Plains Folk

Honest Labor of Every Kind


We have begun, on the North Dakota State University campus, another iteration of the recurring question: Just what constitutes a college education? The essentials are embodied by what is known as general education.


This sort of discussion is exasperating in two ways. The first is that it is tedious. The wrangling goes on, and often the people having the least idea of what a college education is do the most talking. This results in a dumbing down of the process and the product.


I mean, the last time around, the process actually coined an “intended student outcome” that read thus: “Locate and use information for making appropriate personal and professional decisions.” Talk about your least common denominator!


The second exasperating thing about the discussion, especially if you have a long memory, is that it partakes of the most harebrained elements of the times in which it takes place. So, the way I read the current proposed set of parameters, the core offering will be Narcissism 101. Students are urged to ponder the question, “Who am I, and how did I become that person?”


I would like to suggest—since all of us state employees at the university have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and that of North Dakota—that we begin with what we are constitutionally required to do.


Constitution of North Dakota

Article VII, Section 3


In all schools instruction shall be given as far as practicable in those branches of knowledge that tend to impress upon the mind the vital importance of truthfulness, temperance, purity, public spirit, and respect for honest labor of every kind.


Parse this out with me, and see if we don’t come up with a pretty good program—one informed by the best angels of prairie life.


Truthfulness: see that our students recognize the importance of the search for truth, know how to discover it in the various branches of learning, to detect falsity and reject sophistry.


Temperance: extending the common meaning of the term at the time of the adoption of the constitution, enjoin our students to curtail self-indulgence and preserve their human potential.


Purity: recognizing that we all fall short of this ideal, nevertheless, learn together to examine our motives and be worthy in our aspirations.


Public spirit: ask of ourselves, how may I be of service to my fellow citizens, beginning with my neighbors? Call this “public spirit,” not “public service,” to convey the conviction this is something that animates us, not a burden to carry.


And finally, respect for honest labor of every kind: You knew this one would be my favorite, right? And I think it was the favorite of the authors of the constitution, too, because they represented a producerist commonwealth of the northern plains. In my observation, college students today are hard-working. But they do not necessarily respect their work. They see it as a means to an end. They do not see the work itself as a good, worthy of respect. This, then, is the commanding task before us: to teach respect for honest labor of every kind.


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