Liz Coleman’s call to reinvent liberal arts education

College presidents are not the first people who come to mind when the subject is the uses of the creative imagination. So I thought I’d start by telling you how I got here. The story begins in the late ’90s. I was invited to meet with leading educators from the newly free Eastern Europe and Russia. They were trying to figure out how to rebuild their universities. Since education under the Soviet Union was essentially propaganda serving the purposes of a state ideology, they appreciated that it would take wholesale transformations if they were to provide an education worthy of free men and women. Given this rare opportunity to start fresh, they chose liberal arts as the most compelling model because of its historic commitment to furthering its students’ broadest intellectual, and deepest ethical potential. Having made that decision they came to the United States, home of liberal arts education, to talk with some of us most closely identified with that kind of education. They spoke with a passion, an urgency, an intellectual conviction that, for me, was a voice I had not heard in decades, a dream long forgotten. For, in truth, we had moved light years from the passions that animated them. But for me, unlike them, in my world, the slate was not clean, and what was written on it was not encouraging. In truth, liberal arts education no longer exists — at least genuine liberal arts education — in this country. We have professionalized liberal arts to the point where they no longer provide the breadth of application and the enhanced capacity for civic engagement that is their signature. Over the past century the expert has dethroned the educated generalist to become the sole model of intellectual accomplishment. (Applause) Expertise has for sure had its moments. But the price of its dominance is enormous. Subject matters are broken up into smaller and smaller pieces, with increasing emphasis on the technical and the obscure. We have even managed to make the study of literature arcane. You may think you know what is going on in that Jane Austen novel — that is, until your first encounter with postmodern deconstructionism. The progression of today’s college student is to jettison every interest except one. And within that one, to continually narrow the focus, learning more and more about less and less; this, despite the evidence all around us of the interconnectedness of things. Lest you think I exaggerate, here are the beginnings of the A-B-Cs of anthropology. As one moves up the ladder, values other than technical competence are viewed with increasing suspicion. Questions such as, “What kind of a world are we making? What kind of a world should we be making? What kind of a world can we be making?” are treated with more and more skepticism, and move off the table. In so doing, the guardians of secular democracy in effect yield the connection between education and values to fundamentalists, who, you can be sure, have no compunctions about using education to further their values: the absolutes of a theocracy. Meanwhile, the values and voices of democracy are silent. Either we have lost touch with those values or, no better, believe they need not or cannot be taught. This aversion to social values may seem at odds with the explosion of community service programs. But despite the attention paid to these efforts, they remain emphatically extracurricular. In effect, civic-mindedness is treated as outside the realm of what purports to be serious thinking and adult purposes. Simply put, when the impulse is to change the world, the academy is more likely to engender a learned helplessness than to create a sense of empowerment. This brew — oversimplification of civic engagement, idealization of the expert, fragmentation of knowledge, emphasis on technical mastery, neutrality as a condition of academic integrity — is toxic when it comes to pursuing the vital connections between education and the public good, between intellectual integrity and human freedom, which were at the heart — (Applause) — of the challenge posed to and by my European colleagues. When the astronomical distance between the realities of the academy and the visionary intensity of this challenge were more than enough, I can assure you, to give one pause, what was happening outside higher education made backing off unthinkable. Whether it was threats to the environment, inequities in the distribution of wealth, lack of a sane policy or a sustainable policy with respect to the continuing uses of energy, we were in desperate straits. And that was only the beginning. The corrupting of our political life had become a living nightmare; nothing was exempt — separation of powers, civil liberties, the rule of law, the relationship of church and state. Accompanied by a squandering of the nation’s material wealth that defied credulity. A harrowing predilection for the uses of force had become commonplace, with an equal distaste for the alternative forms of influence. At the same time, all of our firepower was impotent when it came to halting or even stemming the slaughter in Rwanda, Darfur, Myanmar. Our public education, once a model for the world, has become most noteworthy for its failures. Mastery of basic skills and a bare minimum of cultural literacy eludes vast numbers of our students. Despite having a research establishment that is the envy of the world, more than half of the American public don’t believe in evolution. And don’t press your luck about how much those who do believe in it actually understand it. Incredibly, this nation, with all its material, intellectual and spiritual resources, seems utterly helpless to reverse the freefall in any of these areas. Equally startling, from my point of view, is the fact that no one was drawing any connections between what is happening to the body politic, and what is happening in our leading educational institutions. We may be at the top of the list when it comes to influencing access to personal wealth. We are not even on the list when it comes to our responsibility for the health of this democracy. We are playing with fire. You can be sure Jefferson knew what he was talking about when he said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was, and never will be.” (Applause) On a more personal note, this betrayal of our principles, our decency, our hope, made it impossible for me to avoid the question, “What will I say, years from now, when people ask, ‘Where were you?'” As president of a leading liberal arts college, famous for its innovative history, there were no excuses. So the conversation began at Bennington. Knowing that if we were to regain the integrity of liberal education, it would take radical rethinking of