Only Connect: Design and Recapturing the Liberal Arts in American Education.

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

Answer:  Because there are really two essays that 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.  It’s 10 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 10 goals to memory. There is hardly a better road map to becoming a teacher of merit and distinction than this.  And, not coincidently, there is hardly a better map to being a well-rounded, accomplished learner.

But the other aspect of Cronon’s essay that I find so amazing is the way these 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 these 10 goals Cronon has listed.  They see both the big picture and the minutiae, and they come to better understand the interconnectedness of all 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, homo faber–man the maker.

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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