我第一次接触“Liberal Education(自由教育,又称通才教育)”这个概念是在念大三时上的《美国文化》这门课上。美国大学奉行的Liberal Education旨在培养学生全面发展,不以“专业学习”为目标,而其中,“哲学”方面的学习被摆在了很重要的位置。有人说,哲学是科学中的科学,虽然哲学不能取代科学,但它却指导了科学。哲学讨论的不止是“我是谁”、“人是什么”这些问题,它还要人们学会如何思考,而这也是埃及开罗的美国大学希望其学生掌握的能力。 ——Mac
When Rafik Gindy graduated from high school, he knew he wanted to become an engineer. So he enrolled at the American University in Cairo and prepared to 1)immerse himself in math and science.
But the university had a different idea.
Mr. Gindy knew what he wanted to be, but did not exactly know who he was. That was what the university wanted him to think about, in a class called The Human Quest: Exploring the Big Questions.
“I thought identity was just your name, your culture, but now I know it’s really complex,” said Mr. Gindy, a 2)slender freshman who shook his head at that 3)revelation.
Who am I?
What does it mean to be human?
These are the kinds of questions posed to undergraduate students entering this 90-year-old university during what the president, David D. Arnold, called a first year of “4)disorientation.” During disorientation, the students—85 percent of them Egyptians—are taught to learn in ways quite 5)at odds with the traditional method of teaching in this country, where instructors lecture, students memorize and tests are exercises in 6)regurgitation.
“It’s different here because there is room for people to express themselves,” said Manar Mohsen, a junior majoring in political science and journalism. “It is not that simple outside, where it is more about 7)conformity.”
In Egypt, education is based on the concept of 8)rote learning, and creativity in the classroom is often discouraged. Students at Cairo University say they memorize and recite, never analyze and 9)hypothesize.
American University is a private, elite school, although university officials sometimes 10)recoil at the elite label. Yet, the school is expensive and so is generally out of reach for all but the wealthiest families and a handful of scholarship students. Tuition and fees for Egyptian students run about $19,600 a year, a 11)princely sum in a country where about half the population lives on about $2 a day.
The campus 12)exudes 13)affluence. Students joke about the “14)Gucci 15)corridor,” a spot where 16)well-coiffed students gather each afternoon. There is no cafeteria, only expensive fast-food 17)stands.
“We are all rich and spoiled,” said one student, upset that more of her classmates were not more politically aware. But in some respects, the elite label is a strength. American University plays a central role as a sort of intellectual 18)boot camp for young people who will become leaders in government and the economy.
“If we teach the elite to be good citizens, that’s not a bad thing,” Ms. Anderson said.
Nabil Fahmy, the former longtime ambassador to the United States, said that over his nine years in Washington, at least 40 percent of the embassy staff was made up of American University graduates, as was he.
The university was founded in 1919 by a group of 19)Presbyterian 20)missionaries. Over the years it has grown, and now serves 5,000 undergraduates on an architecturally 21)inspiring, if geographically isolated, $400 million, 260-acre campus in a suburb called 22)New Cairo. The location redefined the university, just as the university was beginning to redefine itself as a first-rate university rather than a 23)finishing school for Egypt’s elite. But as the school has grown, so has a conflict within the university itself: can it change its mission while retaining its 24)liberal arts core and preserving classes like the Big Questions?
Some say it needs to move away from that way of thinking.
“We are moving more and more into professional schools, like business, engineering, sciences,” said Mr. Fahmy, the former ambassador, who is the founding dean of a new school of global affairs and public policy.
“The challenge we have now is we have moved from a small college that thought it was a university, to a university that has to change its thinking from being a small college,” he said, defining a view that is 25)anathema to some others on campus.
There are other pressures, too, coming from a society that holds engineers in such high esteem, that the profession is also a 26)courtesy title, like doctor.
“The humanities in general, and philosophy specifically, are seen as either 27)frivolous or, at the very least, not financially 28)prudent, by many of the very people who seek what makes A.U.C. unique,” said Nathaniel Bowditch, an assistant professor of philosophy. Dr. Bowditch argued that “learning how to think rather than what to think prepares a person for all professions,” and that without that “the academy becomes nothing more than a trade school.”
For now, the university leadership says it remains committed to its core mission, and will continue to ensure that incoming Egyptian students relearn how to learn, officials here said. “We want our students to be imaginative in their fields,” Ms. Anderson said.
So for the time being, at least, the Big Questions class remains safe, which seems to suit the students just fine.
“I took the course because my brother took it two years ago,” said Mr. Gindy, the freshman construction engineering major. “I like how it explained things we never knew, like how the world began.”