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Confronting death: cultivating courage for cross-cultural understanding

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Title: Confronting death: cultivating courage for cross-cultural understanding
Author(s): Mulryan, Seamus
Director of Research: Higgins, Chris
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Higgins, Chris
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Burbules, Nicholas; Peters, Michael A.; Schwandt, Thomas A.
Department / Program: Educ Policy, Orgzn & Leadrshp
Discipline: Educational Policy Studies
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): Ethics Multicultural Education Dialogue Peace Education Civic Education Character Virtue Hermeneutics Existentialism Psychoanalysis
Abstract: The United States is a nation of many cultures. There is a diversity of ethnic and religious groups, and individuals of all, majority and minority, are granted constitutional rights including free speech and free exercise of religion. In such a liberal-democratic society, it is imperative to teach students to engage in dialogue about different ways of life. Yet any preferred way of life is predicated on a vision of the good life and of human flourishing that gives credence to that preference, and so discussion about different ways of life is at heart discussion of differing visions of the good. Without the ability to engage in dialogue about these differences, we risk growing intolerance and outright violence of one group against another, regardless of any rights abstractly granted to anyone within our borders. To meet this challenge, educational theorists have proffered a wide range of theories of multicultural education and of dialogue about the good. However, these theories have been premised on the idea of equal worth, i.e., all visions of the good and all cultural practices are deemed a priori equally valuable. This levels all cultures to merely different variations of the same category of "others", which makes the claim of worth vacuous, presumes an epistemological point of privilege, and shuts down the possibility of one's own way of life being challenged. The very notion of a good life requires that one way of life is deemed preferable to others, and this requirement precludes the possibility of judging all ways of life as being of equally valued--of judging one way of life as being as good as any other. The challenge in this dissertation is to conceptualize dialogue about the good that allows for evaluative judgments and demands deliberation about the good that takes seriously claims from those who do not choose the same way of life. Hans-Georg Gadamer's theory of hermeneutic experience helps us conceptualize understanding others' visions of the good in a way that makes possible the choosing of one way of life as preferable while at the same time preventing a distorted understanding of others' ways of life. To understand in such a way requires us to move away from any dogmatism about what it means to lead a good life and towards acknowledging we might be wrong. It is to put our beliefs and, by extension, ourselves at risk: it is to confront death. As such, understanding requires courage, but courage here must be understood relative to the task of understanding. Courageous understanding is not a method, talent, or abstracted knowledge. It requires a balance between aggressive assertion and diffident reception, and it requires attention to the particulars of the conversation and its participants. Courage for cross-cultural understanding can only be learned through practice, and this can be most fully realized in schools through the study of subject-matter that require interpretation, such as those found in the humanities. Subjects like art, literature, and philosophy allow students to become comfortable with the ambiguity of and diverse perspectives about human life as opposed to rigid certitude of correct answers and mastered skills. Students become intimately friendly with the finitude of human understanding, and in so doing they open up to the richness and infinite diversity of humanity. The very survival of a diverse liberal democratic society requires its young to be taught how to be wrong and not just right. It requires an education richer than mere knowledge and skill acquisition--one that aims at asking what it means to be human so that we might become more courageously humane.
Issue Date: 2011-08-26
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/26378
Rights Information: Copyright 2011 Seamus Mulryan
Date Available in IDEALS: 2013-08-27
Date Deposited: 2011-08
 

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