the name of human goodness and development: hospitals, research laboratories, charities, shelters, general businesses and companies, and universities. And this brings me to the point: How exactly are colleges and universities attempting to implement good values in their students? Education is probably the most effective avenue for implementing these values, as is seems to be the singular avenue on which so many people are traveling. So, what can universities and colleges do to impress upon their students the importance of these values? What are they doing?
From my perspective here at OU, it doesn’t seem like we do a lot explicitly. We have organizations like the Integrity Council, volunteer groups, and organizations that promote membership based on altruism, but overall, there isn’t an overwhelming amount of explicit stress on “being good,” so it seems that the source of this quality of personhood stems from our own personal desires to be honest, forthright, transparent human beings. I think that I can say with accuracy that this is true for most students at OU and around the world.
The environment in which we’ve grown up (particularly in the U.S. – I have no experience anywhere else) is one where a lack of virtue makes us unpopular and isolated, and so we strive to be “good.” And our college environment does influence us a lot, simply because we are spending so much of our time around educated people, and it seems that, in general, educated people are more honest. Maybe it’s because of the confidence and dignity that having an education affords a person: There’s a lesser need to hide things about ourselves. Or maybe it’s because the exposure to ideas and information inspires a deeper desire to know, and it’s hard to know more without the help of other people, and it’s hard to enlist the help of other people if you are not what they perceive to be a quality person.
So you strive to be transparent and forthright and to have integrity for the sake of your desire to connect with others and learn about the world and enjoy life. And this desire seems to be very commonplace for people at college – students and faculty alike. So, the way for colleges and universities to “maximize their impact on the development of virtues, character, and citizenship in their students” is simply to continue to provide environments where the desire to learn and to connect with others is nurtured fully.
Provide lots and lots of different choices for majors, keep clubs funded, listen to student opinions, hire faculty members that really want to share what they know, and make learning enjoyable. Because that is all anyone really wants. To learn. Human beings have been curiously stumbling their way through centuries of time, inventing, studying, creating, sharing, exploring, and learning. And through all of this, we have gravitated toward integrity and honesty because those things seem to be the best foundation for what most of us desire above all else – to better ourselves through the accumulation of knowledge and experience while simultaneously forming healthy bonds with other people. I guess it really is that simple, and I do think that this is the main mission of higher education. It isn’t very explicit because it doesn’t have to be.