For goodness' sake

Starting next year, high school and college students in Thailand will reportedly be graded not just on academics, but on "goodness" as well. Concerned that the competitive education system puts too much emphasis on materialism and not enough on morality, officials told the Associated Press that they have a plan to record students' community service and emotional "quotients."

Critics in Thailand say goodness is too abstract to assess fairly. For the same reason, this kind of proposal wouldn't get very far here.

That's not to say there aren't plenty of folks in the US who believe young people are searching for some goodness guideposts.

One of them is Peter Gomes, a longtime professor and minister at Harvard University. Dr. Gomes talks with the Monitor about how he helps answer this search in the first of a new occasional series: "Subject Matters: Conversations with college professors about what they teach - and why" (page 17).

Through his courses on subjects such as the Bible, and also through the way he lives, Gomes challenges students to question messages that would confine "the good life" to the frame of a 30-second commercial.

In today's lead story, Mark Clayton looks into why certain college majors, including religion, have seen at least a small spike in student interest in recent years. Mark's sources and Gomes agree that the events of Sept. 11 enhanced this curiosity rather than created it.

In coming months, our Subject Matters series will delve beneath the surface of courses in the college catalog. Our tentative roster of professors includes a military historian and someone who trains her eye on marginalized ethnic groups.

Perhaps some of these interviews will offer insights into subjects you think are all too familiar, or, conversely, introduce you to a field you've never even heard of.

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