Monday, February 18, 2008


In the time I have left as a teacher, I want everything I do academically to have clear transformative effects on my students. I want them not simply to know something more but to become something more—and better—for what they have learned and performed in my courses. No students of mine should wonder what was the point or use of any course they've taken with me. The enhancements they recognize in themselves should be clear evidence of the growth and development of their humanity.

If education needs to be not only informative but transformative, and who we are is very much formed by our beliefs, we should examine our beliefs, especially our tacit suppositions about ourselves, others, and the world. I should examine my own beliefs, both overt and tacit. I should try to enunciate them and defend them and, where necessary, amend them. Allow me.

I believe that people need to “grow in love” throughout their lives (as Tolstoy said) in order to be healthy and whole in the highest sense (“spiritually,” some would say); in order to become more enlightened than benighted; in order to manifest their true or higher selves and live the lives they were born to live.

I do not know this to be true, but I believe it to be right and good; and to act on this belief, my experience tells me, will make me happiest. But I might believe otherwise.

I might believe, for instance, that triumphing over others is more satisfying than caring for them, sharing with them, and showing them compassion. Many do.

I might believe that some classes of people are inherently more worthy than others and should be privileged accordingly—for their race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender, or some other distinguishing mark.

I might believe the world should revolve around me and that my own ego’s gratification—“looking out for #1”—comes first.

I don’t. Not when I behave as I believe. And I believe that such a generous attitude is best for all of us, necessary to acquire, and the highest aim of education: a transformation devoutly to be wished.