Thursday, November 03, 2011

Medieval Notions

Students often come to college absorbed in their own world view. Their egocentricity is displayed through their writing, their class comments, and sometimes their interactions with others. When they are exposed to more diversity, as often happens at college, different responses are elicited. Some students flat-out reject diversity or the views or others and become angry and defensive. Others use the view points of others to confirm their own worldview. And some students recognize both the similarities and differences between themselves and others and find a way to reconcile the two or expand their understanding. A survey of 200 students focused on students’ experiences with diversity at their university and what connections exist between diversity and intellectual and ethical development ( In response to this survey, one respondent showed that he was able to increase his understanding and move beyond his restricted view of the world as he listened to other interpretations and perceptions of the world and heard new ideas:

As someone raised in an ultra-conservative environment, as a Hasid in Brooklyn, I had little access to the diversity experienced in most American educational institutions. Not until my exposure to "secular" education, primarily here at college, did I realize how closeted my erstwhile experience was. I was indeed surprised how myopic I was in relation to the majority of other students around me. To be certain the world of the Yeshiva definitely stressed and enhanced my mental tools for critical thinking and theoretical analysis. However, I was totally unprepared for the extreme relativism that is part of the liberal arts education. Still harboring medieval notions of an absolute truth, it took some time for me to realize the delicacy of multiple interpretations--that many interpretations not only don't contradict--but even contribute to the fuller understanding of the subject at hand. A case in point is the heated subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Until I arrived here, my views were totally antagonistic towards the victimized minority. Now, however, with exposure to many thoughtful views, especially ideas about colonialism, I see things a bit differently. It now appears that both Palestinians and Israelis have been victims and victors; there is no singular truth to this quagmire. The injustices run deeply on both sides.

By listening to and learning from others who represent different systems of belief and have had different experiences and by becoming familiar with new theories and histories, he was able to enhance his own understanding and build up his critical thinking skills. Not all students are as open to this process, however, and they may not get as much out of this experience as did the student noted above. However, it is important for students to be exposed to diversity through a liberal education.


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