Volume 19, Issue 2, 2009
Daniel R. Gilbert, Jr.
Setting Our Sights On Sites
Putting Competition To Work For Liberal Education
Competition, an experience that human beings construct, is also a challenging concept to teach in a liberal education curriculum. Liberal education is, among other things, a celebration of what imaginative human beings can accomplish together with their differences and their common ground in sight. It is not self-evident, however, that such an ethic of connection, tolerance, and civility can
encompass competition. Competition often unfolds as a divisive human experience. Divisiveness among certain human interests is a bedrock premise in the disciplines of economics and strategic management. Frequently, one or both of these disciplines can be found in an undergraduate curriculum alongside liberal education initiatives. The ethical aspirations that we hold for liberal education could be undermined by two disciplines in our very midst.
This paper contains a defense of a curricular remedy for this threat to liberal education. With a focus on places, or sites, I create a framework with which we liberal educators can reinterpret competition as the routine practice of an ethic of connection, tolerance, and civility. This focus on sites is augmented when we set our sights photographically on places where competitors necessarily get along with one another. By re-conceiving competition in terms of the places and the sites of human togetherness, I render avoidable the intellectual disconnection between an ethics of liberal education and the divisive concept of competition. We liberal educators can claim competition-intensity, wins and losses, and all-for our educational enterprise.