In 2009-2010, The Phronesis Project takes its first step toward becoming a Center devoted to understanding and promoting character development, practical wisdom, and professional formation. It is funded by a grant from Mercer University’s Academic Initiatives Monetary Fund and grows out of both national need and previous local initiatives.
The Mission and Objectives of the Phronesis Project
This project engages a comprehensive investigation into the nature and stage-appropriate development of “good character” and practical wisdom. It is comprehensive in its focus on life’s various contexts and stages, its efforts to draw upon and integrate a range of theories of moral development, pedagogical practices, and insights from the neurosciences, and its interdisciplinary reach across all relevant disciplines and all professional fields with their corresponding departments and colleges/schools at Mercer. It thus seeks to undertake and facilitate comprehensive, comparative, and collaborative work on character, practical wisdom, and professional formation that is difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish when done in isolation from other efforts. The overarching goal is not just to achieve a greater understanding of the nature of “good character” and practical wisdom, but also to determine the most effective stage-appropriate pedagogies for developing these qualities across the educational continuum in general, and at Mercer University in particular.
These pedagogies include those that are explicit in the curriculum as well as those that are implicit in the social environment and ethos of the educational institution. More specifically, the project seeks to
• foster cross-disciplinary conversation and learning about character, practical wisdom, and professional formation
• develop or identify methods and resources for teaching that promote character development from K-graduate school
• develop or identify resources for assessing such development
• promote conversation and collaboration about the Mercer environment and ethos across the lines of academic, administrative, and student life offices
• promote the development and implementation of new academic courses involving students from different departments/schools, and
• promote student and faculty research on character, practical wisdom and professional formation.
The Phronesis Project and Mercer's Heritage of Transformative Education
The Phronesis Project, with its emphasis on shaping student lives, is another expression of Mercer University’s long-standing commitment to transformative education. That commitment grows out of Mercer’s religious heritage. Founded by Baptists, initially for the education of Baptist clergy, Mercer has, for most of its existence been affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention. One historic Baptist distinctive has been that one must present evidence of transformation (the traditional term is conversion) in order to be allowed into church membership. While Mercer no longer has formal ties to any Baptist entity, that insistence on transformation remains.
This commitment to transformative education has been forged by several key events in Mercer’s past. These include a heresy trial conducted in 1939 when thirteen students, led by John Birch accused professors in Christianity and other departments of teaching ideas that contradicted Baptist beliefs in the Bible and creation. Although all professors were cleared of charges, this event has come to be a key part of Mercer’s lore and self-identity. The trial is chronicled today in the Mercer Reader (1st ed), pp. 511-524. It has also been dramatized by Mercer Professor Andy Silver in an unpublished play from 2007, The Disciples.
Another event, or series of events, out of which Mercer’s commitment to transformative education and “the Mercer ethic” was forged can be found in Mercer’s experiences during the Civil Rights era and the integration of the Macon campus (one of the first college campuses in Georgia to do so). This story can be found in the Mercer Reader (1st ed, pp. 525-550), Will Campbell’s account of the 1960’s at Mercer, The Stem of Jesse: The Cost of Community at a 1960's Southern School, and Andy Silver’s play, Combustible/Burn, published in 2002.
Mercer has a history of curricular experimentation, as well. These experiments are described in “Three Great Mercer Ideas,” by retired professor of English Mike Cass and “The Legacy of Transformative Education at Mercer,” by Peter Brown, who is currently a Senior Vice Provost. This heritage is currently embodied in our programs in First Year Seminar, several programs in community engagement, including service learning and Mercer on Mission, and our Quality Enhancement Plan’s commitment to engaged learning.
About Mercer University
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University has approximately 7,600 students; 11 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and continuing and professional studies; major campuses in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah; three regional academic centers across the state; a university press; two teaching hospitals — Memorial University Medical Center and the Medical Center of Central Georgia; educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta; an engineering research center in Warner Robins; a performing arts center in Macon; and a NCAA Division I athletic program. For more information, visit www.mercer.edu.