Whither moral education?


“In “Whither Moral Education?,” (World and I, November 2011), I argue that American education has for far too long set aside the questions of the good and the meaningful–or, what is the same thing, the moral and intellectual virtues. First I attempt to identify what factors gave rise to this phenomenon and then in the final pages to explore how the situation might be improved. The essay ultimately seeks to provide a good justification for the role of the humanities in the “spiritual” lives of Americans and this at a time when the humanities seem to have lost their way.

Opening Paragraph

Even the most cursory glance at the first-person columns published regularly at The Chronicle of Higher Education –those sentimental epistolary novels about the ups and downs and ins and outs of academics working in higher education–will make plain how very little erudition teaches one about the art of living.

During the month of November, the essay will be available to non-subscribers on the World and I website.

Back Story

I can remember writing this piece in March or April of 2009. I had deposited the dissertation in January and the economy, NPR said, was then in free fall. And while I was not in free fall, I was not doing so well. I had finished the Ph.D., had rent to pay for 6 months, had no financial support and no “life skills” transferable to the business world, had scrawled my first general interest essay in January for God knows what reason, was becoming more and more alienated from academic life, and wasn’t sure–I think I was 30 then, yes, 30 and a few months–what to do with my life, let alone what to do with the morrow. Or the morrow after the morrow.

How could I be sure that I wasn’t wasting my life?

Oh, I could relate tales of Craigslist woes, of schlepping, of drudging and mucking and fledging. I could speak of a quiet despair. I could write of the iciness of that Madison winter or of the woman who, at the bus stop, told me about her cancer. But I won’t.

Clipped and abridged as this back story is, it nonetheless reveals something already seeded in the essay, something about the education that I’d never gotten, that others in the academy were not getting, and that we must long for just as we long for love and virtue and wisdom. The last sentence of the essay, I now see, led me to where I am today, though it was far from where I’d imagined I’d end up. For this, I’m grateful.

Further Reading

Andrew Taggart, “Philosophical Biography”