The Front Edge Of Character Formation

david-brooks SeattleAt the annual conference for presidents of the Council Of Independent Colleges, David Brooks delivered what I regard as a brilliant speech on higher education. Brooks launches into all the woes of higher education these days—rising costs, perception of declining value, politically correct agendas, loss of the importance of the humanities, blurring of institutional distinctiveness, too much emphasis on data, measuring students’ futures by financial metrics alone–it’s all there. But his real concern is the loss of moral formation on our campuses.

Character formation, says Brooks, should lie at the very heart of a college education, and character formation cannot take place without a surrounding moral universe.

We must remember that some form of character formation has animated the whole enterprise of the university from its very beginning. We have now, it seems, hollowed out that soul of the university. We have neutralized any moral framework. We have lost the art and the heart for formation. Our students of course lose the opportunity to grow in this way, but in the process, our universities contribute mightily to a society of self-focused, self-aggrandizing individuals. Our culture has lost its way with moral formation. The university both reflects that culture and yet shapes such a culture. The consequences for our world are huge.

And get this: Brooks singles out Seattle Pacific University and Wheaton College as two among the seven hundred universities of the CIC doing remarkably well in this worthy work of moral formation. After hosting Brooks for two visits on our campus, he has become a genuine supporter of our efforts at SPU. We are grateful to David Brooks.

With all the other important concerns, then, about the future of university education, we must reclaim this mission of moral and character formation. How can we do a better job of encouraging young people to take that exciting journey of formation? How can our faculty especially enter into the lives of students meaningfully? How can we help young people move from self-focus to self-giving? How can we help them move from shallowness to thoughtful passion about things that matter?

Christian universities are out on the front edge in these matters, Brooks believes, and I agree wholeheartedly. But overall, we need to rediscover and reclaim this worthy historical commitment of the university. We need to renew our efforts to shape decent, thoughtful human beings, just those people who will build a more healthy society.

This speech is a must hear. I hope you get time to listen.

[button color=”#COLOR_CODE” background=”#COLOR_CODE” size=”medium” src=”http://vimeo.com/84066145″]Watch Brooks’ CIC Speech[/button]