Why we’re here

I love Opening Days. And lo, here’s another one!

We did it this way, last time.

This time I’m making a conscious effort to skip the usual boring preliminaries (“going over the syllabus” etc.) to get on with meeting and greeting my new CoPhilosophy cohorts, thanks to some solid teaching advice from a younger colleague in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Introductions have already begun. I don’t intend to explain a thing in class today, if I can possibly avoid it. I’m just gonna ask Who are you? and Why’re you here? 

But, if anyone happens to ask what college is and what it should be, I’ll refer them directly to Andrew Delbanco (College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be):

The most important thing one can acquire in college is a well-functioning bullshit meter. [Or baloney if you prefer.] It’s a technology that will never become obsolete.

And the most important reward of a liberal education: quality time, for a lifetime, with your most intimate personal acquaintance.

“You want the inside of your head to be an interesting place to spend the rest of your life.”

Martha Nussbaum‘s said much the same thing, adding the crucial civic/democratic dimension:

“Apart from economic gain, a system of education (both K–12 and higher education) needs to prepare students for rich and meaningful lives, and–my primary focus–it needs to prepare them for democratic citizenship. If it does not cultivate skills essential to the health of democracy, democracy won’t survive. It’s that simple. For democracy to survive, young people have to learn to argue and deliberate. They need to be able to decide what they themselves want to stand for, giving reasons for their preferences to others rather than simply deferring to tradition and authority. Training in the ability to argue also produces greater respect for others, as people come to see that people who disagree with them also have reasons for what they choose. They develop healthy curiosity about those reasons, rather than seeing political argument as just an occasion to defeat the opposition.”

Like Delbanco, I wouldn’t dream of denying that plenty of interesting people skip college. But as he points out, people who say college is not for everyone tend to have in mind other people’s kids. 

Today, they’re all my kids.

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2 Responses to “Why we’re here”

  1. Dean Hall Says:

    Welcome back!

    Once again, it was nice to feel the crisp winter wind at my back in anticipation of the roads my mind may travel, as I made my way towards that bastion of enlightenment: the James Union Building.

    I’m still not really sure who I am, but I do need to figure out why I’m here so early. Perhaps the answer is ill-concealed in the above paragraph. It never hurts to wonder.

  2. osopher Says:

    I felt that bracing wind this morning too, slogging against the wind from my car (parked near the pres’s house) to the JUB. I have to say, though: sometimes it does hurt to wonder, in that “my brain hurts” sense a colleague displays on his door. Hurts so good,,.

    It’s great to be back in harness!

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