Choosing St. John's Liberal Education

How Does Moral, Emotional and Spiritual Growth Happen?

Columnist David Brooks recently wrote ( 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 rests on the mistaken notion that education is primarily a cognitive enterprise having to do with information transfer, which requires that teachers possess the knowledge that students must learn. But information transfer is not education. Education is building up the self by advancing to the boundaries of what one knows, facing one’s ignorance, and pushing through it to realize something new—and then learning how to do that for oneself. Better that teachers acknowledge they don’t know how to grow a self or build a soul, and open up that very question with their students!

At St. John’s, we know one way that moral, emotional and spiritual growth happens: by discussing seriously, in a community devoted to self-growth, over and over again, the most important questions raised by the most extraordinary products of human intellect and artistry. Surely one of those questions is: How does moral, emotional and spiritual growth happen?