Castle Rock Institute Blog
Monday, August 29, 2005
Too busy for learning?
Bruce Murphy, President of Northwestern College in Iowa, just published a short article arguing that college life these days, for both students and professors, is simply too busy. He fears our pressures/desires to take the most courses, engage extra-curricular activities, double major (and even add a minor!) are leaving students with little time for personal reflection and growth. And consequently, an ordinary college education is woefully inadequate if gaining a sense of wisdom is one of its goals. Too often, students hurry along not knowing where they're going, why they're headed that way, and if it's really important. This emphasis on "quantity over quality" can certainly serve as one explanation for the all-too-common feeling of disenchantment so many college students experience.

The implication here is that true learning, being educated, involves much more than simply acquiring knowledge and skills, knowing, processing, and communicating information. It has something to do with who we are as human beings, and how we will live our lives interacting with everyone and everything around us. It has a great deal to do with exploring the complexities of self and other, and moving toward a greater understanding of who we really are. Jorge Luis Borges put it this way.

"Any life, no matter how long and complex it may be, is made up of a single moment- the moment in which a [person] finds out, once and for all, who [he or she] really is."

Although not Murphy's main point, we have here yet another endorsement of studying the humanities, a call for us to tap into the accumulated human wisdom they represent, and a plea for us to slow down and look beyond "getting a job" or "getting ahead." It is also though a clear critique of the context for studying the humanities currently found on most college campuses- one that is too impersonal, too hurried, too disconnected from other subjects, realities (like nature), ideas, and events.

It made me think how the Castle Rock Institute programs can be seen as responding to both critiques. Our programs are designed to encourage community, cooperation and communication, to explore practical applications of what we glean from studying the humanities, to integrate personal, physical, and intellectual challenges/growth, and to discover connections between what we study, what we think and do, and who we are. Doing all of this together, weaving into a whole, is much different than ordinary college life, and much better, I would claim, at fostering the sort of learning Murphy describes.

Here is a link to the full article, "Beyond Busy."
the problem with college life is much more than just its busyness; its that there is very little sense of the collective, a problem that more free time wouldn't necessarily fix. At Castle Rock, the challenge of juggling outdoor activites and school work kept many of us busier (in terms of number of hours in the day given over to scheduled obligations) than in normal college life. However, this "busyness" never felt like a burden for we were busy in a collective sense, with everyone forever interacting with each other as we did all the many activities (all designed to provoke connection to the ideas we encountered in class) that filled our semester. During this collective busyness, much of the ideational content we had encountered in books and discussed in class came to fruition as what is termed "personal growth" - a change in how one interects with the world that brings him or her a greater degree of happiness. While reading and mental reflection are by nature individual pursuits, personal growth, though informed by the ideas in texts, is a phenomenom that manifests itself in relation to what we understand as other in the world and thus can only come about through (inter)action with the world. Thus, were college students to have more time to watch T.V., read, or sleep in their rooms or even to go out and play beer pong, personal growth wouldn't necessarily be facillitated. Only if this free time were harnessed to bring students together to act collectively in a way that was both motivated by and served to further promote shared ideals (the germ of which sparked by the ideas encountered in school work) would college education serve as a mechanism for enabling personal growth. Becasue of the divide between the ideas we encounter in class and how we understand their relevance to our lives, as played out in the work/play dichotomoy, more free time would most likely result in more time devoted to activities whose specific intention is to zone out from or escape the pressures associated with academic "work."
I was a Castle Rock Student on the International semester program and am currently a freshman at Williams College. I attended Castle Rock during a year "off" between highschool and college, during which I also participated in an Outward Bound Carribean winter semester and a month long NOlS mountaineering course. My experience at Castle Rock has been, I say without pretence, the most positive and life-affirming one of my life, allowing me to interact with the world in a way I never thought possible prior to the semester and in a way that has allowed me to infuse life with a degree of joy and contentedness that had before been inacessible. As the source of this joy is the world, I like to think that Castle Rock gave me world.
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