Thursday, June 02, 2005
Responsible Choice — What we learn
One of my professors at the University of Chicago, Jonathan Z. Smith, defines "liberal learning" as something that both requires and prepares us for "making choices and accepting responsibility." It "entails an ethos of enlarging one's range of possibilities [e.g., by becoming more aware of complexities], while accepting an ethic of care." This sort of learning, I'm sure J.Z. would agree, is intrinsically valuable by virtue of its parallels to what it means to live humanely, that is as a more fully human being.
Without going into it too deeply, we might think of our lives as a product of the choices we make each day and the response we have to the consequences of the choices. Every action we take, after all, involves not only choosing whether or not to act, but more importantly, choosing the nature of the action, its temporal and spatial conditions, how its done, with whom, in combination with which other smaller actions, with a particular attitude, and so on. As we go about our daily lives, interacting with others and the world around us, we are constantly making choices even if only habitually (what to have for lunch, what people to greet, what route to take home, for example). It's unavoidable. If we are alive, we are choosing.
If so, wouldn't it be a good idea to improve our choice making skills? How can we learn to make better choices, and hence end up with better consequences? Learning, the sort of liberal learning described above seems like the obvious answer. It makes a great deal of sense then to encourage liberal learning, to employ various cultural and historical facts that strengthen our ability to make more informed choices, to be more critical of assumptions, to evaluate habits, to find unexamined connections and relationships between things, people, ideas, etc. J.Z. Smith emphasizes the notion of "argument" as a way to teach these sorts of skills at the core of being educated. Being able to make and defend an argument does, certainly, involve choosing with good reason between alternative points of view.
I bring all this up simply because it is yet another principle guiding the educational mission of Castle Rock. We strive on a regular basis to reflect upon the nature of the choices we face in different contexts, in personal/community interactions, in our outdoor adventures, in our course readings and discussions, and in how we understand the broader world. This added attention and consciousness, we think is the basis for a great education, as well as a primary force for living a meaningful life. Castle Rock is a place for everyone involved to practice.