Cultural Formation

So far, I have discussed the research and credentialing purposes of the modern university. Cultural formation is a process that trains citizens in the knowledge of their country and their common humanity while giving them moral and intellectual virtues.

Universities are often places in which students learn about their country, form their values and learn to participate in political life. Such preparation can be viewed as preparation to be citizens. This is the sort of thing that cultural formation refers to. The problem is that it can also be used for negative activities as well. Indoctrination, political campaigning in the classroom and politically biased lessons are different ways of promoting cultural deformation.

Cultural formation is not simply a matter of knowledge. While knowledgeable citizens do know how politics works, the history of their nation and the values that their nation promotes, this knowledge is not enough to culture a citizen. A cultured person is not simply a knowledgeable person. He is also a good person. Cultured people have strong characters. Therefore, cultural formation includes the formation of the virtues – both moral and intellectual.

In regards to knowledge, there are two areas that a cultured person knows. First, she knows what every human being ought to know. Second, she knows what every citizen ought to know. Knowledge as a human being is the knowledge of human rights, responsibilities and nature. It is a knowledge of what good character is and how to recognize it and promote it in others. A citizen knows how to be a good citizen. In democratic countries, this means that she knows how to participate in the political process and how to recognize good laws and good politicians.

In regards to virtue, a cultured person is virtuous in two ways. The first is privately and the second is publicly. Privately, a cultured person is honest, trustworthy and loyal. He acts justly with others, helps strangers and obeys the law. Publicly, such a person promotes civic virtue, good government and charity. One does not expect the cultured person to be a hero. Heroism is above and beyond such things. But the cultured person is expected to be a good example in all ways. He is someone that a little child could emulate and be proud of.

Cultural formation is a process. It begins with a person who is not cultured and transforms them into a cultured person. It is not a short process done overnight, but a long process that begins from birth. A teacher who is not cultured cannot bring about this transformation in anyone else. But a student who does not respect their teachers cannot become cultured either. These two considerations aside, given students who are being taught and trained in these things will eventually become cultured.

Next, I will discuss how cultural formation modifies modern universities.

How Much Education is Enough?

One of the problems of discussing education is knowing how much education is enough education. We might claim that everyone should know a list of various things: reading, writing, basic history and geography and common science. But when computers became more prevalent we suddenly found a need to add them to our educational list. In fact, no such list is ever right for all circumstances and situations. We must be educated enough to pursue our good at the present time. That is the only way to determine if we have enough education or not.

When we measure the amount of education, there is no list of items that we can use that will correctly apply to all people in all situations. In the previous post, I did mention that there are things that we must be learn because of our human nature. While this is true, this is also not enough to constitute a complete education for anyone in any circumstance. Simply being taught how to reason as well as moral and intellectual virtues will give no knowledge of how to navigate modern society, how to pursue our good or how to act lawfully. Furthermore, there is no way to teach everyone what they need to know while making sure that everyone is taught the same things. Think of two people: one person is pursuing the good of creative writing and another is pursuing the good of scientific inquiry. Naturally, one person will need to learn a great deal about science and the other person will need to learn a great deal about writing. Yet what these people share in common is not nearly as large as what they have separately. Therefore, there is no list of items that are sufficient for a proper education of all people. This is true for the education of people over time as well. Suppose that the scientist finished his doctorate in physics in 1925. If he never learned the theory of quantum mechanics and relativity, then he would never be properly educated.

There is only one way to measure how much education is enough. We must have the education that is necessary to pursue our good. As long as we have what is necessary, then we are sufficiently educated. While we might want more education, such education would be beyond necessary and therefore a leisure activity. When I speak of what is necessary to pursue our good, I mean that in the most general way possible. We must be able to pursue our good in our current situation and circumstances without any kind of barrier. If there is a current barrier to pursuing our good in our situation and that barrier could be removed by further training of any kind, then we that further training is necessary. Suppose that our creative writer needed to investigate the life of a scientist in order to complete her current writing project. Suppose further that doing a proper job required a basic course on science in order to become familiar with scientific thought. Then such a course is necessary because without it she cannot complete her current writing project with the highest level of excellence.