Amherst, Mass. — It's time for colleges to stop pretending they have a neutral role in developing civic-minded students, says UMass Prof. Ervin Staub. For Dr. Staub, who specializes in the psychology of altruism and aggression, the issue is not whether colleges should give students guidance and instruction in the virtues of participation, but how that guidance should take place. Whether or not it's acknowledged, he says, colleges exert enormous influences on student values and attitudes.
The question for colleges now is: What kind of opportunity will they give students to develop service-mindedness? Will they be able to find legitimate ``activities'' that will make students appreciate the value of ``community'' but not make them feel ``funny or inhibited'' about doing good deeds.
Projects such as Mass Transformation are an example of such activities, he says.
While it may be too sweeping an analysis, Staub says, he still feels the overriding characteristic of life and times in America today is individualism. Little sustained or intelligent work is being done in the area of teaching students to appreciate ``community.'' Most of the serious community work done among ``baby boomers'' was in counterculture communities. These may have been important at the time, Staub says, but now there is a need for a renewed sense of public community.
Scholarly studies of both children and college students show, Staub says, that the actual experience of helping others changes people in a tangible way -- makes them less apprehensive about the idea of service and of ``being kind.''
Staub is impatient with students or faculty who say they want to help the world, want ``to be connected to humanity and the universe,'' but who belittle local efforts. Students benefit from helping the ``immediate community,'' he says. That's where they learn to do bigger things.