My View from South Hill
Monday, August 20, 2012
Well we busted out of class,
Had to get away from those fools.
We learned more from a three minute record, baby
Than we ever learned in school.
I believe, like many people, that Bruce Springsteen is the greatest lyricist of his generation. He can pour more truth into a three minute record than anyone else I know.
This particular verse, however, hurts my educator's heart. Can it be that we sometimes fail so badly to offer what students want and need that they are better served learning from song lyrics than from the teachers that Springsteen calls fools?
When I consider the situation more dispassionately, I realize I am being too sensitive. The classroom is a vital place of learning but it is not and can never be the venue for learning everything necessary to a happy and successful life. I remember listening intently to song lyrics as an adolescent and young adult. Mostly they were just fun, but at times they were also useful in offering answers to the big questions we all grapple with: Who am I? What do I believe in? How should I relate to others? How will I get where I think I am meant to go?
It would be unrealistic to expect these questions to be considered only in one’s formal education. We learn from everyone and everything we encounter in life. Still, one hopes – contrary to the scenario in Springsteen’s song No Surrender – that the classroom will not be irrelevant to the larger project of making our way in the world.
That is where the educational mission of a residential college like Ithaca College comes into play. IC is built upon two communities: one of students who study, eat, sleep, work, and play on campus, and the other of faculty and staff who create a rich learning environment for those students. We are like a small town in many respects, except that every function in our town is planned around the goal of fostering student learning in a 24/7 activity cycle. Student housing assignments are developed in part to foster learning between roommates and among students on the same floor. We offer over 3,000 student jobs on campus every semester, jobs that provide not just a way to earn money but that also generate professional learning opportunities. We have a police force, a health center, a community volunteer center, a chapel, a fitness center, a counseling center, a newspaper, and radio and TV stations, all oriented not just to providing vital services but also to providing opportunities for learning and growth. We offer the infrastructure and guidance that enables students to form or join clubs, sports teams and advisory committees – all of which exist so that students can pursue their interests but that also create opportunities to learn and apply the skills of organization, communication and leadership.
The classroom and the campus community work hand in hand to create the total IC educational experience. That is why I recently asked our Provost, Dr. Marisa Kelly, to serve as vice president of Student Affairs and Campus Life in addition to her existing duties as vice president of Academic Affairs. Her title will now be Provost and Vice President of Educational Affairs, reflecting the fact that an IC educational experience takes place all over campus. Her objective will be to foster a closer collaboration between student work in the classroom and student engagement across the campus. Our students should be able to draw seamlessly upon all the sources of learning we offer.
It is valuable for people to learn from three minute records (or their contemporary equivalent). It is important that people learn from the accumulated store of human wisdom and knowledge, as well as from each other and from the experiences of daily life. The richest student experiences – the ones alumni tell me about all the time – are those that combine a strong commitment to academics with an equally strong commitment to exploring the opportunities provided by co-curricular and residential life. If you bust out of class at IC you will burst into a parallel world of learning opportunities that are available all across our campus.