Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Foundations for Liberal Education & Generic Graduate Attributes

OVERVIEW:

In 1861 William Johnson Cory presented an argument in Eton Reform that a "great school" will introduce a number of habits and arts that mark an educated person, preparing them for a liberal education. It is my feeling that most university students are not provided with such arts and habits before entering university study and that it is incumbent upon the university to build the foundation for many students. In this, and the following 2 posts, Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge and Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Alternative Phrasing, I will interpret and re-craft Cory's habits and arts to better suit our current context.  

But you go to a great school, not for knowledge... 
Above all, you go to a great school for 
self-knowledge.

- Cory, Eton Reform

BACKGROUND

Public Domain
Interior of the Lower School at Eton
Public Domain
A few years ago I was referred to an essay titled Eton Reform written by William Johnson Cory defending the curriculum of Eton College.  Cory had prepared a defence of the Etonian system (curriculum) in reply to the criticisms of Matthew James Higgins and Sir J.T. Coleridge. At the time the headmaster was addressing allegations that Eton College was teaching its students nothing useful that may lead to a job. That is, Cory was defending the benefits of a liberal education, in effect participating in the same argument that we are now engaging about relative benefits and relationships of education for employment and education for enlightenment.

Cory, in no way dismissed the need for boys to appreciate the need of work, or to be prepared to eventually engage in productive employment, but also felt that the job of a school was to prepare its graduates to think and act in particular ways that speak to being educated. He makes direct reference to the notion of self-knowledge and the need for his boys to develop the capacity for rational thought as the foundation of freedom. Prepared in this way, Eton graduates will have developed the abilities and practices to exercise freedom rather than follow uncritically what they are told.


HABITS & ARTS

During his defence of the Eton curriculum, Cory lists a number of habits and arts indicative of an educated person. They struck me as having value, so I have kept them in hand and have occasionally referred to them. I last mentioned them in this blog in a posting titled Is a liberal technical education something more or something else? I have found them useful because in effect, the habits and arts are the preconditions for a liberal education. Without them, it would be very difficult for a student to engage meaningfully, critically, and reflectively in social settings.

Public Domain
William Johnson Cory, Public Domain
It is here that I think Cory distinguishes between education for training and education for self-knowledge and enlightenment.
"At school you are engaged not so much in acquiring knowledge as in making mental efforts under criticism.  A certain amount of knowledge you can indeed with average faculties acquire so as to retain; nor need you regret the hours you spent on much that is forgotten, for the shadow of lost knowledge at least protects you from many illusions.   But you go to a great school not so much for knowledge as for arts and habits; for the habit of attention, for the art of expression, for the art of assuming at a moment's notice a new intellectual position, for the art of entering quickly into another person's thoughts, for the habit of submitting to censure and refutation, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy, for the art of working out what is possible in a given time, for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage, and for mental soberness."
And mixed into this quote is the essence of what is needed in preparation for a liberal education. That is, without the habits and arts to which Cory refers, a learner is poorly prepared for engaging in a liberal education. To provide a point of reference in a contemporary context, I will refer to the American Association of Colleges and Universities' (AAC&U) framing of a liberal education as...
... an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. It provides students with broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g. science, culture, and society) as well as in-depth study in a specific area of interest. A liberal education helps students develop a sense of social responsibility, as well as strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills such as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, and a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

Which is frequently articulated in the form of an inter-disciplinary general education curriculum that, when well-crafted promotes awareness about ways of knowing, as well as the acquisition of disciplinary and professional knowledge.  In Australia, we try to capture part of this through the definition and use of Generic Graduate Attributes. One definition of Graduate Attributes points to
...the skills personal attributes and values which should be acquired by all graduates regardless of their discipline or field of study, and representing the central achievements of higher education as a process...  

To illustrate an application of graduate attributes in practice, I have copied below the introduction used to address the nature of Graduate Attributes and Generic skills at the University of Sydney, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS).
Graduate Attributes are central to the design, delivery and assessment of student learning in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Students are encouraged to acquire attributes in scholarship, global citizenship and lifelong learning. In the context of their learning in a range of disciplines and subjects, students will develop key generic skills in:
  • research and inquiry
  • information literacy
  • personal and intellectual autonomy
  • ethical, social and professional understanding
  • communication

To further illustrate the nature of graduate attributes, the following provides a little more context, but if you are interested in more detailed treatment visit the FASS Teaching and Learning site that addresses General Attributes.

