Is Self-interest Really Our Basic Motivation?

Neuroscientists seem to have devised an experiment showing that honesty often wins in a head-to-head competition with self-interest. Yet we hear so often, especially in economic contexts, that self-interest is the primary motivation for human actions. I recently wrote a commentary on this topic at the Huffington Post, What Would Adam Smith Say?, in which I pointed out that Adam Smith, often...
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A “Bigger-than-me” Experience

The tech revolution has made instant gratification so easy that young people now seem addicted to the “me” experience—that is, doing or making anything that maximizes personal pleasure, rewards, or positive feelings. So writes Steven J. Tepper (http://bit.ly/Bigger-than-me) in last week’s Chronicle of Higher Education. Tepper contrasts the “me” experience with the “bigger-than-me” experience, which seeks to solve common problems with a...
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How Does Moral, Emotional and Spiritual Growth Happen?

Columnist David Brooks recently wrote (http://bit.ly/BecomingARealPerson) that educators in authority at the nation’s elite colleges and universities “no longer feel compelled to define how they think moral, emotional and spiritual growth happens.” He goes on to say that “they don’t think it’s their place, or . . . they don’t think they know.” Far too much of higher education now...
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What’s at Stake?

In an essay investigating the significance of last year’s attempt to oust the president of the University of Virginia (http://bit.ly/thecoupthatfailed), Talbot Brewer reminds us about the essence of liberal education. Speaking about his own field, philosophy, he writes: Philosophy, in short, lives in conversation. The student must be called on to speak, and to do so sincerely rather than strategically—e.g., with an...
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Living Life and Making a Living

The true purpose of education is to learn to make a life worth living. If you can do that, you will know how to balance career, family, finances, self-development, leisure, and all the other elements that make a whole and meaningful existence. This is the primary end of education. Everything else is secondary. It is backwards, then, to focus on...
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College Rankings and Good Judgment

Now is the time of year when various media outlets traditionally release college rankings. St. John’s College has long opposed the very notion of a single-scale college ranking. We believe that the intrinsic diversity and individual character of our nation’s colleges and universities cannot, and therefore should not, be reduced to a single scale. Doing so gives prospective students and their parents the false...
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What’s Wrong with Pushing STEM Education?

The public clamor for education to promote STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—has grown as the number of young people showing interest in such studies has declined. Sadly, the attitude behind the clamor is almost entirely driven by the economic metaphor. It is as if our nation were a business, realizing that it needs more human resources in those fields in order to stay...
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Saving Wholeness

Nicholas Kristof recently opined at the New York Times that the current barrage of criticism against the so-called humanities is wrongheaded. “What use,” he asks, “could the humanities be in a digital age?” And he answers, “The humanities are not only relevant but also give us a toolbox to think seriously about ourselves and the world.” As proof, he points to...
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Reengineering Retention

On Monday, Inside Higher Education published an opinion piece with my long-held thoughts on a public policy issue: low college retention and completion rates are local problems requiring local solutions rather than one-size-fits-all solutions formulated in Washington. This issue is coming to the fore again as the U.S. Department of Education gears up to enact a college rating system, yet another effort to bring a uniform...
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How Do You Measure What Makes Life Worthwhile?

Are the humanities of value in modern life? Since the recession of 2008-2009 a pessimistic chorus has swelled. Many say they are irrelevant or economically unsustainable. Gunnar Counselman, CEO of Fidelis Education, takes a positive position in a recent article for Inside Higher Education (http://bit.ly/tech-saves-libarts). “I am convinced,” he writes, “that not only is the ‘death of the humanities at the hands...
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