Thursday, May 26, 2005
Rethinking Education (again)
David W. Orr, of Oberlin College, wrote an excellent essay (published in 1994) entitled "What is Education For?" It's an important document affirming the educational philosophy of Castle Rock, so I thought I would share just a bit of it. Toward the end of the essay, Orr suggests six principles that might guide a rethinking of education:
1. "All education in environmental education."
2. "The goal of education is not mastery of subject matter but mastery of one's person."
3. "Knowledge carries with it the responsibility to see that it is well used in the world."
4. "We cannot say we know something until we understand the effects of this knowledge on real people and their communities."
5. There is a profound "importance of 'minute particulars' and the power of examples over words."
6. "The way in which learning occurs is as important as the content of particular courses."
Each of these deserves elaboration and comment, but I want to focus on the last principle for it speaks most directly to what we do here at Castle Rock. It is essentially recognition of how important context is when it comes to learning, when it comes to recognizing the significance and applicability of some content. It's a recognition of "process" rather than simply "product." It brings to light the fact that learning is not a passive or anonymous or neutral endeavor, but is rather something that is always interactive, bi-directional, and individual. Each student contributes to the overall context in which learning takes place, each altering for both him- or herself and others, the process of learning.
All of this is why CRI emphasizes community, the true interrelatedness of our lives as learners (teachers and students). It is also why we seek to diversify the context of what we study, always seeking to find relationships, connections, and effects beyond what we initially know. There is a "real world" to what we learn, and we are all a part of it, participants in the process of its becoming. It's a certain kind of approach to what it means to be a college student, but it's something we think is fundamentally valuable.