basic assumptions, beginning with our priorities. Enhancing the public good becomes a primary objective. The accomplishment of civic virtue is tied to the uses of intellect and imagination at their most challenging. Our ways of approaching agency and authority turn inside out to reflect the reality that no one has the answers to the challenges facing citizens in this century, and everyone has the responsibility for trying and participating in finding them. Bennington would continue to teach the arts and sciences as areas of immersion that acknowledge differences in personal and professional objectives. But the balances redressed, our shared purposes assume an equal if not greater importance. When the design emerged it was surprisingly simple and straightforward. The idea is to make the political-social challenges themselves — from health and education to the uses of force — the organizers of the curriculum. They would assume the commanding role of traditional disciplines. But structures designed to connect, rather than divide mutually dependent circles, rather than isolating triangles. And the point is not to treat these topics as topics of study, but as frameworks of action. The challenge: to figure out what it will take to actually do something that makes a significant and sustainable difference. Contrary to widely held assumptions, an emphasis on action provides a special urgency to thinking. The importance of coming to grips with values like justice, equity, truth, becomes increasingly evident as students discover that interest alone cannot tell them what they need to know when the issue is rethinking education, our approach to health, or strategies for achieving an economics of equity. The value of the past also comes alive; it provides a lot of company. You are not the first to try to figure this out, just as you are unlikely to be the last. Even more valuable, history provides a laboratory in which we see played out the actual, as well as the intended consequences of ideas. In the language of my students, “Deep thought matters when you’re contemplating what to do about things that matter.” A new liberal arts that can support this action-oriented curriculum has begun to emerge. Rhetoric, the art of organizing the world of words to maximum effect. Design, the art of organizing the world of things. Mediation and improvisation also assume a special place in this new pantheon. Quantitative reasoning attains its proper position at the heart of what it takes to manage change where measurement is crucial. As is a capacity to discriminate systematically between what is at the core and what is at the periphery. And when making connections is of the essence, the power of technology emerges with special intensity. But so does the importance of content. The more powerful our reach, the more important the question “About what?” When improvisation, resourcefulness, imagination are key, artists, at long last, take their place at the table, when strategies of action are in the process of being designed. In this dramatically expanded ideal of a liberal arts education where the continuum of thought and action is its life’s blood, knowledge honed outside the academy becomes essential. Social activists, business leaders, lawyers, politicians, professionals will join the faculty as active and ongoing participants in this wedding of liberal education to the advancement of the public good. Students, in turn, continuously move outside the classroom to engage the world directly. And of course, this new wine needs new bottles if we are to capture the liveliness and dynamism of this idea. The most important discovery we made in our focus on public action was to appreciate that the hard choices are not between good and evil, but between competing goods. This discovery is transforming. It undercuts self-righteousness, radically alters the tone and character of controversy, and enriches dramatically the possibilities for finding common ground. Ideology, zealotry, unsubstantiated opinions simply won’t do. This is a political education, to be sure. But it is a politics of principle, not of partisanship. So the challenge for Bennington is to do it. On the cover of Bennington’s 2008 holiday card is the architect’s sketch of a building opening in 2010 that is to be a center for the advancement of public action. The center will embody and sustain this new educational commitment. Think of it as a kind of secular church. The words on the card describe what will happen inside. We intend to turn the intellectual and imaginative power, passion and boldness of our students, faculty and staff to developing strategies for acting on the critical challenges of our time. So we are doing our job. While these past weeks have been a time of national exhilaration in this country, it would be tragic if you thought this meant your job was done. The glacial silence we have experienced in the face of the shredding of the constitution, the unraveling of our public institutions, the deterioration of our infrastructure is not limited to the universities. We the people have become inured to our own irrelevance when it comes to doing anything significant about anything that matters concerning governance, beyond waiting another four years. We persist also in being sidelined by the idea of the expert as the only one capable of coming up with answers, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The problem is there is no such thing as a viable democracy made up of experts, zealots, politicians and spectators. (Applause) People will continue and should continue to learn everything there is to know about something or other. We actually do it all the time. And there will be and should be those who spend a lifetime pursuing a very highly defined area of inquiry. But this single-mindedness will not yield the flexibilities of mind, the multiplicity of perspectives, the capacities for collaboration and innovation this country needs. That is where you come in. What is certain is that the individual talent exhibited in such abundance here, needs to turn its attention to that collaborative, messy, frustrating, contentious and impossible world of politics and public policy. President Obama and his team simply cannot do it alone. If the question of where to start seems overwhelming you are at the beginning, not the end of this adventure. Being overwhelmed is the first step if you are serious about trying to get at things that really matter, on a scale that makes a difference. So what do you do when you feel overwhelmed? Well, you have two things. You have a mind. And you have other people. Start with those, and change the world. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Liz Coleman’s call to reinvent liberal arts education”

