This post continues our month-long seminar about President Adam Falk’s Induction address.
And of course, even now, we must make the case vigorously for the liberal arts – to students, to parents, to legislators, and to our colleague institutions. We live at a time when the national instinct is to confuse accountability with quantitative assessment, and to value increasingly only those outcomes that can be assigned a number, however misleading that number may be. We’ve become obsessed with the facts that our children memorize, rather than the development of their capacity to thrive as whole human beings. To steel our nerves for the fight, we do well to recall the eloquence with which Jack Sawyer threw down the gauntlet when he said:
This much we do know: that no training in fixed techniques, no finite knowledge now at hand, no rigid formula [students] might be given can solve problems whose shape we cannot yet define . . . The most versatile, the most durable, in an ultimate sense the most practical knowledge and intellectual resources which they can now be offered are those impractical arts and sciences around which a liberal arts education has long centered: the capacity to see and feel, to grasp, respond and act over a widening arc of experience; the disposition and ability to think, to question, to use knowledge to order an ever-extending range of reality; the elasticity to grow, to perceive more widely and more deeply, and perhaps to create; the understanding to decide where to stand and the will and tenacity to do so; the wit and wisdom, the humanity and the humor to try to see oneself, one’s society, and one’s world with open eyes, to live a life usefully, to help things in which one believes on their way.
If we are not at Williams for this very purpose, then what are we for?
1) Another section that should have been cut. It does little to advance the main message of the speech. Surely Falk’s audience would have appreciated more conciseness on his part.
2) The Sawyer quote is a good one. I expect that we will see it again in future induction addresses. But where is the corresponding quote from Falk’s speech? Although I think the speech is much better, in both style and substance, than other Williams/elite induction addresses, I can’t identify a phrase or sentence or paragraph that will be quoted in the future. Can you?
3) Falk’s sentences in this section are my least favorite of the entire speech. Straw Ephs everywhere! I have never met a single person, Eph or otherwise, who is “obsessed with the facts that [his] children memorize, rather than the development of their capacity to thrive as whole human beings.” Have you?
And of course, even now, we must make the case vigorously for the liberal arts – to students, to parents, to legislators, and to our colleague institutions.
Does this section stir your soul, or does it not? Does it call you to action– or– well we see well, what it does to Mr. Kane.
I wish I had the time this afternoon in Yerushayim, to go through each of these sentences with a little more time to listen to them–
But David– you live in? Cambridge? Newtown? Massachusetts?
You, like most people I met at Williams, and like– I’m going to do this– like Prof. Catsam– seem to live in a different world from the part of the United States where I grew up.
But if you would like to come to Western Kentucky, or Austin Peay, or Tennessee State, in a few weeks, and follow me around for afternoon or two, as I walk from classroom to classroom–
then I think you will find, that if you do that work, then your assertion about the state of the soul of our academic institutions, is simply ludicrous, Mr. Kane.