Saturday, March 7, 2009
Radical Transformation of Education
In one of the rousing speeches of the final session, Liz Coleman, president of Bennington College, issued a call to arms to reinstate liberal arts at the centre of US education. The future of America depends on it. The cult of the narrow expert has displaced the generalist. This idealization of the expert has led to the fragmentation of knowledge, the loss of neutrality and the eventual descent into fundamentalism.
When appointed the President of Bennington College, she turned it on its ear in a quest to redefine liberal arts education. She totally revamped the curriculum around inter-linked study of issues like health, equity, education, uses of force, governance and the environment. The tools for studying these topics are rhetoric, design, mediation, improvisation, quantitative reasoning, and technology, with an emphasis on action. She fired many of the faculty (I think she said one third), who weren't willing to along with this radical change.
She questioned whether a nation can be both ignorant and free. She lamented that over 50% of Americans don't believe in evolution and challenged American TEDsters to use their influence to turn the tide. Otherwise, in the future, someone might ask them "Where were you when all this happened".