  1. people saying that they are bored by her talk.. are saying more about themselves then about her.
    I believe there is room for improvement in her presentation (intonation for example) sure.. but the message is quite clear to me. And it sure rocks if you ask me!
    I think change in thinking is in order when teaching students because the liveless reductionism in classrooms teached today , is not from this time.. certainly when you consider students suffering from "short-term attention syndrome".

  2. yep, people these days refuse the concept that paying attention takes effort in favor of belligerently declaring that if it cant hold their attention on its own, it is unworthy of attention. I suppose thats a way to separate the wheat from the chafe, but why let wheat be discarded as chafe? demand more of your peers.

  3. Don't get me wrong, yiddishesque, I completely agree with many points, including her take on education being more and more detail on less and less, there was just something about her delivery that made it hard for me to remain focussed, and I'm not some impatient ADHD sugar junkie.

  4. nice jump to conclusions you made there. if governments do anything right, it is only out of coincidence. An unrealistic expectation would be for you to think that Obama is doing what YOU are telling him to do… and your right, a president is not like a boss.. because if a boss does something i dont like, i can quit.

  5. This is nonesense.

    ALL this country needs is for each and every one of its citezens to accept faith in Jesus Christ our lord.
    Simple as that.

    Plus I don't really listen to lesbians.

  6. Polymath7

    Your words reflect you as one of true ignorance, or a sense of satire.

    Either way your comment brilliantly present the religious ignorance. 😀

  7. your opinion sort of reminds me of the opinions of extremist muslims, and the idealism of the suicide bombers who caused 9/11.

  8. I can't stand it when people recite prepared essays with poets' inflection and cadence. It's clear she's accustomed to giving lectures on literature and poetry and criticism, not presentations of anything substantive.

    This is deeply dull, and merely a long string of metaphors and assertions of opinion cloaked as fact. I couldn't keep listening past about 9 minutes.

  9. Polymath7, apparently your self-declared knowledge of many subjects doesn't extend to the English language. "Nonesense" is spelt "nonsense", "jibberish" is spelt "gibberish", and "citezens" is spelt "citizens". Congratulations, you've demonstrated an impressive level of illiteracy in only a very few words…

  10. Hello, Slabbers. I rememember you quite clearly from the seris of excellent comments you left on parts eleven and fifteen of the D'Souza/Dennett debate about a year ago

    As I've already said, my initial comment here was in jest; the misspellings are intentional.