  • Research and Inquiry. Graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will be able to create new knowledge and understanding through the process of research and inquiry.
  • Information Literacy. Graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will be able to use information effectively in a range of contexts.
  • Personal and Intellectual Autonomy. Graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will be able to work independently and sustainably, in a way that is informed by openness, curiosity and a desire to meet new challenges.
  • Ethical, Social and Professional Understanding. Graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will hold personal values and beliefs consistent with their role as responsible members of local, national, international and professional communities.
  • Communication. Graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will recognise and value communication as a tool for negotiating and creating new understanding, interacting with others, and furthering their own learning.
All Australian universities have such attributes, and although they all vary, they principally drive at the same qualities. In addition, the development and presentation of generic or general attributes are mandated at all Australian universities and are meant for all students. 

Once again, I would suggest that Cory's habits and arts provide the necessary foundation for learners to engage in a liberal education and take as part of their lives the general attributes listed above and similar attributes at other universities. And if this is so, what do we do about learners who do not come from "great schools" and have not otherwise acquired the habits and arts to which Cory refers?

Several months ago, while trying to make this point, I was chatting with a group of colleagues and presented the list of “Habits and Arts” of an educated person as part of a paper for discussion. Keeping in mind that Cory composed the list in 1861, it is not surprising that the feedback that I received was that the list seemed sort of quaint and na├»ve in nature. Conceding that the language is a little dated, I insisted that the actual content remains relevant to university administrators, academics, and to students. I argued as well that their framing as habits (and arts) inherently frame them in terms of behaviours, which is an advantage. I am not necessarily suggesting that the attributes included in Cory’s list have been ignored or are not generally built into university curricula, but I do not feel that they are frequently articulated as clearly and directly as they ought to be. Nor are they generally associated clearly with a higher education purpose that extends beyond, is fundamental to, or complementary of the growing emphasis in many universities on occupational and professional training for employability.

Recognizing that the 1861 language does not resonate very well in 2014 (and I am guessing will no more so in 2015), I have taken a little time to describe what I think Cory was driving at with each of the Habits and Arts he listed, relate them to the qualities that many colleges and universities espouse as valued general graduate attributes, and propose a refreshing of the item under discussion.

For now, here is the list of Arts & Habits.
  • Habits of an educated person...
    • the habit of attention
    • the habit of submitting to censure and refutation
    • the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy
    • the habit of working out what is possible in a given time
    • the habit of taste
    • the habit of discrimination
    • the habit of mental courage
    • the habit of mental soberness.
  • and the following arts of expression...
    • the art of assuming at a moment's notice a new intellectual posture
    • the art of entering quickly into another person's thoughts
    • the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms.
As this posting is getting a bit long, I will expand on Cory's habits and arts in the next two postings. In the next posting titled Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge, I take some time to explain my interpretation of each of Cory's habits and arts. In the final positing, titled Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Alternative Phrasing, I will rewrite Cory’s habits and arts to reflect a more contemporary language. Although I am not entirely confident that my interpretation and re-crafting will be much of an improvement, it will serve as a good reflective exercise for me and perhaps improve my thinking along these lines.




  
RESOURCES

Eton Reform
From Defence of the Etonian system in reply to the criticisms of Matthew James Higgins (‘Paterfamilias’) and Sir J.T. Coleridge. Cf. DNB, v. 22, p. 488,
https://archive.org/details/etonreform02cory

Eton College
http://www.etoncollege.com/

Graduate Attributes and Generic Skills, University of Sydney, FASS
http://sydney.edu.au/arts/teaching_learning/academic_support/graduate_attributes.shtml

What is a 21st Century Liberal Education?
https://www.aacu.org/leap/what-is-a-liberal-education

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge
http://www.kenudas.com/2014/12/arts-habits-of-educated-person_20.html

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Alternative Phrasing
http://www.kenudas.com/2014/12/arts-habits-of-educated-person_23.html



 Creative Commons Licence
Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Foundations for Liberal Education & Generic Graduate Attributes by Ken Udas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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