Brooks on dual consciousness

Columnist David Brooks contrasts the fabled stability of certain large organizations with a surprisingly adaptable one, the United States Army:

They say that intellectual history travels slowly, and by hearse. The old generation has to die off before a new set of convictions can rise and replace entrenched ways of thinking. People also say that a large organization is like an aircraft carrier. You can move the rudder, but it still takes a long time to turn it around.

The Army, Brooks says, has substantially changed its mind and its practices in a few short years, in part because it has found a way to link action and reflection, experience and inquiry:

The process was led by these dual-consciousness people — those who could be practitioners one month and then academic observers of themselves the next. They were neither blinkered by Army mind-set, like some of the back-slapping old guard, nor so removed from it that their ideas were never tested by reality, like pure academic theoreticians.

Read more of “Leading With Two Minds” in the May 7, 2010 New York Times.

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Tragedy in the Coal Mines

Most of what I know about coal mining comes from a few old movies that each center around a classic scene. The emergency siren screams out and people from all over the town hurry to the entrance of the mine. Their faces are full of dread as they ask, frantically, what has gone wrong down below.  Families and friends wait and pray, but their hope is repaid with devastating news.  It turns out that sometimes those old movies aren’t far from the truth.

Last week’s tragic news reminded me, too, of something I overheard once in a restaurant. The six people at the next table might have been anybody’s gray-haired grandparents enjoying a weekend away from home. As they talked about the coal mining district in West Virginia where they lived, one woman, perhaps the youngest, said her father had worked in the mines for more than forty years. Instantly an older woman chimed in, quietly and firmly saying “God bless him.” One of the men hadn’t heard it quite right, so the first woman repeated, “My father worked in the mines more than forty years.” Again, instantly, without any other comment or gesture, the older woman gave her refrain, “God bless him.” As I drove home that day, she stayed on my mind.

I thought the woman’s three repeated words meant that she had gathered from personal experience a vivid understanding of the sacrifices miners make for their families and for the rest of us who benefit from their labor. And now she had become the miners’ witness. I guessed that there was a name she was not saying, some particular miner who taught her what risk and sacrifice mean. That unnamed minor embarrassed me as I thought of my own safety and ease, and the comfort that comes into our lives because of his labor.

But their sacrifices keep slipping our minds, somehow.  Several years ago, my own brother died working on a power line back in my home town.  On the day of his funeral, the line of cars going to the cemetery was more than a mile long. A federal investigator told my family about the safety regulations that are meant to protect electrical workers.  “Each one of these regulations,” he said, “is written in blood.” How many of us have the skill and fortitude to insist upon new laws and safer working conditions in these dangerous industries?  No matter how long the line of cars might be at the funeral, a few days later we start to forget.

I met a brave firefighter once who risked his life to rescue a small child who had fallen down a narrow well. This man, who grew up in Michiana, was invited onto the Oprah Winfrey show after the rescue. But many public servants perform their dangerous work almost in private, and we acknowledge them only occasionally and often from a safe distance. I don’t know any of the miners who risk their lives to provide coal for our foundries and power plants. For that matter, I don’t know the name of anyone who digs foxholes or picks coffee beans or packs bunches of bananas into crates or sews leather uppers to the soles of shoes or picks up trash at the curb. Sometimes I wonder if this is, for many of us, the central luxury of American life – not having to know.

This 2006 essay by Ken Smith is republished by permission of the author from the Michiana Chronicles radio essay series broadcast on WVPE, the NPR affiliate station for the region around South Bend, Indiana.

Museums in a digital age

At Indiana University South Bend this fall, graduate students can choose a seminar in which they will work as a team to curate an art exhibit at the Snite Museum on the Notre Dame campus. In the Spring 2010 issue of Confluence, which will be mailed in May or June, M. Carmen Smith of Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Museum offers an essay on the value of original works of art in an age of easy mechanical reproduction. And in the New York Times, Randy Kennedy’s article on digital imaging shows how 3-D techniques are in use at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (“New York’s Met, Replicating Art Works Bit by 3-D Bit,” March 13, 2010)

Are there art-related courses underway on your campus that you would like to mention–AGLSP folks are always happy to hear about a great course idea.

A notable graduate remembered

Dr. Arnall Patz, a graduate of the Master of Liberal Arts program at Johns Hopkins and noted medical researcher, died recently in Maryland at the age of 89. Dr. Patz’s accomplishments were catalogued in a lengthy New York Times obituary published on March 16, 2010. He received a Lasker Award in 1956 for research pinning down the cause of the retinopathy of prematurity, a form of blindness his team proved to be caused by the high levels of oxygen then commonly used in in the care of prematurely born infants. When their findings were widely understood, the rate of new blindness among children was immediately reduced by 60%, according to the Times.

Dr. Patz pursued his MLA degree in retirement, completing it about a decade ago.  He went on to serve as a member of the Hopkins MLA program’s advisory board and was an enthusiastic advocate of the program. Dr. Melissa Hilbish recalls his belief that many people from medical and technology fields would enjoy graduate liberal studies.

Interdisciplinary handbook

Julie Thompson Klein, whose 1995 essay on interdisciplinarity and adult learners appeared in the first issue of The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies (now Confluence), is co-editor with Robert Frodeman and Carl Mitcham of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity. A hint about the volume’s approach:

The need to identify a method or logic of interdisciplinarity has, however, proven to be much easier to proclaim than to meet.  The most salient characteristics of interdisciplinary studies across the last 60 years have been oscillations between

  • a) The announcement of the need for interdisciplinary approaches to knowledge;
  • b) Historically naive attempts to reinvent the interdisciplinary wheel, ending in partial accomplishment and frustration;
  • c) Then periods of abandonment, followed by
  • d) New recognition that the continued development and use of disciplinary knowledge makes interdisciplinary approaches to research and education ever more crucial.

What is Graduate Liberal Studies?

One AGLSP member program, at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, shares their answer to the question in a beautiful, brief YouTube movie.

Call for Papers for the 2010 Conference

The October 2010 AGLSP conference team is accepting paper proposals now — check out the call for papers as well as the main information page for the Dallas conference. The theme: The Transformation of the City… through the Arts and Technology.