    By the way, what genre of music do you play?

  11. Ah yes, sorry, I didn't read the rest of the comments: Poe's law indeed still holds! Excellent channel by the way, there's loads of lovely stuff I've not seen on there. From the music selections, it looks like we have a lot in common. I don't have a favourite genre, though I have avoided pursuing too much pre-20th century classical music so far; not 'cos I don't like it, but I already spend far too much time collecting and learning about music from the last century.

  12. I'd prefer to live under a minimalist government. One that doesn't regulate simply to look busy, or to appear to be solving a problem. One that sees its main job as to provide a basic legal system, and that's it.

  13. I know.
    But these days higher education seems elitist with skyrocketing costs — not that I think everyone needs to go to college.

  14. benjis007, you've hit on something here: in high school we don't learn enough to keep up with new tech, etc. Where I live (Japan) the kids in high school learn a chunk of what is taught at university in the US: The average high schooler knows as much art history as I learned my first year in Uni. Physics is taught. But, some kids are "streamed" onto vocational tracks by hs (some high schools are already specialized).

  15. I am of the opinion that university education is as expensive as it is because they have become gorged with feeding at the public trough. Government is all too willing to pour money into such things as it buys them votes. The people of course do not realize that the gov is buying their votes with 'their own' money! I would much rather vouchers if it be public money or even better, leave it completely private and let people create scholarships for the truly deserving.

  16. The idea that education should be responsible for inculcating political values rather than serving the interests of students is not a new one. The "secular priesthood" has been meddling with our schools since the days of Dewey. Anyone familiar with the history of American education should not be surprised that she was in close contact with the Russians as that has been going on for some time. Search for "Gatto" for more.

  17. this is so monotonous. Hearing someone reading word by word is so boring that even though this talk is on a subject that i find very interesting, i find it very hard to follow what she is saying!
    I know that this is probably a subject she takes very seriously, but the way the talk is delivered stinks of fakeness, it seems like she is thinking "look at me, I am so clever, I wrote this clever words" rather than actually talking about something she is passionate about. This is insufferable.

  18. Education that specializes will probably create specialists because most people don't carry opportunities to learn very far outside their schooling.

    Companies like specialists. It makes someone easy to hire if they have a degree in something where it's "point-to-able" that they have a skill. That employee seems to a hiring manager like a safe bet.

    Innovation grows always from an interdisciplinary view of things. And it's hard to argue that the economy could use innovation.

  19. I knew someone would give me this kind of answer.
    No, i don't evaluate this talk on aesthetic qualities, like i said, i find the subject interesting. My evaluation of the subject: VERY INTERESTING.

  20. and by the way, i am not making an attack on her, I think he flaw was to write it all down as if it was a book and then reading it to an audience. It is TEDTalks, not TEDreadings.
    I have no intention of discrediting anything she sais, I am just giving feedback. Saying that someone's delivery is obtrusive to the message does not in any way imply that there is a problem with the message. Get it straight techstyle.

  21. oh, one more thing: I gave the video 5 stars when i wrote that first comment, so dont make this associations, I like what she's got to say.

  22. No such idea is here expressed or implied, and your criticism -insofar as it is intelligible- is valid only if there is no meaningful distinction to be made between education and propaganda.

    What precisely do you mean by the *interests* of students?
    What is your definition of religion?
    Of dogma?
    Of whom exactly is this "secular peisthood" compirised, and against whose perogatives have they been meddling?

    To whom does your possessive pronoun "our" refer?

  23. None is expressed or implied? Perhaps you should watch again. By the interests of students I mean that what each individual student would choose for themselves. I don't really need to define religion or dogma since Dewey himself said that educators need to act as a new kind of priesthood. He and his ilk have for the past century been working through the big foundations to get students in line with the interests of large corporations by working against the interests of students' own families.

  24. I watched it, and you may be firmly ensured that I am considerably intelligent than you, and so it is most unlikely that any such message escaped my notice but aroused your own.

