November 01, 2013

To Know and To Know How

Put yourself in my shoes. What do you do with advice about the future of your industry when it comes from another sector that serves as the poster child for its inability to predict the forces that disrupted it from its roots? So when Time magazine convened its 2013 Summit on Higher Education in mid-September, I took a curious, if begrudging, look.

Over two days, a collection of big-name philanthropists, government officials, and business leaders discussed how higher education must respond to market forces, 21st century needs, emerging technologies, and a diversified world. These discussions were on display—and presented anew—when the Oct. 7 issue of Time hit newsstands.

In a cover story on “The Class of 2025,” Jon Meacham summarizes the percolating debate around the future of higher education and its relevance today and in the future.

Like so many others before him, he points toward two apparently disparate pathways to fixing what supposedly ails the industry.

“There are those who insist that the key outcome lies in the answer to ‘What should every college graduate know?’” Meacham writes. “Others ask, ‘What should every college graduate know how to do?’”

How can a starting point be so fundamentally mistaken?

As soon as you have separated how you come to know from how you come to know how to do, you have missed the entire point of what a 21st century education requires. A Beloit College education has a core commitment to the liberal arts in practice, which is all about the essential, pedagogical importance of integrating these two questions—integrating them as deeply as we possibly can.

This institution has in its DNA a commitment to an education that promotes the self-generating student (this language comes straight from the earliest moments of the Beloit Plan). This is a student who comes to know, to question, to reflect, to test, to apply, to act, and to develop habits of mind that allow this self-generating student to live a life of purposeful consequence. Since at least the 1960s, we have been doing far more for a 21st century education than the false pedagogical dichotomy being repeated by Timemagazine.

What is surprising is the way in which this grand Beloit experiment has been repurposed by others, but often executed poorly. Internship requirements are now a staple at institutions across the country, and thesis requirements are becoming increasingly more prevalent among colleges with which we most often compete. Yet, it is rare that you see colleges doing both, as we do. Even rarer is the institution that truly supports, integrates, and values such work—treating it as a necessity, not a notch in some curricular belt or a nod to the latest trend.

Among our peer group, Beloit alone offers what I’ve taken to calling a “practice package”—a suite of requirements and experiential opportunities that ensure a Beloiter, a self-generating Beloiter, is ready to live a life of purposeful consequence.

Beloit students are not only required to know, but also to know how. They must complete a liberal arts in practice experience, as well as a capstone project or thesis. They have opportunities to take lab classes in every major. And they are presenting their research at Student Symposium and International Symposium, serving on search committees, pitching and earning honors terms, starting businesses through the Center for Entrepreneurship in Liberal Education at Beloit (CELEB), and much more.

Beloit today, like the Beloit of yesterday, continues to do this yeoman’s work. What we haven’t done, judging by this Time cover story, and the dozens of similar pieces that preceded it, is broadcast our successes in this area. To do this, we must elevate the examples of our alumni and do a better job of putting together and distributing the proof of our claim. We must hand out the megaphones to those of you who have experienced first-hand the benefits of a Beloit education.

I hope you will join us in that effort.

From here at Chapin’s desk, it is a great day to be a Beloiter.

President Scott Bierman

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