Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Ever new

So Final Syntheses have come and gone. It's always a moving experience, even when you take into account the pretty-much obligatory "I got a lot out of this class" business. Lang students aren't shy about criticism, though - nor about sharing what really matters to them. The generosity and vulnerability can be overwhelming. And, given the opportunity to express themselves in "a medium that matters to you," they do some pretty cool stuff. Often personal, I can't share most of them. In a way it's nobody's business but the members of the respective class, and part of the joy of these final sessions is feeling the commitment students demonstrate, one last time, to the collective enterprise we've been engaged in, to the community of learning.

I can, however, tell you about my final reflections (which I always do, and share). I'll save the Theorizing Religion reflection for another day - it's about the consequences of making "religion making" the frame of the course, and how to make the class a welcoming place both for prior learning and for concerns in other disciplines and vocations than the academic study of religion. I'll tell you instead about the first year seminar which offered a survey of New School history and devoted its final fourth to "model seminars." A reminder of the course description...
Because the "model seminar" preparation process began before Thanksgiving, the actual coursework of the class seems like a distant memory. (The student whose final reflection I post above provided a welcome reminder of the variety of things we read.) Instead we were treated to seminars on a remarkable range of subjects:

Urban Campus vs College Town • Fluxus • Education for Syrian Refugees • Black Mountain College • MOOCs • Health Crazes • What is Safe Space • The Kim Kardashian Effect • Grading Systems • The Value of Liberal Arts • Educational Access for Girls • Priorities and Life Balance • The Museum of Feelings • Learning from Popular Music • Dress Codes

There were a few connections to what we'd done together - Fluxus from Cage, Black Mountain College as an echo of New School experiments, Frank Alvah Parsons' ideas on art and advertising, various discussions around education - but not that many. There weren't supposed to be. The choice of topic was to reflect students' sense of "the urgent demands of now," or at least something they wanted to share with their classmates. They were interested in each other's choices, too.

As my Final Synthesis I reminded the class of our inconclusive discussion, in connection with the New School College experiment, about who was in the best position to know what an education should offer. The New School tradition suggests that received curricula and disciplines should be scrutinized, that the ever new constellations of social and cultural life demand ever new courses and formats. What's needful for first year college students now? Our discussion was inconclusive because the class came up with arguments for - but even stronger arguments against - entrusting the First Year Curriculum to graduating seniors, to sophomores, to students who'd chosen majors, to recent and not so recent alums... (That faculty in fact make these decisions didn't come up!) At that I suggested that, as they navigated our "open curriculum," they consult as many and and as many kinds of people as possible.

Today I suggested that we might learn from ourselves. What did the topics they had chosen suggest a relevant Lang First Year Curriculum in 2015 might look like? They seemed quite taken by my suggestion:

Art, Values and the Market
Equity: Local and Global
Learning from Popular Culture
Self-Care

What do you think?

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