    Dewy's phrase was a polemic metaphor, intended with no small measure of irony, and you seem tot realize this; so I'm afraid you will have to provide the requested definitions if you wish to be clearly understood (at least by me).

    And again, what do you mean by "the interests" of students? Surely you don't mean..

  25. Yes! Students and their families are paying for their education through taxes so they are entitled to decide what they will learn. Right now, lobbyists and special interests determine the curriculum.

    Also, before claiming to be more intelligent than another person, it would help to check your grammar first. It should have been "assured" not "ensured" and it looks like you missed the word "more" as well. Better yet, stick to common courtesy and avoid such claims altogether. Take care.

  26. This is simply inconsistent with the very notion of education, whose function is not to confirm and reinforce commonly held beliefs; nor is truth determined democratically
    Sixty percent of Americans think creation "science" schould be taught as a competeing hypothesis to the fact of evolutuion; should they have thier way?
    It is no more a good idea to democratize education than surgery.

    Your second point about lobbyists and special intersts is mere hyperbole.
    If the university isn't…

  27. …relatively free of corperate influence, then no institution is,

    If you wish to correct my "grammar", you might first learn the meaning of the word, and how it differs from *usage*.
    Nor is my usage incorrect; one *assures* of something, and is *ensured* of something by another.
    You will also notice I corrected my elision of the word "more" before you did.

    You're right about one thing; I would probably do well to adopt a more civil tone. Take care.

  28. It is common practice to lump usage (collocations) under the heading of grammar, but you are correct that usage is more accurate.

    One typically assures someone of a fact rather than letting them know that they can be ensured of it..

    You did not make note of the missing "more" before the word "intelligent" in your previous message. I won't remark further on numerous spelling errors that are surely typos

    Also, it is better to adopt a more civil tone than simply talking about doing so.

  29. Education is about fostering youth who are able to create knowledge as much as it is about passing knowledge on to a new generation.

    Your point about democracy supports my view, not Ms Coleman's. If individuals are allowed to choose their own education, the best ideas will gain traction over time

    If, on the other hand, the majority (in terms of population or wealth) is allowed to indoctrinate minorities to accept a particular view, then scientific inquiry is stifled and progress is stymied.

  30. Please read the entire thread before calling me a bully. I don't usually bother to worry about someone's use of language until they claim to be more intelligent than me.

  31. OK, so it's degenerated into mere name calling. Let's see if I can remember how to play this game right… let's see:

    You are a meanie. You are not a smartie. You smell bad. Poo poo on you. Neener neener.

    Was that about right? Feel free not to bother to reply. I know that I sure won't.

  32. Very elegant and beautiful discourse. There some things though, which I simply cannot get my head around. At 3:31 she says: "As one moves up the ladder, values other than technical competence are viewed with increasing suspicion. Questions such as "what kind of a world are we making?", "what kind of a world should we be making?", "what kind of a world can we be making?" are treated with more and more skepticism and are moved of the table. In so doing, the guardians of secular democracy,

  33. in effect yield the connection between education and values to fundamentalists who you can be sure, have no compactions to using education to further their values – the absolutes of a theocracy." And then at 11:05 :" "The importance of coming to grips with values like justice, equity, truth becomes increasingly evident, as students discover that interests alone cannot tell them when the issue is rethinking education, our approach to health or strategies for achieving an economics of equity."

  34. 14:04 :" The most important discovery we made in our focus on public action was to apreciate that the hard choices are not between good and evil, but between competing goods. This discovery is tranforming. It undercuts self-righteousness, radically alters the tone and character of controversy and enriches dramatically the posibilty of finding common ground. Ideology, zealotry,unsubstantiated opinion simply won't do. This is a political education to be sure;

  35. but it is a politics of pricipal, not of partisanship." and then 15:32 :"While these past weeks have been a time of national exhilaration in this country, it would be tragic if you thought your job was done.[..] President Obama and his team simply cannot do it alone."
    Now, by taking the values that she is referring to, as being what they are, and what she apparently understands them to be – moral truths with no objective basis (competing goods), I am left with 2 possibilities:

  36. a. she doesn't understand that she contradicts herself because she is blinded by her own values which she considers to be absolute or b. (less likely) she does it on purpose, as some kind of esoteric message to those who would see it.

