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No Way Out


A week or so ago, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching put out its annual report on the state of education. This report concluded that part of the responsibility for the moral collapse that was evident in recent athletic and cheating scandals was upon colleges for their failure to instill a system of mind values in their students. While conceding the conflict between teaching students how to think objectively and giving them a code of morals which they could practice without reservation, the report asked for a moral system that would enable people to make decisions in cases where they could not wait "until all the facts are in."

It is easy to agree that certain systems of moral values will lead a person to resist the temptations of basketball fixers, but there is very little agreement as to which system of morals will do the best job. It is interesting to note that many of the basketball fix cases involved colleges run by religious orders, where a system of morality is generally a central part of the curriculum.

By appealing primarily to morality rather than knowledge to pull colleges and the country out of their supposed moral quagmire, the Carnegie Foundation has opened itself to the charge of seeking an easy way out. Those periods in western history which have been marked by the prevalence of moralistic over empirical teaching were quite as subject to scandals and moral convulsions as other periods. The mere fact of a widely-taught morality does not make any society moral; there must also be a congruence of the moral order with the conditions of the society in which it is to prevail.

To point out the evils of bribery from pulpits and college lecture platforms seems to have done little good in a society where a college athlete receives huge rewards in terms of esteem and none in terms of money, and where a government official receives an income totally incommensurate with his responsibilities while monetary wealth is considered the sign of the successful man. The real contribution that liberal arts colleges in a democracy can and do make is to train their students to base decisions on as many facts as it is possible to collect, and to make all decisions conditional on the arrival of new facts.

If universities continue their function of bringing in the facts--facts from history, from other cultures, from analytic investigation of life and the nature of the universe--they will have performed in the most effective way possible. Teaching courses primarily for a "purpose," rather than for content, clashes with the basic ideas of liberal education and is no way out of either basketball fixes or governmental corruption.

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