What makes a respected liberal arts college deserve its reputation? In Colleges That Change Lives, writer Lauren Pope talks to Dean Len Clark and a group of Earlham College faculty about their school's success. They describe their students' experience this way:
From the first day their responsibility to learn from and with other students is stressed. That is a Quaker tenet and a part of the mission of the college. It takes new students by surprise but then liberates them. It takes some practice to listen to and learn from other students, and to build on ideas the other people have. That's a central focus of the humanities program for the first year. They talk about the text and then they talk about one another's analysis of the text. There are lots of exercises throughout the curriculum in doing that, and that's of central importance to making students successful later, because almost nobody works by himself, in the college or in this new world. (227)
One way to read this passage is to see a school taking something on as a challenge to itself and its students -- saying that we will find a pedagogy to enact a certain set of worthy values, then doing it. That's an affirmation of character for faculty, administrators, students, and the institution as a whole.
We might go on to ask whether our school has taken this step or not. If it has, in time it will become known by those values and the practices they require. If not, the school will be like many other schools, I suspect.
And blogging? Notice how the Earlham values overlap with the more hopeful blogging values, but perhaps with this difference?: The pedagogy aims for its goals, while bloggers as a whole often seem to follow their bliss, individually, rather than assemble and take aim. Perhaps things like the "pro-am journalism" that Jay Rosen and associates at Assignment Zero are doing should serve as an important exception.