  37. i think she was spot on when she was talking about how specialization takes away from the individual

    there are so many things i want to learn about, each one is unique and worth learning; i honestly feel i am missing out by having to choose a major and minor

  38. I'm no fan of Bertrand Russell. While I think that knowledge should be inherently valued, I don't think that educators should organize to try to change attitudes about knowledge. In our efforts to get students to not think about the utility of knowledge, we have encourage apathy and passiveness. We should instead be encouraging students to pursue their own goals and help provide them with the knowledge that they desire to meet those goals. Innovation and entrepreneurship depends on this.

  39. Who's to say that philosophy isn't good for business? A moral business is a profitable business. Educators must always strive to be humble. If we value knowledge, we should try to show our feelings and demonstrate its value, not conspire together to jolly along another generation who will come to see learning the way they do exercise and eating vegetables. Always remember: educators work for their students, not the other way around. Ultimately, it is their goals that are important, not ours.

  40. If you agree that philosophy and knowledge are good for business, then you agree that it has instrumental value. To argue in the next breath that motivating by instrumental value is not your goal is fine, but what about those throngs of students who sit in our classrooms with no sense of future, so sense of purpose? What about the ones who don't CARE that knowledge is inherently valuable because they know they're not going to make any contribution to it? They want to matter and to live.

  41. How do they know? Are you serious? Because they're not stupid. They know that they could do a lot more but they also know that will simply push students at the top to work even harder. Most students don't want to compete academically and a "well-educated man" only derives pleasure and confidence from the sense of superiority he gets. You seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of what money is: it's just a way of storing and trading work. Good luck motivating.

  42. I thought that humility and acceptance of our own profound ignorance was one of the cornerstones of philosophy? I have read both Thoreau and Russell and many others besides; I was a philosophy minor in university after all. I really have to wonder why you take such pleasure from being educated. Surely people a thousand years ago were less educated and just as happy. Surely people a thousand years hence will consider you to be a brute. Would you be so proud of your present education living then?

  43. We recognize great minds for their achievements in their own times, but if Socrates were living today as he did then, he would be in jail. Pedophilia, after all, is no longer acceptable in society. For all his mental acuity, he would be considered profoundly ignorant of even the most rudimentary science and many of his beliefs would be considered ridiculous or savage. If you were to be transported into the future, your education would be treated with similar contempt.

  44. How about the belief that women are basically chattel? How about the belief that sex with children is a healthy and character building exercise? What about the implicit belief that conquering other people, looting their cities, and taking their people into slavery is fine and good for a Greek land holder?

    You missed my point about genius. Living TODAY he would effectively be a moron; he understands no technology, geography, or science. Living today, his education would be almost worthless.

  45. You still miss my point. While his education had instrumental value for dealing with his own society, it is almost useless today. While his contributions to philosophy remain pertinent, his education in today's world, both practical and ethical, would be drastically devalued. As such, it cannot be said to be inherently valuable since it does not maintain value universally across time. I suggest that you are confusing the universal value of his disposition with the local value of his education.

  46. Also, I am not a relativist. Evil is evil whenever it is performed. Many of Socrates's beliefs were savage just as many of the beliefs of today are savage. One can be a genius and still be a savage.

    As for philosophy, I will put it this way: If it helps good people to be better, does it have value? Of course, it has instrumental value. Truth may have inherent value, but education can neither pretend to instill truth nor make students value the truth. Character education has been a fraud.

  47. You disagree with what? I thought we were arguing whether education was inherently or instrumentally valuable? Are you going to now try to argue that I should sit happy and smug all because I have critical thinking skills? The value of critical thinking comes from what it allows us to do.

