This is a particularly pragmatic time in America (which is saying something, since the nation has always prided itself on its pragmatism). In higher education this means a turn towards "education as doing." Whether it is service-learning, undergraduate research, or any of another dozen reforms, hands-on learning is the rage in the classroom.
The focus on doing shows up in mission statements and institutional goals as well. Westminster, like most other institutions of higher ed, has campus-wide and program-specific learning goals. Most of them promise that students will be able to do certain things upon graduation--think critically, for example.
Recently the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that many more faculty members hope that their students will learn how to be "agents of social change" than who think that students ought to study the classics. The Chronicle article sets the debate up as one between "doing" and thinking, and then trots out the usual suspects to argue about whether the favor for social change is evidence of a leftward lean in higher education.
Who cares? The question isn't about the politics of doing in education, but instead its goals. After all, conservative institutions and liberal ones both try to distinguish themselves by highlighting how well their students do things.
This talk by Barry Schwartz on practical wisdom, and this article by David Loy on the intersection of social change and personal development, make the same point--that our mistake is to assume that you can either learn to do something or you can learn about it. Instead doing and contemplation have to go together. When they do, the result is competent people who are also good--moral, humble, brave, wise. Otherwise we develop either technocrats or narcissists. We've enough of both.
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