DECEMBER 13, 2012
President Peters Gives TEDx Talk in Santa Fe on the Importance of Liberal Arts Colleges
By Peter Horton
Many of us are familiar with TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) talks, the videos and podcasts of speeches dedicated to “ideas worth spreading.” There are over a thousand TED talks online, and they’ve reached hundreds of millions of viewers. But TED branches out physically, as well; the TEDx program is a series of satellite conferences that share TED’s theme of great ideas, but focus as well on bringing together communities and addressing more local issues. Thousands of TEDx events have been held in over a hundred countries, and this year, there’s going to be one in Santa Fe for the first time. Our own President Peters is among the speakers, and he and Gabe Gomez, Director of Communications, sat down with us to talk about his speech. Your speech is “Liberal Education in the Digital Age,” right? Can you tell us about it? Gabe Gomez: I saw a posting of a call for papers, a call for talks, I think on Facebook, and I thought Mike would be a perfect fit. President Peters: So, because the T in TED stands for technology, I thought it would be interesting to do something that linked, or that juxtaposed, if you will, what we do at St. Johns or broadly, in Liberal Education, with technology. And so I thought—well, first of all you have to come up with a clever title, and I don’t how clever it really was, but, you know, it worked. So I’m trying to, although I’m not spending a lot of time talking about St. John’s, per se, what I’m trying to do is make the argument about why a liberal education (maybe, in the minds of a lot of these folks, counter-intuitively) is even more important and more relevant in the digital age than it may have been even in other
familiar to the Greeks and to the Romans and in the Renaissance and in other times. But that what the digital age has done is accelerated the pace of change and that what a liberal education provides is an opportunity to step awa y fomr theat sort of relentless pursuit of who knows what
I’m thinking mostly in college. You know, they have those MOCs, massive online classes. I just saw a thing where RICE university started one and they had 54,000 people sign up for it. And it certainly serves a purpose, but it doesn’t serve the same kind of purpose that a Liberal Arts, residential college serves. But as I say, I don’t mention online courses in there specifically, but, you know, I think the general drift will come across. At least I hope it does. And there’s time as well where you’re supposed to mingle and discuss this with people? PP: Yeah–you [GG] probably know the general format better than I do, because I’ve seen TED talks online, but I’ve never actually been. GG: Sure. The way it’s going to work is the speeches are broken into three sections, and there’s the 18 minute length, and I think they go down to three minutes. And then within that there are also presentations from TED itself. TEDx–it’s called TED conferences—you could imagine it as a kind of franchise from TED. They happen all over the world; there’s one in Albequrque that’s pretty well established. But the formats are the same. The day will be from 8 to 5, and then afterwards there’s a brief mingle period of an hour or so. But it’s a small thing, it’s going to happen at the screen at the Universtiy of Art and Design. 165 people. But the purpose of this is, no matter how long the talk, this call to action to do something. And Mike can talk about it specifically for his talk, but it’s all about these ideas that are locally based because of the ted x format but have a global consequence. And with that I think it’s also important to note that it will be filmed, there will be a podcast, we’ll have it on our website to share. So it embraces that technology at the same time; it functions on a lot of different levels. And I think it’ll be interesting, very interesting. What are your thoughts on that call to action? Well, as I say, my call to action is just to argue that the drift away from real liberal education and toward more prevocational education is unfortunate and in some ways kind of tragic. And what I want to do is raise awareness of that trend and have people really reflect on that and think about what’s lost when you do that and to do what they can do, which is not a lot on an individual basis, but to recognize the value of a liberal education and to not try to homogenize and commoditize everything in higher education toward “what are you going to do in the work force,” as if that’s all education is about. GG: If you look at some of the searches on yahoo or google or whatever else, you’ll see a conversation around the beginning of every school
So it’s really consciousness-raising more than anything else, and if in fact I get on there and some high school student sees a TED talk with the president of St. John’s and wants to apply here, that’s great, and it would be nice if that happened, but that’s not the intention of it. and take time tio really reflect and think about your position in the world ansd who you are, who you would like to be, how you want to be part of the world and then go back int o the wold and bring that to it. And as I say I don’t spend a lot of time on St. John’s. So that’s sort of the broad strokes of it. And, I guess, the other thing is that, unfortunately, from my point of view, the number of really true liberal arts colleges is shrinking, and that a number of colleges have shifted to be more vocational, to teach to the educational test, if you will, that is, preparing for a specific field and outcome. And that’s been part of a sort of a homogenization and commodification of higher education, and it doesn’t serve the individual well, and it doesn’t serve society well. So the kind of bottom line is, for the TEDies out there, is you should really care about this and you should want to do what you can to preserve and to nurture this kind of opportunity for questioning and for developing a sense of wonder, and the good that comes from that in the digital or any age. From the speaker bio and speech description on the website, it looks, and correct me if I’m wrong, that a part of the idea of why this is counter-intuitive, as you said, is the popularity of ideas like online classrooms. Yeah, and I don’t take that on directly, but it’s kind of under the surface on a lot of this stuff, which is another reason why I say, since the T is technology, the kind of folks that are attracted to this like moths to the light are people that think that technology is the answer to every problem, and what I’m trying to do, and I hope I’m doing it subtly and not directly taking it on, but I’m trying to suggest that might be relatively narrow-minded. Although I don’t use those words. Are you thinking mostly in college, or in high school, with things like Kahn Academy?
