The challenge the current academic space faces are the fact that our post-millennials are virtually wanderers. The access to unlimited information, both visual and textual, has made this generation well equipped with knowledge. Because of the globalization, social media, and urbanization the exposure for a student has widened unimaginably. But studies show this also has created a very self-involved generation. In 2012 Wellesley High School Graduation speech “You are not Special” David McCullough said “Do not get the idea you are anything special because you are not…. even if you are one in a million on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are seven thousand people just like you.”
How can a student inculcate this realization of one being part of a larger world, the need for empathy towards others and understanding other’s perspectives etc. How much our educational system can contribute to creating this awareness in a student. As Maya Angelou pointed out, “any individual is free only when one realizes that one “belongs to every place, not a place at all.” The education system has reached an exhausting level that the compartmentalization or the specializations have created this vacuum for being unaware of any other forms of knowledge. I guess this tendency also has contributed to the creation of a self-involved generation. In this context remembering C. P. Snow’s iconic lecture of 1959 “Two Cultures” would be helpful. He deliberated on the ‘dangerous cultural dichotomy;’ means the knowledge system’s divergence as science and humanities. He said,
A good many times I have been presented at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice, I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: ‘Have you ever read a work of Shakespeare’s?
But interestingly the Pandemic created space for thoughts like we might lose everything we have held on to. The emergency raised to create a capable society who has the energy to love and transform oneself and others without fear. The time asked for more socially committed scientists and doctors. The question on ethics, justice and democratic involvements became the point of discussions. The need to inculcate the courage to post-millennials to live with fundamental ideas like fear of loss became a challenge for even a primary teacher.
The urgency has arrived to channelize this endless information into a multitude of subject knowledge to a student. For this it is necessary to reimagine the stubborn walls of knowledge culture. The proposal for ‘fourth culture of knowledge’ as Jonah Lehrer puts it, can create more individuals who are comfortable in being part of social collective. The latter says “We now know enough to know that we will never know everything. Therefore, we need art: it teaches us how to live with mystery.” Unlike on the internet, the young generation should be able to freely embrace the ability to remain uncertain, doubtful, and put their actual experience in historical, political, and social context. These are the skills that can transcend the traditional outlook of a subject. Are we all equipped to adjust with this shape shifting? Shouldn’t we be trained to face contradictions and diverse individual and collective understandings?
This also brought a larger discussion on the need for bridging the sciences and humanities. I am reminded of the powerful passage in Frankenstein, where Victor meets Waldman the scientist. The latter advices “If your wish is to become really a man of science, and not merely a petty experimentalist, I should advice you to apply to every branch of natural sciences.” There is this need to become an interdisciplinarian and understand the extraordinary scope of this “cross-pollination” of the disciplines.
In a classroom when a student asks the question; ‘Is this text going to be important for the examination? Or regarding the texts we are reading now can you tell me a few areas from where the questions come? Or the ultimate question of why should we read if it is not covered in examination? The educators must not be afraid to reform these thought patterns. Both of us need to be comfortable being uncomfortable to reimagining the definition of skill to be acquired.