Education & the Life Worth Living

What do you want to be when you grow up? What's your major? What do you want to accomplish professionally? What do you want to do in the world?

These questions—about where you're going and the most effective way to get there—loom large for many students. But where you are going is not nearly as important as who you'll be when you get there.

The Education & the Life Worth Living seminar is about starting your journey at university on the right foot—first things first, by asking the most important questions: Who do you want to become? And how is your college education going to help you become that person?

Course Description

What is an education for? What does it have to do with real life—not just any life, but a life worth living? We will explore these questions through engagement with the visions of five very different ways of imagining the good life and, therefore, of imagining education: the traditions of Confucianism and Christianity and three diverse modern thinkers. By the end, students will be prepared to ask the question of the good life and to put that question at the heart of their college education.


Matt Croasmun
Associate Research Scholar and Program Director, Life Worth Living



  • Andrew Delbanco, College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be, 9–66
  • Scott Gerber, “How Liberal Arts Colleges Are Failing America,” The Atlantic, September 24, 2012
  • Randall Collins, “Credential Inflation and the Future of Universities,” Italian Journal of Sociology of Education
  • Martha Nussbaum, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, 13–46
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me, 25-64, 135-152


  • Confucius, Analects
  • Philip Ivanhoe, “Conceptions of Self, Society, and World,” Confucian Reflections:Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times
  • ———, “Being in and Learning from Tradition,” Confucian Reflections: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times
  • ———, Confucian Moral Self-Cultivation, selections
  • ———, Philip Ivanhoe, “The Music in and of Our Lives,” Confucian Reflections
  • Mencius, 2A6, 6A1, 2, 6-9, 11, 14-18
  • Chun-Chieh Huang, “Mencius’ Educational Philosophy and Its Contemporary Relevance,” Educational Philosophy and Theory 46, no. 13: 1462–73
  • Chu Hsi, Learning to Be a Sage, selections


  • Selections from the New Testament
  • Genesis 1-3
  • Alexander Schmemann, “The World as Sacrament,” For the Life of the World
  • Miroslav Volf, “Epilogue,” Flourishing
  • Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, selections
  • Augustine, Confessions, selections
  • ———, Sermon 179A, §4
  • James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, selections
  • Simone Weil, “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God”
  • Willie James Jennings, After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging, selections


  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Confessions, Book I, selection
  • ———, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, Eighth Walk, selection
  • ———, Emile, selections
  • Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, chapters 2, 6, 10–12
  • Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Chapters 1-2
  • bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress, selections

Student Perspectives

"I saw in my classmates, from Christian to Atheist to Muslim to Jew, from the agnostic middle to the free-will-denying scientists, a capacity for wonder, love, curiosity, deep reflection, argument, and serendipity."

"My transition to life at Yale this fall was a whirlwind. As a ruralite, I felt disoriented by the energy of urban life; as a woefully undecided student, I felt overwhelmed at times by my classmates’ drive. Amidst this churn, the intimate, clarifying discussions I shared in Education & the Life Worth Living were a godsend. It was incredibly refreshing to reaffirm the value I hold in life’s most simple joys—an intimate connection to nature, a strong sense of belonging, the familiarity of close friendship—as a counterpoint to the pressure I feel to overlook these joys at Yale. I am emerging from Education & the Life Worth Living with a clear, fundamental purpose to my Yale education: regardless of the field of study I choose, I know that I want to pursue a wholly fulfilling life, where my professional success enables, instead of precludes, the simple joys that give life its color."