Monday, January 6, 2014

New President Interview -- Part 25 -- Becoming Human

New President Interview -- Part 25 
Becoming Human

Q: In October 2013 you talked about the role of experience in education.  I just read the book, Man is not alone by Abraham Joshua Heschel.[1]  He talks about becoming human.  That is rising above the animal needs and instincts and discovering the world around us. What is role of the College is helping students to become human?  Or perhaps how the does the College help the student mature into an adult?

A:  As I said before, knowledge comes from experience and education is the understanding of the    Heschel writes, “The child becomes  human, not by discovering the environment which includes things and other selves, but by becoming sensitive to interests of the other selves.”[2]   Mature human beings are concerned about others in society.  Diversity in educational curriculum teaches about people who are not like us.  They are different because of the belief, culture, gender, geography, temperament, and any other factor that could be part of their psychology.  No communal or corporate effort can succeed without understanding and working with diverse people.
results of experience.

The peace of solitude is not because the person is alone or ignoring civilization, but it is the time to recharge the brain and become better at coping with the stresses and opportunities civilization offers.  A vital part of educations is teaching how to become part of multiple societies.  While elementary school may teach the care of the self, basic values, and getting along with people, the College and its academic curriculum are guiding the students to fluency in a wider range of thought covering many times, places, and thoughts. From the humanities, sciences, technology, and arts, and to the clinical and experimental, we are teaching the students to care and regard others with respect. The price of civilization and society is that one gives up a part of the self for a greater reward.   A mature person understands and respects the self, other people and the dimension of what is outside the individual. Over and above the individual is ethics (or religion), the law, the holy, and society.

Educators need to challenge students and themselves to venture outside of their comfort zones.  Research is part of this quest to search outside of a previous comfort zone.

Q: Professor Aaron Pallas of Teachers College said, “The voices of parents, business leaders, and other taxpayers have not been heard in shaping a vision for what students should know and be able to do when they leave school.” [3]  While Professor Pallas is talking about K-12 students, how do his thoughts apply to the College?

A: He is also concerned with an educational system that recognizes that schools are agents of society. Society wants members who know the ways of the past and present and are able to set a course for the future that is better than today. A person who thinks he is always right will never be a fully functional member of society any more than someone who can never get anything right.   Making mistakes on the way to learning and mastering a task or such is part of education.  Failure is the inability or unwillingness to learn from mistakes and take appropriate remedial action.  The College needs to build on what the student learns in high school.  Pallas says that new administrations have the opportunity to create a new social compact with the stakeholders because they can make a new beginning.  In the two years I have been president, I have tried to work with student, faculty and the community to educate students who are ready for the workplace.

Q; I see commercials for mayors, governors, and others running for political office saying they the “education candidate.”   What do you say about that attitude?

A: The movie 2010, Waiting for Superman, includes the story of Michelle Rhee, is brought in to the Washington, DC school system to change it.  She has business background and was advocate for students and change.  Geoffrey Canada was educated as educator.  If they would have been able to start a system from scratch, they would have devised a truly great system, but they ran into the inertia of several hundred years of public education.  They fought against an administrative system, a faculty and community that they never were able to find the lines for communication and cooperation.  In a perfect world, they would have been right, but in the mixed up world where everyone is out to prove they are “right” Rhee and Canada were disillusioned. Rhee lasted only two school years in the chancellor’s job.

These politicians may have great ideas, but they will never succeed if they don’t find a way to get the stakeholders on the same page.  They should not promise reform until they have consulted and found ways for all parties to cooperate.  Better test scores are one goal; better citizens who are life-long learner is a better goal. A better political promise will tell us how they will work with the community, faculty, and students to figure out how to best prepare children for a mature role in society.  To paraphrase Heschel, people become holy when they rise above self and the interests of others become a vital concern. Our job as educators is to help everyone find the inner holiness.

Q: Thank you very much.

Part twenty-five of imaginary interviews with the president of the College. After 20 interviews the president is no longer “new,” but since we are all works in progress I am continuing the series as if s/he were a “new president.” Please feel free to suggest new ideas for interviews and presidential comments. This article is for your information, amusement, and edification. Any connection to a real college or president is strictly coincidental.

[1] Heschel, Abraham Joshua.  Man is not alone : a philosophy of religion.  New York : Harper & Row, 1966 ©1951.

[2] Ibid.  pages 137-8.

[3] Pallas, Aaron. “Cost-Conscious Tips to Improve NYC Schools : A Professor Offers Advice to Incoming Chancellor”  From web site: School Book.   New York: New York Public Radio, © 2014. Retrieved from :  .  Aaron Pallas is the Arthur I. Gates Professor of Sociology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University in the City of New York.

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