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.