0267 – The Age of Renewal

It is the last week of December, which calls for the reflection of another year past. I’m currently enjoying the holidays in the 80 F and sunny weather of Bangkok, Thailand and I do not want to head back to the brutality of the Michigan winter. From the purely physical standpoint, the seasonal variations may suck, but if you think about it you can think of the seasons as serving a larger cosmic purpose. Time may not be entirely linear. In some ways, it may possess a cyclical characteristic, not unlike the seasons.

Thomas Berry, the late Catholic priest and “Earth scholar” (as he prefers to be called), has been a great teacher of late. He said in his book The Sacred Universe that there exists three parts in our world; the divine, the cosmic and the human. We currently live in an age where technology disconnects us from the story of the universe and science strips us of our mystical reverence. At a certain time the world ceased to be attuned to the voices of the universe within each of us, how it relates to the cultural context of the present and the forces guiding our vast playground. Even I feel very disconnected from the universe within.

But… we live in a transitional period. A new age is being ushered in, by the miracle workers disguised as academics, social workers, businessmen, students and everyone else. We are reorienting and reconnecting our human awareness with the cosmos and the divine–not necessarily in a religious way, but spiritual way. Thomas Berry had said that the art of interpretation is one of the most ancient forms of human wisdom, but unfortunately it is one that has been stifled during the era of science. I believe humans are starting to feel empty, hungry and disconnected, yearning for something more. We are entering an age of renewal, a renewal of our connections, our interpretative capabilities, our understanding of the larger reality and ourselves. The need for this renewal has never been greater with the current ecological challenges of our world. The age has got to come soon.

Earlier today, when I was at Kinokuniya, a large bookstore in Asia, I was pleased to see that its “Plant your knowledge” section contains books by Seth Godin, Daniel Kahneman, Richard Branson and the like on issues including social change, the thought process, overcoming the status quo and the mystical power of the mind. Prior to the recent decades, the spirituality movement has been considered extreme by many, but it’s getting into the mainstream–it’s a big deal.

This whole year has been one of frustration and hope. Not much was accomplished, but not much needed to be accomplished. Hectic was life, but hectic was not what I sought. Certainty was desired, but uncertainty was. Peace was what I sought. Life was what I got.

Life is becoming increasingly taxing (emotionally, for the most part). I’m getting old. I know I have been weary of the same processes and sequences of life that has yielded but temporary swings of the pendulum. Where can we actually go?

The road ahead will be an interesting one, as it always is. Who knows where the world is taking us. Are we controlling our destiny? Are we simply part of a large play?

 

Why are we here?

 

Who knows.

 

They say peace is the most ultimate form of happiness, and also one that has proven to be so elusive for me.

That’s all I’m setting out for.

Will I ever find it?

Possibilities lie ahead.

Welcome, 2012.

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0266 – What I Think Higher Education Should Look Like

So there’s this man named William Deresiewicz who is a passionate critic of higher education, culture, politics, and “anything he can get away with.” I consider him one of the great thought leaders of our generations and have always enjoyed reading about his take on education. Here is one that I just read for a second time: The Disadvantages of An Elite Education.

As always, Mr. Deresiewicz has managed to capture most of my thoughts about education in his usual eloquence. I agree with him on pretty much everything.

My favorite quote from the reading:

“…most of them have seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them. Only a small minority have seen their education as part of a larger intellectual journey, have approached the work of the mind with a pilgrim soul. These few have tended to feel like freaks, not least because they get so little support from the university itself. Places like Yale, as one of them put it to me, are not conducive to searchers. … Throughout much of the 20th century, with the growth of the humanistic ideal in American colleges, students might have encountered the big questions in the classrooms of professors possessed of a strong sense of pedagogic mission. Teachers like that still exist in this country, but the increasingly dire exigencies of academic professionalization have made them all but extinct at elite universities.”

Gotta love this man.

I am a searcher, and I feel like  a freak. I’ve also given a lot of thought to my future as a professor, and I firmly believe in the importance of posing the big questions in the classrooms. It’s a shame it’s becoming extinct, because I, for one, am not ready for that to happen.

Given my interest in higher education, I figured I should spend some time to think about how my ideal education would look like. Here’s what I came up with:

– Education will become more interdisciplinary. Requirements for each concentration will be drastically reduced to allow for room to explore other disciplines. If necessary, a limit of classes within the major may be set, in order to prohibit overspecialization. I would contend that 90% of the college students now are overspecialized.

– A Bachelor in General Studies will be heavily promoted. It is a way for students who have interdisciplinary or unique interests to craft their own education. The stigma around “not knowing what I want to do” will be removed.

– The emphasis will be on training students to become thought leaders, not just “leaders” if you can even call it that.

– There will be more courses that allow students to take control of their intellectual journey and look within, instead of without. Textbooks can only provide so much. Much wisdom is found in the depth of the soul.

– I am against instituting all sorts of requirements for college students, but if they will exist regardless, one of them should be a course about paradigm shifts, change, and life.

– There will be more courses offered related to what makes life worth living, the meaning of life, spirituality and all that important stuff that colleges now ignore.

– Emphasis will also be placed on the mental and physical health of students. Students should not be subject to the pressure to work day and night before exams or ridiculous homework. The end never justifies the means. The means is the end. It’s all about balance. Colleges need to train students how to live and how to think.

– College will not simply be a place where one prepares oneself for a career. It will be a place where one learns how to think and how to be a responsible global citizen (as opposed to _____. You fill in the blank.)

– Colleges will work tirelessly to deemphasize the value of GPA and promote the importance of a holistic education.

– Instead of having all students from the same majors, classes will consist of students with diverse interests and backgrounds.

– Less textbook, more discussion.

 

That’s it from me for now. This doesn’t work too well for very specialized degrees such as engineering and medicine, and I haven’t quite figured those out yet. I know that engineers and doctors have to become less specialized in college. It’s not going to hurt their quality, because they are always going to receive some sort of training again before they start their careers. College should be a place where students can freely start asking the important questions without feeling isolated. It should be a place where students can build a solid foundation for a meaningful life, not one that is simply based on the pursuit of success and wealth. What is success anyway?

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts.