National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council Vol. 12, No.2 (Fall/Winter 2011). ISSN 1559-0151


Copyright © 2011 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


For many of us, honors is our academic and cultural oasis—a refuge from surrounding institutional strife. Honors is not always an idyllic paradise, of course, but the ongoing intellectual stimulation coupled with the sheer joy derived from working closely with the best and brightest of students has often led me to wonder if this could all be just a mirage. Looking out from the safe haven of honors, however, I have observed a potential danger: the segregation of honors culture from the changing climate of higher education.

In her classic 1934 work Patterns of Culture, Ruth Benedict discusses the role of custom and tradition in an individual’s cultural experience and belief system. In her study of diverse cultures, Benedict documents the rituals, traditions, and ceremonies that give meaning to our lives. The academy has long recognized the importance of tradition, with the donning of academic regalia at commencement representing one of the many examples of long-standing cultural rituals that add meaning to students’ higher education experiences. Encapsulated within the modern academy, honors education is a culture in its own right (see Slavin). We can identify a set of common customs and traditions that shape and are shaped by our experience and belief systems about honors education, including active-learning strategies like City as Text™ and Partners in the Park as well as classical pedagogical approaches such as seminar discussions and one-on-one mentoring. Though we may not have a universal honors culture, we have a shared identity. Indeed, for many of us, the culture of honors gives meaning to our role as educators; we identify strongly with the honors communities on our campuses. Honors also provides opportunities to share our cultural experiences at regional and national honors conferences, where we celebrate our honors culture.