Had a first meeting with my first year advisees this morning. I decided to follow up on the orientation speech they heard Monday, which put Lang in the context of the long and colorful history of higher education in the US. The speaker emphasized how the content, mission and constituencies of colleges have changed over time, and how Lang brings together many of the most valuable. My questions, bringing it home (and introducing my inconvenient-facts pedagogy!) were buttressed by devil's advocate arguments for more conventional schools:
Why go to college, why liberal arts? Is it to better lead society well - our speaker told us that Thomas Jefferson intended his University of Virginia to cultivate a "natural aristocracy" - or to develop yourself, in a career, as a citizen, as an individual?
Why go to college in a city? We'd learned that most institutions of higher learning are quite deliberately located far from the corruptions and distractions of cities, and there's something to that. Shouldn't college be a step out of the hurly burly of everyday life, allowing for more sustained and disinterested reflection? On the other hand, perhaps the reality-checks of a city can give you better and longer-lasting academic insights and commitments.
Why go to a seminar college? Lectures convey more information, and give students a more secure connection to expert knowledge. Seminars offer something else, and demand a more engaged learning, but still: most of the voices you hear will know little more than you do. Why is this worth while? I made the radical democratic assumptions of it clear in as bald a way as I could...
...and look forward to continuing the discussion as we explore the delights, disappointments and discipline of dialogue.