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Jacob Finds That College May Not Influence Values

By Philip M. Boffey


If the conclusions reached by Philip E. Jacob in his study of Changing Values in College are valid, then a good many educators, here and elsewhere, have been wasting a good deal of time attempting to revise their curricula and their methods of teaching.

Seeking to determine the effect of education on the values held by students, Jacob concludes that college has no fundamental impact on the students' basic values, and that what peripheral effect it has is not to be explained by the influence of the curriculum, of the instructor, or of the teaching methods used.

His study is based on a selective survey of programs of instruction in the social sciences. It includes on-the-spot observations at some thirty institutions, but is mainly an analysis of the data accumulated in important previous studies.

Jacob begins his analysis by attempting to determine the main contemporary patterns of value among American students. Drawing chiefly from the evidence of five previous studies, he notes that college students today tend to think alike, feel alike, and believe alike. He notes that most of them are gloriously contented, self-centered, and tolerant of diversity, that they value the traditional moral virtues, that they feel a need for religion, but that religion does not carry over to guide their important secular decisions, that they are dutifully responsive towards government, and that they set great stock by college in general and their own college in particular. "For the most part," he concludes, "a campus 'norm' of values prevails in the 1950's, coast to coast, at state university or denominational college, for the Ivy Leaguer or the city college commuter."

Despite the broad uniformity of student values, however, Jacob notes that some 20-25 per cent do not conform, that individuals do depart from the broad baseline, and, "to the extent that they do so," he says, "they mark out the area where their education, and other factors, may have had a decisive influence."

But when he looks at the accumulated evidence, Jacob feels that although college does make a difference, it is not a very fundamental one for most students. He notes that college tends to move students toward a greater uniformity and at the same time somewhat more flexibility of social outlook, but he feels that these are changes on the surface of personality, and do not involve the fundamental values which shape a student's life pattern. "They certainly do not support the widely held assumption that a college education has an important, general, almost certain 'liberalizing' effect," he claims.

Refutes Previous Studies

This conclusion is especially interesting because it refutes a sizable number of attitude studies which claim to find a clear trend toward liberalism with increasing exposure to academic influence. Jacob points out, however, that most of the studies which report this trend were conducted in the 1930's when exceptional social and economic distress brought about a general liberal reorientation. He notes that more recent surveys comparing college graduates with others find the difference in outlook negligible on many questions, and that on economic issues the college man is likely to be more conservative than the others.

Jacob next considers the small extent to which students' values are modified during college and he seeks to determine how much this modification is the result of the curriculum, how much of the instructor, and how much of the teaching method.

Regarding the curriculum, he feels that what one studies does not determine his values. Drawing chiefly on the data collected by the Cornell Values Survey, Jacob notes that "a breakdown of its results according to the field of study in which each student was concentrating or planning to concentrate, shows that the patterns of value are almost identical among students in the different fields--within each university and across the sample as a whole."

He adds that "a distinction in interest, but not in value, may come from basic education in the social sciences, but, contrary to some expectations, mere tion accomplished by Aquinas, who incorporated the systematic requirements of medieval metaphysics. It will, perhaps, be a translation as radical as that given Judaism by Jesus, or the Veda by Gotama.

Task of Each Epoch

The task of every historical epoch is perhaps very close to Hegel's picture: the formation of The Perennial Philosophy in terms which can give the people of that time the electric sense of life which is contained in functioning religious inspiration or an integrated culture.

The cure for contemporary troubles would therefore hardly appear to lie in an attempt to revivify the Bible or reanimate the Christian revelation. The Christian heritage proved incapable of answering Bacon and Diderot. And while these men failed to provide a lasting alternative, they defined the work of any future religion. No future synthesis can simply ignore the problems raised by empirical science or temporal Utopianism. It must incorporate these elements into a new vision, making its Revelation relevant to contemporary dilemmas.

And so to talk of Christian education is, as Pollard suggests, quite fruitless, because Christian education requires Christian educators, and a Christian society. And we have few Christian educators because the Church is no longer talking a language which illuminates problems confronting the Academy. We have no Christian society because Christianity has failed to say and do anything finally effective about science and progress. We can only begin to talk about Christian education after we know what we mean by Christianity, and that word has not had an imminent experiential reference for four centuries.

If the Churches are trying to revive Medievalism, we must ask whether they have removed the shortcomings which led to the classical Renaissance.

Need to Define Order

If, on the other hand, the Churches are trying to create a new Christian order, then the first business at hand is to define that order and forget the educational experiment for a few centuries. What, for instance, is the contemporary world supposed to understand by the Christian use of the word "God"? How are we to take statements about heaven and hell or the day of judgment? When these questions can be answered in ways which move men to live again, then we can talk about Christian education

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