Why are we here?

I think this will be my continuing theme, as I grapple with teaching. There never comes a time when I say, “Everything’s perfect. This is perfection.” Never will come, never can come, for everything is constantly in flux: the academy, the forces that push into the academy, I, my colleagues, the students, the ideas, the configurations, and that which pushes out, too.

My colleague P.S. just directed me to a book I’ve begun to read on integrative education: The Heart of Higher Education by Palmer and Zajonc.

This is one of the quotes that hit home with me. It is attributed to Wendell Berry:
“The thing being made in a university is humanity…. [W]hat universities…are mandated to make or to help to make is human beings in the fullest sense of those words–not just trained workers or knowledgeable citizens but responsible heirs and members of human culture…. Underlying the idea of a university–the bringing together, the combining into one, of all the disciplines–is the idea that good work and good citizenship are the inevitable by-products of the making of a good–that is, a fully developed–human being.”
Wendell Berry, “The Loss of the University,” Home Economics (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1987), p.77.

And this one by Palmer and Zajonc:
“If we would expand the worldview that supports education, we can find no better place to begin than by opening ourselves to the full scope of human experience. Life comprises an infinitely rich array of sensorial, emotional, and intellectual experiences. Whether walking beside a forest stream or listening to the premiere of a new opera, whether contra dancing or working at a laboratory bench, the theater of the mind is dense with impressions, feelings, thoughts, and impulses toward action. Parallel to the universe of outer experience is a comparably rich world of inner experience. Taken together they constitute the world of human experience (p. 64).”

I’m thinking of writing an article on some of the successful experiences that happen in the classroom, amid the struggles where they don’t happen. For learning is so much more than what we make it out to be. Is learning dry, dead, a game, an ego-building affair, a money-grubbing scheme? Sometimes some or a combination of these things. But what of the student as a whole person, as Palmer and Zajonc say? What about the student as multi-sensory, experiencing being, where that experience does not solely occur on the printed page in the verbal part of the brain? If we learn anything, truly learn it, do we not learn it with our whole being?

There are other quotes as well from the book, and there is something I want to say about all this, but tomorrow is another day, as Scarlett said.


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