James A. Garfield was president of the United States for a brief time in 1881. Though his life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet, historians note his many contributions to our nation. During his years as an undergraduate at Williams College, Garfield was the beneficiary of both the teaching and leadership of Mark Hopkins, who served as president of the college for 36 years during an even longer career as a member of the faculty. Garfield’s admiration for Hopkins is remembered through his still famous quote: “The ideal college is Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other.”
For educators, the image is poetic. It stands in stark contrast to the rhetoric we hear today. Many voices are calling for an educational approach designed for efficiency—less time to degree completion, fully online programs of study and customer convenience. It’s a very transactional model resting on the individual accumulation of credits, courses and credentials. By checking boxes to fulfill requirements we assume we can efficiently declare an individual educated. It’s all nice and neat.
An education at “the other end of the log,” however, is not transactional—it’s relational. The opportunity for faculty to spend time with students is not at all efficient, but our experience tells us it’s incredibly effective.
The stories I hear from alumni tell of the unexpected twists and turns that naturally accompany learning about themselves, others and the world. Some describe a sure decision for a major as a high school senior, later set aside when the inspiration of learning set them on a new path. Others recount tales of international study that opened new global perspectives and broader cultural awareness. Interns sometimes discover a reality different than anticipated, leading to a change in direction. It’s all very inefficient, but highly effective if personal transformation is our educational imperative.
A great undergraduate education is by its nature very messy. Our students become explorers of old patterns and creators of new ideas. They journey through tough questions without easy answers. They learn in teams rather than in isolation and are eager to share knowledge and experience. They seek flexibility and customization in shaping their unique experience of learning.
They encounter failure and learn how to be resourceful and resilient. An education of this kind is not about job training, it’s about setting the course for a lifelong journey.Central College, true to its heritage of innovation and core values, is re-imagining a highly relational model
for education—we call it Integrated Learning.
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