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Dean of Faculty Convocation Address: 'Individualized (does not equal) Individualism'

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Individualized  Individualism

Alan H. Goodman, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty

As Hampshire's chief academic officer, it is my pleasure to partake in and enjoy what you are about to begin.  I want to begin by welcoming you, all of you, to challenging, creative, joyous, student-centered and in my humble opinion and one four letter word, the b.e.s.t. education in the Universe.

Hampshire College is a leader on the cutting-edge of a liberal arts tradition that focuses on students—of being student centered and of offering a highly individualized education. Forty years ago, as its first class entered, Hampshire took a leadership position, and Hampshire continues, with you, to push the envelope in believing in your ability to control and build your education to fit your needs, goals, and aspirations.  You select your own courses and projects, the purposes and methods of your interdisciplinary concentrations, and you undertake an honors thesis of your choosing and design. You will be individually evaluated on everything; not by an arbitrary hierarchy of grades, rather, you will receive extensive feedback in the form of narrative evaluation that will focus on your progress, your level of achievement, and what you did not and did learn and do. At Hampshire, you have the rare opportunity to self-direct what you want to do and learn.

But please do not think that individualized is the same or in any way linked to individualism, meaning that you need to be excessively self-directed and self-reliant, or that you need not pay attention to the wishes, needs, and advice of others. So, listen to others. You will not be taking advantage of Hampshire if you try to self-direct your education without talking to your peers and teachers.

My advice? First, with all due respect, remember that you are only 18 years old, give or take. We don't expect you to be fully formed and to know everything about yourself. Give yourself a break if you are not sure. "I don't know" is a reasonable starting point to answering many questions that your advisor might ask of you. We faculty members are used to working from there. We will work with you, as coaches and mentors, to get you from "I don't know" to "I have some thoughts" to "I have a clear direction."

Talk with your classmates and fellow students. Information, ideas, and skills, the building blocks of education, are not achieved in isolation.  Rather, learning is highly social. Your grade is not inversely related to the grade of your classmates. You don't compete for a grade. You learn by working with others, by collaborating.

Take on projects together. Discuss interests and aspirations with those who have the same interests and aspirations. Discuss perspectives and ideas with those that think differently. Ethnographic studies suggest that U.S. college students tend to talk about almost anything but their education. That, however, is not Hampshire College. In addition to fashion, sports, and the latest trends, Hampshire students always have something interesting to talk about: your courses and your concentrations.

We are social animals: storytellers and listeners. Talk to your dorm mates and classmates. Exchange ethics, values, information and ideas. Compare Division I plans; gossip about professors.

In the end, you write your paper at your computer by yourself. But on the one side, before you create your own piece of intellectual work, you have read papers and listened to teachers and others. And on the other side you write, you put forth your syntheses, so others can read and comment. The paper is an informational transaction among individuals.

In an appendix to The Sociological Imagination (1959, Oxford University Press), called "On Intellectual Craftsmanship," C. Wright Mills wrote about his intellectual craftsmanship, how he develops his ideas and projects. Mills suggests that one develops one's intellectual skill set in much the same careful ways that one becomes a craftsperson. One needs to develop the tools, and practice with them, and one need mentors to evaluate what worked, what did not and why. One also has, hopefully, a network of other apprentices and crafts-persons to share tools, techniques, and ideas. Last, one has an audience to appreciate and evaluate.

Craftwork is highly interactive and social and intellectual, craft work is all the more so; it is quintessentially social.

So, as you go forward developing your student-centered, individualized education, remember that you are part of this community. And in this Hampshire College community everyone is here because they want to explore their own education. Their interests might be different or the same. However, in exploring their interests they are doing much the same darn thing that you are doing.  Share and talk. Listen and explain. Respect and love.

Now it is my great pleasure to introduce Professor Ralph Hexter, President of Hampshire College.


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