[A] liberal education can cultivate and encourage a sense of exploration and wonder and a desire for learning on the part of students, and ... this time is not that different from other times in the history of mankind. periods in history. And so I try to make the case for what it is that liberal education does, but specifically focusing in on how a liberal education can cultivate and encourage a sense of exploration and wonder and a desire for learning on the part of students, and how this time is not that different from other times in the history of mankind. That the types of issues and questions that challenge us are really pretty familiar and would have been
year, about this idea of ROI, or return on investment. And you’ll have the top five schools or the top 5 majors with the best ROI. And I think that’s not only a very reductive way but a very dangerous way to look at higher education. But that’s kind of where the, at least mainstream, press focuses its coverage for higher education, and this speech is taking it somewhere else entirely. So what would be the dream outcome, not just from this one speech, but if the idea is becoming more prominent? Well, number one, the trend gets reversed. So we aren’t losing this number of Liberal Arts colleges. But I think also to run the public debate to a better understanding of the value of higher education is something much greater, and, frankly, much more important, than just how it contributes to the economy. Not to say that that doesn’t happen and not to say that that’s not an important element of it, but it’s not all of it. College is important because it contributes to the US economy, broadly speaking, keeps us competitive with the Chinese, and gets you a job. And I think
[T]he number of really true liberal arts colleges is shrinking, and a number of colleges have shifted to be more vocational, to teach to the educational test, if you will; that is, preparing for a specific field and outcome. that diminishes the real value of an education and it particularly diminishes the value of this kind of an education. So it’s really consciousnessraising more than anything else, and if in fact that I get on there and some high school student sees a TED talk with the president of St. John’s and wants to apply here, that’s great, and it would be nice if that happened, but that’s not the intention of it. Do you have any allusions, any references to literature? Well, Heidegger. I quote Heidegger twice. I start out, “All distances in time and space are shrinking,” which is a quotation from Heidegger. And then I go to the conclusion of his Question Concerning Technology, because one of the things I say is that there are four crucial elements in Liberal Education—asking questions, studying the great works, providing time and space to reflect and discuss, and recognizing that our time is not unique—so I’m talking about questions, and I go back to Martin Heidegger and say, “Questioning is the piety of thought,” which is the conclusion of that. So Heidegger gets in there.
Peter Horton is a Sophomore at St. John’s College, Santa Fe. He can be reached at pfhorton@sjcsf. edu
Farewell to David Perrigo
By Ann Hooper
Perrigo’s respect for the environment was also evident in the ecologically friendly
With each of his projects, there was a design element which was included that reflected not only the theme of existing campus structures, but also the incredible views of the natural landscape surrounding campus. aspects of design that he employed. He used materials with a great deal of recycled content and included elements such as rainwater collection in order to make the new dorm complex as energy efficient as possible. He also used local materials whenever possible, extending his benevolence beyond the St. John’s community. All of these factors add up to paint a picture of a great man. These different aspects of his character reveal someone who was not just the kind man I met those many months ago, but a man who was concerned about every aspect of the world in which he lived and desired a way to give back. St. John’s College is lucky to have been his greatest outlet for such generous behavior. Perrigo’s involvement on projects both large and small throughout campus have helped to shape our campus into the beautiful place that it is. He has given us a place in which to live, work and play while enjoying the beauty of the landscape around us and the functionality of the community itself. I believe it is our responsibility as members of the St. John’s community to honor
Perrigo’s involvement on projects both large and small throughout campus have helped to shape our campus into the beautiful place that it is. the legacy of David Perrigo. He gave so much to the college and we have a duty to take care of the physical representations of that legacy. Each and every time that we study in Meem, relax by the placita, hang out with friends in Suites and Apartments or enjoy the view from the balconies of any of the projects that Perrigo was involved in, we should take a moment to be grateful for all that he has given us.
Ann Hooper is a Junior at St. John’s College, Santa Fe. She can be reached at ann.hooper@sjcsf. edu