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A careful reader wrote to complain. My recent web essay on General Education at Harvard cited the following from the Final Report: “The aim of liberal education is to unsettle presumptions, to defamiliarize the familiar, to reveal what is going on beneath and behind appearances, to disorient young people.” He points out that the full sentence for the report says all that, but ends on an upbeat note: “and to help them find ways to re-orient themselves.”

The careful reader thinks that this ending changes the meaning of the sentence. Perhaps. But the Report emphasizes again and again and again the critical tropes of modern and postmodern intellectual life. Therefore, I read “re-orient” as empty rhetoric and cut it accordingly.

The section of the Report that details the requirement of a course in Ethical Reasoning genuflects in the same direction. Harvard hope students will learn to “reason in a principled way” about moral issues, with the expectation that this will “promote our student’s personal development.” But again, a ton or two of rhetoric falls onto the “critique” side. The Report is very keen to emphasize that students must “encounter value systems not their own.” As a result, the little weight given to the other side gets overwhelmed.

But maybe I lost an opportunity. I now see the logic of the matter. It isn’t boilerplate. Harvard expects students “reorient” by adopting the stance of global managers.



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