A couple of experiences in the last week have gotten me thinking about perspective. (Here I don't mean optical perspective, but instead the ability to place something in context, and by so doing, respond wisely to it.) My daughter is at the end of her first semester in college, with many of the concerns that 18-year-olds have: what will I do with my life? why do other people have more friends than me? why don't boys like me? why does college seem like such a drag?
At the same time, we have entered the complaint season on campus. Some faculty are unhappy about their students, others about the budget, others about administrative processes. Some students want to know why they won't pass their classes unless they do the work, others hate the food in the cafeteria, etc. We all need to unload.
In both instances, the dissatisfaction is predictable, cyclical. But the question is how to respond. With my daughter I have tried to gently remind her that she is only 18, and that many of her concerns will work themselves out, and her experiences are common among freshmen. But the words don't seem to salve the hurt. With people on campus, responses to the particular concerns, explanations of how things got to be the way they are, or re-assurances that things are actually fine don't always work either.
In both instances, providing perspective doesn't lead people to take perspective.
Why is this? After all, one of the assumptions behind education (and especially general education) is that perspective can be taught. Most liberal arts disciplines are at their core about perspective--ways of seeing the world so that it makes the present more comprehensible, or more tolerable, or open to fixing.
But a general education is no guarantee of perspective, and telling a daughter that she is beautiful and smart and things will get better is no guarantee that she will believe. Still, over time, she will come to that conclusion, just like over time the complaints will become workable, and students will learn perspective.
Is there something experiential about perspective? Must important parts of human life be experienced before they can be understood? And if so, what should schools and educators do? Can perspective be taught, or only learned?
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