March 26, 2010
Complimentary Buffet 6:30
(Please make reservation)
Macalester College is at the intersection
of Snelling Ave. and Grand Ave. in Saint Paul.
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March 26, 2010
Dr. Stewart James
Dr. Jeff Martinek
Excellence in Education
Please join in on our "blog"
discussions click here:
education still sets its compass to the star that Thomas Jefferson
placed highest in the constellation of human experiments when
he argued that the survival of the Republic, the happiness of
its people, and, indeed, freedom itself, depended on education.
“No other sure foundation” he wrote, “can be
devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness.”
Jefferson insisted it was an ethical project, and spoke in terms
of doing good: "Our institution will proceed on the principle
of doing all the good it can without consulting its own pride
To what extent do students, and professors, navigate by that
star? Though we still talk about going to college in terms of
developing into complete human beings, do we believe it?
Two years ago, Dr. Martinek and I were encharged by the college
president with launching the Ethics & Excellence Task Force.
Our relationship to ethics comes of its paternity in ethos: moral
character and its variant, morale. With a view toward building
an honor code, our imperative was far broader: less stricture
than instruction, less the formation of a gendarmerie than the
enduring transformation of our students.
Jeff and I began with critical self-interrogation of our own determination
and leadership, and a probing of the entire ethical environment
of education. We observed how the ethical health of our students,
faculty, and staff is interconnected and interdependent, as is
that of the wider community of parents, spouses, and town. What
we have discovered sometimes surprises, and often troubles us,
and demands conversations, beginning with the most fundamental
We propose beginning this conversation now, through the exchange
of ideas on the Institute web-blog, and continuing in whichever
direction this takes us on March 26.
Jeff Martinek is Professor of literature, media, and
writing at Iowa Wesleyan College. He is a Shakespearean scholar who
pays attention to what Shakespeare has to say about the nature of
authority and power, and he extends this examination into the ways
individual leaders and institutions produce the charismatic power
necessary to inspire followers and bind subjects to the symbols and
rituals of their authority. His uncompromising arguments with American
education resonate with those of Postman and Gatto, whom he admires.
His work leading the President's Ethics Task Force responds to what
he calls dysfunctional institutional culture. Ultimately, he believes
that we need to understand the troubling qualities we find in schools—from
the structures and motives of the institution itself, to professor
and student complicity—as ethical issues.
James is a widely published writer serving as Associate
Professor of Spanish Language and Literature at Iowa Wesleyan College.
He has studied and taught in premier universities of Europe and North
America. His Miguel de Unamuno Foundation takes a stand on questions
of rights, identity, and destiny among nations without statehood around
the world, and his current book tells of a dissident and survivor
of Mauthausen who, after liberation, burrowed into the remote Amazon
jungle, where Stewart spent time with him and recorded his story.
Dr. James proposes opening our discussion of ethics in education by
returning to the most faithful translation of the original Greek ethos
as a place to gather, and asking to what extent the health of the
classroom ethos depends on that of its environment.
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R. Alan James
Education is the biggest enterprise of
our nation. But are we satisfied with it? Is it truly our best investment
in the future? Can our minds be trained to bend our behavior toward a
more civil world? Is it an honest enterprise? How can we design education
so that it serves humane and sustainable purposes? Whose responsibility
is the agenda? What indoctrinations do we genuinely pursue? In a sustainable
society, whose should be the design of curriculum? To what extent is education
corrupted by its pursuit of money?
So we have questions. Can these teachers help us clarify our thinking?