My Take on Higher Education

Terry Gray

18 Feb 2003

College life is a smorgasborg: students can partake of a wide range of activities, from partying to the most arcane academic pursuits. Counselors will try to make sure that one partakes of a balanced meal, but ultimately only you can decide whether to leave the vegetables on the plate and only eat the dessert. As the philosopher said "I am what I am, plus circumstances." Pick your circumstances carefully; choose who you hang out with as if your life depended on it. Because it does.

One of the most important purposes of higher ed is to teach "critical thinking". That is not the same as "being critical". It means finding the right balance between skepticism and open-mindednes, or "a willing suspension of disbelief". It means being able to analyze arguments for consistency, and recognize the difficulties of establishing causality.

Another key goal of a successful higher education is learning how little we know. If the universe is infinite, it will take an infinity to understand it. Moreover, the only way we can find Truth is to recognize that we might not have it yet. Humility is not inconsistent with passion. As a college president once said to a freshman class: "Half of everything we teach you will be wrong. Unfortunately, we don't know which half."

While a passion for truth is an essential foundation for the lifelong quest ahead, do not confuse passion with aggressiveness or arrogance. Academia is infamous for arrogance, but that is not the characteristic of higher-ed one should strive to emulate...