Fall 2010:

Spring 2010:


March 26, 2010

Complimentary Buffet 6:30
(Please make reservation)
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Program 7:45

Macalester College
Board Room

Macalester College is at the intersection of Snelling Ave. and Grand Ave. in Saint Paul.


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March 26, 2010 - Seminar

Dr. Stewart James
Dr. Jeff Martinek

Ethics and Excellence in Education

Please join in on our "blog" discussions click here:

Higher 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 or ambition.”

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 questions.

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.

Dr. 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. Dr. Stewart 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.

To register - james.martinek.event@astonishme.org





Director's Notes:
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?