  48. You are correct that people's nature has not changed but the skills needed have. The majority of what Socrates thought he knew was wrong and useless in today's society. To point at the fact that he knew people and debate but then ignore all of the practical day to day knowledge necessary to survive is exactly the problem I'm pointing out. Students who are facing down poverty see your program as irrelevant to the real problems they face. Will you tell them to take comfort in Shakespeare? Really?

  49. I see. Without recourse to an argument, you drop names of writers (who, yes, I've read) and then make a poor and unsupported attempt at damning with faint praise. Your approach shows that I was right when I said that what you were really looking for from education is a sense of superiority. I suggest that you get out more and drop the sarcastic grins.

  50. LOL. OK, here goes:

    First, I tried to stay on topic by reiterating the main point that we were talking about inherent versus instrumental value. You ignored this.

    Next, unable or unwilling to supply further argument, you tried insulting my intelligence in a round about way. That is regarded by most as very uncivil.

    Finally, angered by the fact that I pointed out your basic sense of insecurity, you cry with teenage angst that I "don't know what I'm talking about."

    Please, grow up.

  51. I never argued that the classics were useless or worthless. You are putting words in my mouth. I would have thought the fact that I said I minored in philosophy would have disavailed you of that belief. Perhaps the fact that I majored in English will further convince you? I did say that Socrates was a pedophile because that is true. I must admit I have a preference for true statements. I'm also glad to see you realize you have a problem with being uncivil in debates. That's a start at least.

  52. I'm sure you are happy to end this. I'm also gratified by your apparent lack of insight into my background and I certainly don't give a damn whether you're Jewish or not. I wouldn't call this an exchange of ideas since you still insist on ignoring arguments and making ridiculous sarcastic smirks.

    I feel sympathy for your students. It makes me wonder: Is this vitriol really just you venting frustration over your students' apathy towards your classes? I hope you can tell me otherwise.

  53. I loved this message, I thought that it was eloquent and articulate. But like many of the commentators I struggle with the presentation. It is weak and remarkably limp. It does need to be redone with proper passion and emphasis. The lady is obviously struggling to get the message out while the techniques she has at her command are pitifully undercharged. I read all the comments. hasatum is an adversarial dork and tristramshandy fell into his swamp of ego baiting. Ain't Ted Talks great 5stars

  54. The Soviet Unions system was propaganda? Our students are tools. Their schedules jammed with course work in self-esteem, personal safety, AIDS education, family life, consumer training, driver's ed, holistic health, and gym. The typical American high school student spends only 1, 460 hours on subjects like math, science and history during their four years in high schools. Meanwhile, their counterparts in Japan will spend 3,170 hours on basic subjects.

  55. There is only one subject in schools now. Conflict theory. Religious students in Iran face less ideology, propaganda and morality training. And you are complaining classes are not ideological enough? If they sign an oath to vote Democratic will you sign one teach them something useful again?

  56. I could not give this a thumbs up or down. There is a lot to think about here, and I have a feeling I agree with most of her observations and conclusions, but the way she put together and presented her thoughts left me wondering at times if she was speaking my thoughts and beliefs, or the antithesis of. I will be revisiting this video.

  57. She better be saying that one main topic of future education is the uses of the force, but in the sense that a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away… Jedi did. I think it's more meaningful in that way.

  58. I knew TED first from Sir Ken Robinson's speech, and loved it. Then I got here. I watched this the first time and agreed with most of the comments that her way of presenting the speech discredited what she tried to address. But I had to do a paper on liberal education, so I decided to watch it the second time. I realized how deep her message actually was, despite of her tone. Now both her and SKR's talks will be on my work cited page

  59. @BaronVonLichtenstein In other countries, parents take the responsibility for all those other important parts of life that American families — aside from fundamentalists and cultists — have abdicated.

  60. Stopped reading when she mentioned Post-Modern Deconstructionism. What a fucking snob. If anyone reading this comment THINKS they disagree, I ask that you read wikipedia's Deconstruction article, then come back and tell me I'm wrong.

  61. You probably should, you're just a waste of space.
    Pro-tip– Get a gallon of bleach and drink it you pathetic excuse for a human.

