Help the kids to know themselves

Alexander W. Astin is the founding director of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.

Although we academics can be justifiably proud of our outward accomplishments in science, medicine, technology and commerce, more and more our universities neglect our students' inner development -- the sphere of values, beliefs and emotional maturity.

The traditions that constitute the core of a liberal education are grounded in the maxim "know thyself," but today self-understanding gets short shrift. Yet it is fundamental to our ability to understand one another, to be good citizens and to resolve society's most persistent problems: poverty, violence, crime and ethnic and religious hatred.

It is not as difficult or abstract as it sounds. Interdisciplinary courses, study abroad, reflective writing, foreign language study and classes that incorporate public service -- research shows that all of these help foster students' inner development. So does participation in what we in education research call "difficult dialogues" -- that is, focused discussions on race, nationality, politics and religion.

By encouraging campuses to embrace such practices, our new president can push the University of California to do more than educate students; it can create the leaders who will heal the divisions that plague our global society.

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