The Educational Ideals of Marlboro College

At Marlboro College, we are committed to teaching, encouraging, and practicing the following ideals for independent learners and responsible citizens; we expect students to commit to developing and practicing these ideals during their time as members of the Marlboro community.  Some of these ideals are embodied in distinctly academic skills that faculty will cover in class and that course-work is designed to develop -- the clearest example of such a skill is writing.  Other ideals emerge from the structures and practices of Marlboro as an intentional academic community, though they may not come primarily from work in the classroom – clear oral expression and debate is key to most classroom discussion, but also essential to effective work in Town Meeting and on committees.  

The comparative weight and practice of all of these ideals will be different for everyone and at different stages. We urge careful consideration of these ideals over the first two years of study and in the deepening of a set of abilities through plan.  We believe that by the end of  students’ education, they should be able to articulate how the majority of these skills have been strengthened and practiced through their work at Marlboro. 

Although the first few skills constitute the historic core of what makes the Marlboro education stand out, the order of the ideals is not inherently hierarchical,.  Self-direction and clear communication are deeply woven into the fabric of the Marlboro curriculum.  Every completed plan will involve increasing one’s ability to self-direct, research, analyze, and write.  The prominence of other skills may depend more on the chosen field, or on a student’s advisors, or on the student’s participation in the life of the college through Town Meeting, committee work, student groups, or other activities.

The Ideals

1) Independent and Responsible Learning

Recognizing that most students arrive at college having had very little experience with choice in shaping their education, Marlboro faculty offer a broad range of courses, some of them in unfamiliar disciplines. Faculty advise first- and second-year students toward experimentation and an articulated preparation for a coherent Plan of Concentration. 

Working in close collaboration with faculty through the tutorial system and Plan, all students should discover and practice their ability to develop and to work towards their own goals.  Students should be able to identify the knowledge and skills they need and be able to plan how to acquire them.  Students should become more confident about their own ability to learn and to work cooperatively with others -- a confidence to carry with them throughout their lives.  Students should consider how to adapt what they have learned through the Plan to new situations and real-world problems.

2) Clarity in Communication

Students practice communicating their work and their ideas to diverse audiences throughout their Marlboro education.  Writing is the most common form of such communication, as evidenced by the Clear Writing Requirement and the inclusion of writing as a required part of all Plans.  Effective communication goes beyond just polished prose and clear documentation of one’s own work.  Clear communication includes a capacity to listen, to question, to respond, and to discuss.  Students should also be able to articulate their ideas in more than one medium, often with creativity and imagination.  Such communication may often include artistic work or the acquisition of a foreign language.

3) Imagination and Participation in Inquiry and Research

Inquiry begins with an understanding of how to formulate useful questions.  Armed with good questions, working on Plan involves a high level of research and of synthesizing information, as well as, in many cases, original creative work and critical response.  Students develop the ability to locate and to assess relevant information to answer the many questions they will encounter through their lives.  The concrete work of Plan familiarizes students with the arguments, practices, and questions of a focused discipline or set of disciplines.  The interdisciplinary environment of Marlboro and of most Plans of Concentration also helps students achieve some sense of how different disciplines affect the formulation of questions and arguments.

4) Thoughtful and Fair Analysis

Both through the classwork and through the work of community governance, members of the Marlboro community develop their ability to recognize, to respond to, and to construct clear and convincing arguments.  The capacity to understand and formulate arguments prepares one to assess and critique much of the material we encounter beyond academic life, from new artistic production to public political debates.  An important aspect of this skill is the imagination and discipline to articulate standards and to criticize one’s self, assessing the qualities or deficiencies of one’s own work so as to improve. In many fields, it is essential to recognize and accept or experiment with a variety of aesthetic principles while working towards one’s own and to be able to offer constructive criticism in the terms in which a work is presented. 

5) Grit

We all strive to know the limits of our own abilities, to be able to push against those limits, and to be willing to learn from our mistakes and failures.  An unsuccessful trial is always a chance to improve our understanding and our persistence in the face of difficulty.  Such work involves an honest assessment of our own strengths and weaknesses as well as a constant attention to detail and the particulars of the task at hand.

6) Cultural Perspective

A Marlboro education should involve contact with cultures beyond our previous experience.  We should engage those differences and their resulting world views.  Such engagement provides the opportunity to listen carefully to the ideas of others, a humility about one’s own held convictions, and the capacity to continue to work through differences when necessary.  We cultivate an awareness of the differing historical contexts in which people live, working toward an understanding of the profound variety of the human experience.  Such awareness also connects us more closely to our own local context and to a deeper understanding of our relationship to our place in the world.

7) Citizenship

Living and working at Marlboro invites engagement with the governing bodies of the college.  The structure of Faculty Meetings and Town Meetings encourage listening to a plurality of voices, an understanding of one possible model of the democratic process, and participating in a forum for community struggles over sometimes difficult issues.  Working through such processes strengthens our ability to listen to the viewpoints of others and to work in teams, sometimes working alongside people with whom we disagree but with whom we are seeking common ground. 

Class work may also provide both a theoretical and historical framework for learning about democratic engagement and a further context in which to practice such engagement.

8) Health in Life and Work

We are all constantly negotiating our capacity to live and work around other people in ways that support our physical and mental health.  Our work together at Marlboro should help us maintain a balance of relationships, labor, and play conducive to our wellbeing as individuals and in community.  Work in the classroom should help to develop a playfulness with ideas and an appreciation for sustaining and mindful practice in our studies.

9) Ethical Courage

As members of the community, we must often tackle complex moral questions. An education helps us to engage in ethical reasoning and to act on our individual determinations of right and wrong while still accepting the complexities and ambiguities of the human experience.