Mr. Reinharz, tear down this wall

I’ve been doing some thinking on the role of a University. Our conception of what it should be is very different from what it is in reality, at Brandeis but also most everywhere else. Professor Michael Wesch, a Cultural Anthropologist at Kansas State University put it very nicely a while ago:

Some time ago we started taking our walls too seriously – not just the walls of our classrooms, but also the metaphorical walls that we have constructed around our “subjects,” “disciplines,” and “courses.” McLuhan’s statement about the bewildered child confronting “the education establishment where information is scarce but ordered and structured by fragmented, classified patterns, subjects, and schedules” still holds true in most classrooms today. The walls have become so prominent that they are even reflected in our language, so that today there is something called “the real world” which is foreign and set apart from our schools. When somebody asks a question that seems irrelevant to this real world, we say that it is “merely academic.”

Not surprisingly, our students struggle to find meaning and significance inside these walls. They tune out of class, and log on to Facebook.

A true University should embrace learning, not teaching. A true University should view knowledge as a journey, not a scarce parcel. A true University should build a culture of the possibly of discovery through discussion at all times of day and night.

Instead we fidget in our chairs for three hours a day, spend hours dumbly thumbing through books in the library, and spend the rest of our time in a whirlwind of activity, trying to keep up with mounting piles of work, but also plunging headfirst into the elaborate civil society we’ve created to bring meaning, purpose, wholesomeness to fill the emptiness in our lives that our classes carve out.

Mr. Reinharz, please tear down this wall.
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