Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Thirty-something

My first year seminar starts in two days! Well, that's when I'll meet the students, who will be my academic advisees for the year, too. (The new school year officially begins Monday.) I'm eager to see who was attracted enough to list this among their top five from a list of many exciting-sounding first year seminars:

LNGC 1428 The Seminar in the City: Within and Beyond Lang College Lang College, 30 years old this year, builds on The New School's nearly century-long commitment to imagining more socially engaged forms of higher education. We explore the history and development of this often anti-institutional institution through online archives, site visits, and research projects around visionary classes from the past, while also studying the pedagogical philosophies that have shaped the values of the school, including writings by John Dewey, John Cage, Sara Ruddick and Sekou Sundiata. We ask how The New School's experiments empowered students to learn first-hand in the city, and how seminar pedagogies can work to catalyze and synthesize such learning. As a final project, students will lead a model seminar of their own that speaks to the urgent demands of the present time.

This language is the combination of me, vague and distracted in Shanghai, and the new chair of the First Year Program, who had ideas of his own. So what will we be doing? It'll be a lot about the history of The New School before and alongside Lang, but it'll only seem a bait-and-switch to students who didn't bother to read the course description.

Still, this won't just be another tour of the fascinating congeries of experiments which is The New School, though it will build on all the work my friend J, the university archives, and many others have done in that department. I want the course to live out my refrain (repeated with seven cohorts of the Seminar Fellows who peer advise incoming students) that successful students at Lang, no less than their predecessors in The New School's other and earlier avatars, must not just "make The New School their own" but "make their own New School." We'll see if I can pull that off over the course of a semester!

I think it will be a useful first year experience for students to learn that institutions are neither omniscient nor immobile. That sounds a little anti-establishment, and Lang at thirty does call to mind the Sixties admonition Don't trust anyone over thirty! But I know myself well enough to know that it won't be as anarchistically anti-institutional as some of my more radical colleagues. So it's not perfect? Then make it better. The point is not to learn to "play the system" but to let your emergent understanding of the system's gaps and possibilities improve the system so that everyone can get more from it. The course will be anchored - of course! - in Dewey's Democracy and Education.

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