Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

Opinion

August 2, 2012

Harter: Preparing students for other worlds and other lives

Greensburg — Parents often assume that college prepares students about the real world and how to succeed.

Their children will be introduced to knowledge, skills, and abilities that translate to living a conventional and (ideally) comfortable life. That is one part of the tradition, though it is hardly the most important part.

Going way back in time, there was a tradition that how one lives should be informed by another world, an ideal world, an abstract realm of truth. This Platonic approach was then revised by early Christianity to say that how one lives influences whether you get to live in that other world. At the extreme, ascetics thought they were supposed to renounce this world for the sake of that other world.

So a part of the liberal arts tradition is to consider the reality of other worlds and their importance to how we live today. Then, of course, the Protestants argued that there is indeed another world of heaven (and hell), but we should immerse ourselves fully in this world Ñ making money, raising families, singing songs, and so forth.

Finally, there were voices raised saying you should consider another way of living Ñ not the conventional way Ñ not in order to go to heaven, but to make the world a better place. So we have the basic view that the goal is to fit in to this world and this life, another view that the goal is to reach another world, and yet another view that the goal is to live another life.

At the heart of a liberal arts education is presenting other worlds and other ways of living, so students can imagine the wealth of choices out there. It's not necessary just to keep doing what everybody else has been doing. It's often better to dream new dreams.

Toward this end, students read mythology, novels, and history. They try to get inside other cultures, other eras, other ways of living Ñ not so they will denounce our American way of life so much as appreciate why it is the way it is and why it is the best. And why is it best?

The secret is that we encourage each child to work toward his or her unique greatness. And you can't elicit that greatness if you simply plug a kid into some ordinary job and assume your work is done. They need to see other worlds and other lives. They need to imagine themselves changing their lives and in that way changing the world.

Yessirree, that's what I love about teaching leadership. We don't plug anybody into anything. We prepare them to generate their own power. Parents do not always appreciate that side of a liberal arts education.

And you there, sitting at your kitchen table, do you believe there is another world? Are you supposed to be living another life? These are the really big questions, you know Ñ the kind of questions that we should all be staying up late asking one another, before the morning when we decide what work really needs doing.

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