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The Heart of Higher Education: Part 1

We had a good and passionate discussion Monday afternoon at the first meeting of this year's faculty book club. That was my feeling, and I hope the sentiment was shared. We began by going around the table; each person introduced themselves and explained why they signed up for the book club. Thus we all shared what expectations we brought to our reading. Of the eleven people at the table, three cited Parker Palmer as one of the reasons they were eager to read The Heart of Higher Education.

Next, we followed the authors' advice on page seven, looking at the Wendell Berry quote on page one and asking, "What do you think?" From there we moved on to the concept of integrative learning and the critiques against it.

As the conversation opened up, a number of themes emerged. I will try to summarize the ones that seemed most salient to me, though I'm sure I'm missing plenty.

  • For ourselves as teachers, the need to examine "who we are" rather than technique
  • For our students, the need to focus on inquiry rather than answers
  • The importance of conveying a sense of awe and wonder
  • Holistic perspectives need to be woven into discussions on our campus (one faculty member reported only having such discussions off-campus)
  • One faculty member confessed: We are not connecting with students in our program as we should
  • Our relation to students may have moved from transformational to transactional
  • We may do more integrative learning than big research institutions — but perhaps less than we did twenty years ago

With regard to the first point, I wanted to mention our upcoming discussion session, "Who Are You?" Dr. Miranti's comments in particular bolstered my confidence that this was a good topic to pursue at this time. You can find details on our website.

Thanks to everyone for participating in Monday's conversation, both verbally and through respectful listening. I was struck today by a passage on the "sociology of knowledge" in another book I'm reading, Dark Green Religion by Bron Taylor: "What people perceive and believe is shaped by conversation." Simple and obvious, perhaps, but also profound. It is my hope that our conversations will continue to be just as transformational as the education we hope to offer our students.

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