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June 15, 2009

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The New Liberal Arts and the New Professors

So I’m writing a short essay for a forum on the future of scholarship and the profession at The Chronicle of Higher Ed, I think on the New Liberal Arts.

Like you, i’ve spent a lot of time thinking about WHAT the NLA should be, but relatively little on how that would change colleges, universities, and the lives, research, and careers of professors.

So… What should I say?

Posted June 15, 2009 at 11:00 | Comments (4) | Permasnark
File under: Briefly Noted, Collaborations, New Liberal Arts


Also, don't forget the impact on textbook publishers, who may need to be taken down a few notches:

LOVE that textbook link! It's got my gears turning. Don't agree w/ all of Seth Godin's conclusions but I do think that whole field -- that whole format -- is ripe for reinvention.

But, to the original question -- and I'm thinking real-time here, so this might not be worth anything -- maybe some academics are in the business of synthesizing new skills. That is: Sure, in the NLA book, we talk about "marketing" as a prerequisite for smart people alive in 2009. But how do you actually learn that? What are the different parts? What's the body of knowledge? How do you practice it?

I think of somebody like Michael Wesch -- one of my favorite academics in the entire universe right now -- and the way he is aggressively reaching out to YouTube (and other parts of the web), not just to marvel at them, or to observe them, but to grok them, to turn observation into understanding and, in turn, into ideas and tools you can use to interact w/ them more effectively. (Did that make sense?)

This seems like a high calling indeed. Academic as vanguard, processing all this new stuff rushing at us and -- by putting it in context, understanding its history, analyzing its components -- delivering to us, the public, actual things we can learn to make it all more meaningful.

I guess an analogy might be the way that the writing coaches at Poynter so actively denied the myth of writing -- that it's magic, it's instinctive, it requires talent, you can't explain how you do it. No, they said: You CAN explain how you do it. And you must. Writing is a craft that you can break down into digestible pieces. You can teach it to others. To anyone.

Ha, okay. The more I write, the more I realize I'm just talking about teaching.


Robin's ramblings* got me thinking about the NLA potentially as craft or media, rather than fully as discipline. What I mean is: if one wants to ease an NLA into a set curriculum, why not sneak it into the established disciplines.

Make the goals of each course to demonstrate understanding of some body of knowledge and mastery of some standard disciplinary techniques, while also requiring some serious engagement with the techniques of an NLA. Thus: in lieu of an essay on the creation of the German state following the Franco-Prussian War, design a mock pamphlet war. Can't you see it? Otto von Bezerk caricatured on one, Wilhelm robed in Roman purple on another. [An "A" to the student who throws in a non-sensical booklet about the health benefits of lighting things on fire, coming out of Paris in 1871, in French.]

*(they're weren't really ramblings, but the only other alliterations that came to me were rantings and ravings, which sound even worse)

Posted by: Dan on June 15, 2009 at 05:00 PM

I guess there's a danger there, though: unless the Prof is herself a master of that NLA, this might just tend toward mediocrity.

Maybe team-teaching...

Posted by: Dan on June 15, 2009 at 05:06 PM
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