Rethinking College Education

George Allan

In an era when most colleges and universities have become vocational schools, their improvement measured in terms of cost reduction or instructional efficiency, the essential values of higher education are too often overlooked. Students are being filled with knowledge, but are not learning how to use it wisely, nor even understanding that it's important to do so.

According to philosopher and educator George Allan, what is most important about a college education is not what students are taught but whether they learn the moral practices that determine how they may best conduct their lives and how they can become responsible individuals-practices that cannot be taught but can only be learned in an environment that encourages imaginative play and open-ended dialogue. The most important thing colleges can offer young people, claims Allan, is a place to converse: to learn the skills of cultured intercourse and not just a trade.

“A very clever book.

—Philosophy in Review

“Not the usual book on higher education reform, this is a thoughtful philosophical discussion of the nature of American collegiate education. An original and at times stimulating discussion of philosophical approaches to liberal education. Allan is very much a traditionalist, and his book is a good argument for liberal education.

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Allan argues that the current goal-orientation of America's colleges and universities has undermined the very nature of higher education. He shows that while colleges historically may have been based on a religious sense of mission or on the Enlightenment's commitment to rational inquiry, today's universities have become resource centers organized to serve the needs of a diverse customer base of students. In its commitment to giving students what they want, this model of higher education not only neglects the broadening and deepening of minds, it encourages students to recognize the validity of numerous points of view without ever learning to interact creatively with them.

Writing with the same inventive openness he encourages for our colleges, Allan explores the essential nature of education and seeks to refocus the debate concerning its future. Rethinking College Education engages readers in fundamental issues rarely broached by the current educational literature, and it challenges American colleges and universities to reconsider their priorities before they lose completely the spirit and style that have been the sources of their importance to the nation.

About the Author

George Allan is professor of philosophy at Dickinson College and author of The Importances of the Past: A Meditation on the Authority of Tradition and The Realizations of the Future: An Inquiry into the Authority of Praxis.