If you aren’t a reader of The Stone, the NYTimes weekly opinion column where “contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless” or something or other, you should probably pat yourself on the back – it was great for the first year, but now it’s mainly become a platform for a few folks who want to talk about atheism and agnosticism and that’s about it. (oh, how the grey lady has let this one fall flat on its face) However, every now and again there are some gems in there, and so where I would never encourage you to follow the blog, I am happy to follow it for you and then tell you when something of value is posted there.
A few weeks ago they posted a fantastic article about higher education by Michael Roth, President of Wesleyan University. Specifically, the article dealt with the ways in which we can provide a more powerful experience for our students if we not only help them to be skilled critics of preexisting knowledge, but also active participants in the creation of knowledge and other cultural artifacts. Here’s one of the fantastic thoughts from the article:
Liberal learning depends on absorption in compelling work. It is a way to open ourselves to the various forms of life in which we might actively participate. When we learn to read or look or listen intensively, we are, at least temporarily, overcoming our own blindness by trying to understand an experience from another’s point of view. We are not just developing techniques of problem solving; we are learning to activate potential, and often to instigate new possibilities.
Does this require technology? No. Is it expensive? No. Does it take plenty of thought in designing a pedagogical experience, or even just letting it bubble up into existence? Possibly. It is not easy to quantify these experiences in terms of learning objectives, or to ensure that everyone will have the same experience, but the promise of liberal education as a place that awakens the potentials of its students to become participants in the creation of our shared culture can serve as a call to arms for all of us. We don’t need to be trapped by this as an ideology, but rather to think pragmatically about how this spirit can be infused into our everyday practice. It actually isn’t as hard as you might think.