  62. …"public good"
    only had through freethought.. instead of theocratic hatred…
    the phobias pushed by fundamentalist homophobic parents is sad.. i witnessed it today in person.
    "…opinions simply won't do"
    "do you belive in god!?"… "steve jobs died early because he was atheist…"
    they tell their children this.. or xtian cable channels perhaps.. still.. shame.

  63. So why do you think America's education system that was on top of the world for so long started to decline in 1960's?

    Yup you guessed it… Desegregation.

  64. There is only one course in liberal arts now. Victims studies. I'll save students the $80,000. White, heterosexual, Christian males are responsible for everything that has ever gone wrong in anyone's life. Your liberal arts degree is in the mail. Good luck getting a job.

  65. Bennington and most modern colleges could never agree to a program of liberal arts education. Could you imagine Americans students studying Nietzsche, Hegel, Schiller when most American professors can't read them effectively? COuld you imagine sitting on a table with American students for a discussion on great books? Like their professors, our students have never cared about a universal education. Liz Coleman has never had a liberal education herself.

  66. This speaker speaks eloquently but it's pretty empty fluff. There is plenty of opportunity in college to pursue either a classical liberal arts education, or indeed any program of study, or greater specialization in one subject. Most students pursue a degree as an investment in a future career; only the wealthiest immune from career pressure can realistically engage in learning for learning's sake. Sorry to say, this society can't afford to have everybody pursuing learning for learning's sake.

  67. This was the worst of all the Tedtalks I've seen. It would have been more interesting to read the transcript. She believes that a new building is going to change the direction of education. Her elitest acedemic attitude is exactly opposite of what we need. I agree with a broad education.The public school system is failing and students are not ready for the rigors of work or university. Specialized schools prepare them for employment and are unfortunately necessary.

  68. Liberal arts seems to be able to vote cancer, feed the world, produce resources and fix the economy. When trigonometry is only reached in high school, we NEED some real improvement in education before we can obsess ourselves with liberal art. Learning more and more about less and less? – specialisation. Google it pls. If you know what is google

  69. "There is no such thing as a viable democracy made up of experts, zealots, politicians and spectators."

    *Facepalm* No, because that's just only been the bedrock of democratic development and indeed our civilization for thousands of years…

  70. I kept an open mind when watching this speech. Seven years later, I can connect some similarities between her concerns and today's liberal arts system.

  71. What a boring speaker!! Reading from her notes continually! She is one of the reasons why US education is pitiful. She can't even deliver one lesson without continually looking at her notes. IOW, she doesn't know her subject well enough to speak extemporaneously.

  72. So many platitudes and empty cliches. It sounds like all she wants is to create more liberal social justice warriors to influence politics. Yeah, how is that working out for all of those students who are trying to get a job after going into debt to get a worthless degree in some sort of "victims studies" major.

  73. I wanted to like this TEDTalk, but what a load it turned out to be. The main theme of her presentation is not enough action by academia to promote further liberal enlightenment, which I would argue is the main problem with American higher education. I agree with some of her points, especially academic specialization, but promotion of individual specialness, celebration of oppressed populations, and anti-establishment groupthink has long supplanted academics in our premier universities. Academics and knowledge solidified and propelled us as a culture and a nation for our first 200 years; unless drastic change is made within our institutes of higher learning we will continue the intellectual backslide begun decades ago.

  74. What a god awful nightmare of confused liberal babbling! A confused woman, indeed. Surely Coleman realizes that one of the reasons that "traditional" American liberal arts education has been "degraded" is not because of the Bush Administration ("shredding of the Constitution") or because of the GOP's theocratic leanings, but because elite WASP culture has been degraded (due to the 1960s obsession with individualist "finding oneself" mentality and defining that journey as everything non-elite, non-WASP) and replaced by post-modernism, influenced by Frankfurt Marxist thinkers and their ilk. After listening to this, I can understand where David Coleman got has confused notions for the creation of Common Core. Good grief, someone help us. These people will not have control over my education. No.

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