Friday, October 27, 2006

Generation of Greatness

From Hal Abelson's website:

Everyone interested in university education should read Edwin Land's 1957 speech Generation of Greatness.

I agree. To demonstrate why, here's an excerpt (emphasis mine). And yes, it's gender-stereotyping by today's standards, but keep in mind 1957 was a very different time.

The scientist comes to the world and says, "I do not understand the divine source, but I know, in a way that I don't understand, that out of chaos I can make order, out of loneliness I can make friendship, out of ugliness I can make beauty."

I believe that men are born this way... each of these men felt secretly -- it was his very special secret and his deepest secret -- that he could be great.

But not many undergraduates come through our present educational system retaining this hope. Our young people, for the most part -- unless they are geniuses -- after a very short time in college give up any hope of being individually great. They plan, instead, to be good. They plan to be effective, They plan to do their job. They plan to take their healthy place in the community... But I submit to you that when in each man the dream of personal greatness dies, democracy loses the real source of its future strength.
Ironically, many of the things in this speech sound familiar to most Oliners...

Advising families

I would dream that when a freshman enters the university, he would become at once a member of a small group, perhaps of about ten men. He would be associated at once with a mature, established scholar whose first interest is the education... of this incoming group and of the ten who came in the year before.

Project-based learning, OSS, and independent studies

I believe each incoming freshman must be started at once on his own research project if we are to preserve his secret dream of greatness and make it come true.

The entire section on Introductory Courses is also just... fascinating. If we're talking about redesigning the frosh ICB (integrated course block), we should be reading things like this as well as looking at our past 4.5 years of Olin experience and other colleges' attempts.

I'd love to talk about this speech with people, if any of you folks reading this blog end up reading the transcript. I've got so many thoughts around this subject that I can't yet pull coherent thought patterns down onto paper in any sort of concise, useful manner, but conversations usually help that. If you feel like just sitting and talking (or heck, emailing) about the world or life (especially higher or technical education but by no means limited to it), this is a call for emails and chats.

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