Only Connect: Reasserting Liberal Education.

Some people have asked, “Why did you call the blog ‘Only Connect’?”

Answer:  Because there are but two essays I would ever label as “seminal” in my development as a teacher.  The first is William James’ “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings.”  James’ recounting of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Lantern Bearers” is a brilliant look at our capacity for and the elusive nature of “joy.”  If you would be an educator, you would do well to read that essay, at least 10 times!

But the second essay is more recent: William Cronon’s “Only Connect: The Goals of a Liberal Education.” I first ran across this essay in the Phi Beta Kappa publication, The Key Reporter.  Its goals are as fine a distillation of what it means to be educated as I have found anywhere.  Again, if you would be a teacher, I urge you to read this essay and commit the ten goals to memory. There is hardly a better road map to being a well-rounded, accomplished learner than this essay.  Not coincidently, there is hardly a better description of what it means to be a teacher of merit and distinction than this.

Cronon’s essay also merits attention for the way his ten goals fit so perfectly with the world of “design.”  In the work I do with students in my classroom, when we turn to design, when we allow them to move from the abstract to the concrete, when writing becomes an act of making rather than an ethereal exercise in staid, academic prose with an audience of one…when I allow students to find problems in texts or the world and go forth and design solutions to those problems, it is then that students are invariably engaged in the goals Cronon has listed.  They see both the big picture and the minutiae, and they come to better understand the interconnectedness of all people and things.

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Thus, “Only Connect” is the name of the blog because it names this seminal essay, because it reminds me of my role and goals in the classroom; and because it highlights the true state of all knowledge and the ends (as idealistic as they may be) of my students, and our race.  We are not only homo sapiens sapiens, we are also homo faber–man the maker:  the maker of things, the maker of families, of communities.  We are the maker of worlds.  Worlds that are admittedly imperfect, but worlds we continuously strive to make better.

For a more detailed description of how I see Design as a key point of synthesis for education in America and the world, see the paper I delivered at the Industrial Designers Society of America Education Symposium in 2012.

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