TED Talk: Liz Coleman’s call to reinvent liberal arts education

About this talk from the TED site:

Bennington president Liz Coleman delivers a call-to-arms for radical reform in higher education. Bucking the trend to push students toward increasingly narrow areas of study, she proposes a truly cross-disciplinary education — one that dynamically combines all areas of study to address the great problems of our day.

She goes further than this blurb would indicate. She claims the drive towards professional degrees, aka “learning more and more about less and less”, results in a toxic brew dismantling Liberal Arts education. Losing this cross-disciplinary approach results in an inability to tackle the country’s and world’s problems which often require more than one discipline to understand them.

Focus on higher education as a means to a profession ignores these questions:

  • What kind of a world are we making?
  • What kind of a world should we be making?
  • What kind of a world can we be making?

Parents are sending their children to college to get a good job. Solving the world’s problems isn’t part of the American dream. Well… outside of academia.
🙂

Intellectuals and Politics

The Age of Enlightenment ended over a century ago. It was known for producing a number of intellectuals. Are intellectuals a dying breed?

According to Wikipedia, “An intellectual is one who tries to use his or her intellect to work, study, reflect, speculate, or ask and answer questions about a wide variety of different ideas.” It seems of late scientists, lawyers, engineers, and doctors have become specialized into a myopic anti-utopia. I am encouraged by mathematicians and physicists working together to create Superstring Theory or cross breeding academic areas like Georgia Tech’s Threads. Specialization may reflect the difficulty of keeping up with many bodies of knowledge growing extremely quickly. Intellectuals are exceptional people. The Age of Enlightenment ended in the first years of 1800s which is just before the dramatic increases upon which we benefit today. It was centered in Europe. I think Europe misses it. Certainly the founding fathers, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Franklin were all intellectuals.

Education, in attempting to cover as much material as possible, answers well the questions: Who? What? When? Where? How? The question, “Why?” deserves the most attention. As its the most complicated, it takes the most time to answer. People can cut the most corners with Why than any other question.
🙁

Would an intellectual run for President of the United States today? We like to think politics are dirty today. The founding fathers played the same trash talking about their opponents as happens today. The change has really been the perception of what is honorable. We don’t trust politicians today like we did even fifty years ago.

During the Cold War we needed a President who would be decisive. Smart individuals could not be trusted to make resolute decisions. They would waffle, look at nuances, and fail to make us comfortable that we are being led. Their advisors would be the intellectuals. Only the advisors have become more and more specialized. We need an intellectual capable of providing us the vision. I especially do not want someone who has all the answers before they have even seen the question. I want someone who loves learning and wishes to serve society by helping to shape our society for improvement.

tag: , , , ,

Generalization

.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, com a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
— Robert A. Heinlein

Found in John Samaras’ email signature. I served as an Ex-Officio member of the Faculty Senate Technology Subcommittee of which he was a member and at one point chair.