“Aptness to Edifie Another”

 One of the distinctive features of the American college has always been the idea that students have something to learn not only from their teachers but also from each other. That idea of lateral learning originates from the Puritan conception of the gathered church, in which the criterion for membership was the candidate’s “aptness to edifie another.” The idea persists to this day in the question that every admissions officer in every selective college is supposed to ask of every applicant: “What would this candidate bring to the class?” It under­lies the opinion by Justice Lewis Powell in the landmark case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), in which the Supreme Court ruled that considering a candidate’s race is constitutional for the purpose of ensuring “the interplay of ideas and the exchange of views” among students from different backgrounds. Those are modern reformulations of the ancient (by American standards) view that a college, no less than a church, exists fundamentally as what one scholar of Puritanism calls the “interaction of consciences.”

— Andrew Delbanco, “College at Risk

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