One of the most important aspects of creating the educational experience for William Jewell
College students is intentionality throughout the experience. Our goal is to create a coherent
experience, an experience that hangs together around focused academic and developmental
outcomes. Our faculty strives to do this primarily through our “Responsible Self” general
education curriculum. Following is a brief essay on this topic written by a faculty committee led
by Dr. Elizabeth Sperry. It is built around three key questions that provide a framework for a
superior liberal arts education. I thought you might enjoy this insight into the thinking of Jewell’s
faculty as they work on creating a transforming educational experience.
What is the intellectual core of a William Jewell College education? Perhaps this question seems
easy to answer: students are learning about themselves and their world. But what are they
learning, and how is it different from what they have learned in high school or through their own
reading and experience? What makes Jewell’s academic offerings distinctive?
A college-level liberal arts education pushes students to think at a deeper level than they are likely
to broach on their own. While liberal arts education has many different facets, it is fundamentally
oriented around three questions: How should we behave? What can we know? What is real?
These questions, in various guises, shape all of thoughtful human experience.
Each academic discipline asks these questions in its own way. Some emphasize one question
more than another: for example, chemistry is more focused on “What is real?” than on “How
should we behave?” Often the same question is explored in different ways: for example, English
literature’s approach to “What can we know?” is narrative, while philosophy’s is abstract. A good
liberal arts education requires students to explore arenas outside their majors, so that they will
be confronted by all three questions and by a number of different ways of answering each
Jewell’s “Responsible Self” General Education curriculum is intended to further this goal. The
Responsible Self asks students to consider a number of different ways of answering “What is
real?” For Augustine, the spiritual realm is real, and the physical realm only partially so. For E.O.
Wilson, the physical realm is real and the spiritual realm does not exist. According to the Gita,
the divine Being is real, but our individual personalities ultimately are not.
Jewell’s General Education course also asks students to consider “How should we behave?” The
Gita advises one to do one’s pre-ordained duty as dictated by one’s caste, gender, and stage of life.
Mill suggests one behave to enhance one’s self-development, so long as this behavior is not
harmful to others. Augustine insists that one must follow God’s law, and abstain from earthly
“The Responsible Self” also features different answers to “What can we know?” Momaday
portrays a culture in which animals communicate with humans and humans can learn to control
the natural world. For Wilson, knowledge must be gathered through the experimental, scientific
method. For Mill, knowledge comes from life experience and open debate. Augustine maintains
that knowledge has already been placed in our souls by God, and that we will find it within us
if we look for it properly.
Other levels in the General Education program approach the three questions in their own way.
At Level II, Power and Justice courses tend to analyze “How should we behave?” Drawing on
different traditions and methodologies, both Sacred and Secular courses and Science and
Technology courses focus on “What is real?” and “What can we know?” The Culture and
Traditions sector draws from all three arenas, as do the Capstone courses, which are intentionally
structured to integrate students’ educational experiences at Jewell.
When students understand how physics, French and Introduction to the Bible are linked to one
another, they understand more fully the value of learning and of their time at Jewell. They also
understand more fully that a liberal arts education is much more than the mastery of facts: it is a
transformation of their minds and personalities.