THOUGHTS FROM THE HOLIDAYS
January 6, 2016
Like they were for me, I hope your holidays were full of good times and reflection. I even managed to do some “holiday reading” and came across a few articles that I’d like to share in this first 2016 posting.
Arranging the articles in the order I discovered them, the first excerpt comes from “American higher education is a house divided” and was written by syndicated columnist George Will. (And, as always, I hope you’ll make the time to read each of these articles in full. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.)
“ . . . Purdue has become the second university (after Princeton) to embrace the essence of the statement from the University of Chicago that affirms the principle that “education should not be intended to make people comfortable, it is meant to make them think.” The statement says “it is not the proper role of the university to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable or even deeply offensive,” and it endorses “a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.”
Why is Purdue one of just six universities that have now aligned with the spirit of the Chicago policy? . . . because Purdue, Indiana’s land-grant institution, is true to the 1862 Morrill Act’s emphasis on applied learning. It graduates more engineers than any U.S. university other than Georgia Tech. . . .
Scientists and engineers live lives governed by the reality principle: Get the variables wrong, the experiment will fail, even if this seems insensitive; do the math wrong, the equation will tell you, even if that hurts your feelings. . . . ”
(The University of Chicago’s “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression” is worth reading in its entirety.)
The next excerpt is from an article by David Silbersweig, Academic Dean at Harvard Medical School, “A Harvard Medical School professor makes the case for the liberal arts and philosophy” published in THE WASHINGTON POST:
“Recently, when philosophy and America’s higher education system were devalued by Sen. Marco Rubio during the Republican presidential debate and in subsequent statements, my thoughts returned to my sophomore year at Dartmouth, when I went back to my childhood dentist during a school break.
In the chit-chat of the checkup, as I lay back in the chair with the suction tube in my mouth, he asked: “What are you majoring in at college?” When I replied that I was majoring in philosophy, he said: “What are you going to do with that?”
“Think,” I replied.
And what a continuously giving gift philosophy has been. While it seemed impractical to my dentist, it has informed and provided a methodology for everything I have done since. If you can get through a one-sentence paragraph of Kant, holding all of its ideas and clauses in juxtaposition in your mind, you can think through most anything. If you can extract, and abstract, underlying assumptions or superordinate principles, or reason through to the implications of arguments, you can identify and address issues in a myriad of fields. . . . “
Finally, from Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog, published in THE WASHINGTON POST, comes an excerpt from “A venture capitalist searches for the purpose of school. Here’s what he found.” by Ted Dintersmith:
“ . . . I was in hot pursuit of the right answer to the question: “What is the purpose of school?” Everywhere I looked — mission statements, meetings with school leaders, websites — I’d find sensible, even inspiring, purposes:
• teach students cognitive and social skills
• teach students to think
• build character and soul
• help students in a process of self-discovery
• prepare students to be responsible, contributing citizens
• inspire students through the study of humanity’s great works
• prepare students for productive careers
I probed educators on these alternatives, trying to determine the purpose of school, as though answering an SAT question. But I gradually came to realize that this choice was poorly framed. For starters, each of these goals have merit. If some classrooms prepare students for productive careers, and others prioritize on character development, that’s a good thing. And shouldn’t we celebrate an educator who accomplishes one of these goals — not snipe over whether an alternative purpose is superior?
But what came across loud and clear in my journeys is that schools don’t have the luxury of striving for any meaningful purpose. We’ve somehow imposed a system on our educators that requires them to:
• cover volumes of bureaucratically-prescribed content
• boost scores on increasingly-pervasive standardized tests
• get kids through this year’s vacuous hoops to prepare for next year’s vacuous hoops
• produce acceptable graduation rates and college placements
• deal with parents who are either obsessive micro-managers or missing in action. . . . “
Each of these thought-inspiring articles is worth a complete read. They certainly got my thinking processes going.
More on Monday – – –
— Bill Walton, co-Founder, ITC Learning
www.itclearning.com/blog/ (Mondays & Wednesdays)