"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
– Margaret Mead
Isn't our responsibility - as scholars, as teachers - to advance the intellectual development of students - not their characterological or civic development?
When people encounter new ideas and information, they try to make sense of it in terms of something they think they already know. (They use existing constructs and models to interpret new ideas and information.) Learning is the process of coming to see reality in a new way. In teaching disciplinary knowledge and methods, what we’re doing is stimulating in students the new construction (or reconstruction) of reality. We’re helping them build new, or expanded, or revised models of reality.
Civic learning is the process of coming to understand the social, economic, and political reality of our communities, society, and world, and to see them in a new way. Recognizing that this reality is largely of our own making and to some important degree within our control to change, what we strive to do is help students build new, or expanded, or revised models they can enact.
But learning can be uncomfortable, even painful. As Saul Bellow said, “a great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.” Similarly, James K. Galbraith remarked that, “faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” The point is, discomfort and pain often prompt resistance. Consider the intellectual virtue of open-mindedness. Can open-mindedness be achieved through the presentation of facts and the application of reason alone? Not when a person’s close-mindedness is rooted in emotional need. So even if we’re concerned chiefly with the intellectual development of students, we have to deal with their emotional needs and affective (characterological) development.
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