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“The Significance of Looking Upwards,” a drawing by Hannah Scharmer (Credit: Hannah Scharmer)

Learning. How does one learn? For whom is one learning? These questions have followed me as long as I can remember. Throughout my academic experience, my answers varied from “I am learning for the satisfaction of a good grade” to “I am done with learning.” Now, I find myself back in an academic environment (after a year of working) and suddenly, expectedly, these questions are more relevant than ever.

Now in the fourth week of the semester, I am beginning to — through dialogue and self-reflection — discover new answers to these age-old questions. I decided to explore my thoughts on this subject through a specific format inspired by the Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules by Sister Corita Kent [*1]. The original set of rules were introduced to me during the Language and Thinking course, and I decided to explore them further due to individual interest in both the format of the piece and the topic itself — how to think and learn.   

∙∙∙

RULE ONE: Work harder (whenever you can)

RULE TWO: When you can’t work (harder), use your energy wisely. This means to not self-destruct, but to self-construct.

RULE THREE: Force yourself to produce. Anything. Always.

RULE FOUR: Never throw away your art.  

RULE FIVE: Before critiquing blindly, engulf yourself in the concept. Before critiquing anyone else, look at yourself. Before critiquing yourself, critique your critique.

RULE SIX: Contradictions = Movement

RULE SEVEN: First ask yourself “have I done enough?” Then ask yourself, “am I being honest?”

RULE EIGHT: The beginning of a class is for you to check, not showcase, your understanding of the matter.

RULE NINE: Allow yourself to admit that you don’t know.

RULE TEN: Consider your exploration of the world (aka a bus ride, a conversation, and so on) at least as important as a lecture. Treat it accordingly.

During the process of creating this piece, the significance of thinking about thinking became clear to me. This is the whole point: to act with intention, whether this be the act of being in a classroom or in the act of thinking. It seems to me a waste to do anything but this. The rules presented in this piece both instruct a certain mode of specific behaviours and, through their effect, ask the reader to question, critique, reflect, and (most importantly) think.

*I would love to hear/discuss your ideas on learning and being a student, and thinking, and being in general.

Notes:

  1. Kent, Corita, and Jan Steward. Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit. Allworth, 2008.

 

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start-up

Berlin skyline at night (credit: Talent International).

Liberal arts students and graduates might be comforted by the claims in recent years that their degrees might not be as “useless” as they thought (or were told) they would be. The discourse around the demand for liberal arts graduates in the workforce especially revolves around hi-tech companies. It is skills such as “critical thinking, an ability to deal with ambiguity, to reach conclusions based on considered mastery of research and context” that make liberal arts graduates vital for growing hi-tech companies, says a Washington Post article called Why the Tech World Highly Values a Liberal Arts Degree. A Forbes article says a liberal arts degree has become “Tech’s hottest ticket” and describes similar, “human skills” to be required by high-tech companies and provided by liberal arts/ humanities graduates.  So we might have a “hot ticket” once we graduate, but is it really the hottest? Some of Bard College Berlin’s (ECLA) graduates and a current BCB student working in the start-up world shared their thoughts on their liberal arts education with me.

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liberal arts

Geoff Lehman presenting a detail from Pieter Breugel the Elder’s Via Crucis. (Credit: Tamar Maare)

It is likely that the words “Liberal Arts Education Panel” have been swimming through  your subconscious as of late. These words were printed onto pretty paper flyers placed around campus within your easy view; they made the difficult but certain journey through cyberspace – presumably from the P98a admin building, in the form of magical stardust – all the way to your inbox. They have now come to rest at the forefront of your mind, treading the unknowable waters of your conscious, where they run the risk of being carried by different streams of thought to the back of your mind unless you hold on tight and follow me in this unexpected and unprecedented Liberal Arts journey.

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This post originally appeared on Public Seminar. Republished with their kind permission. 

perspectivalism

Pieter Breugel the Elder, “Via Crucis”. (Credit: Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien)

Earlier this month, Susan Henking, President of Shimer College (my alma mater), wrote for Public Seminar what she called “my educated hope for Shimer and for liberal education,” a hope “rooted in a criticism of the ways we have been commodified, [forced to] meet our budgets… empowered and disempowered as institutions and individuals by government and economics.” Specifically, Susan finds hope in the way “our” kind of education (at Shimer and other liberal arts colleges, such as Bard College Berlin) cultivates a culture of “engagement with text, with others in the classroom and beyond, and [a] willingness to question everything,” which she believes can be the basis for a liberal education in the next century and beyond that is not merely yet another mechanism of neoliberalism. I hope today to respond to her vision. My goal is to investigate to what extent the three features Susan stresses—(1) engagement with text; (2) engagement with others in the classroom and beyond; and (3) a willingness to question everything—constitute something truly different from “business as usual” in the new global information economy. This “something else” is what I call perspectivalism without relativism.

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