Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Groundswell and a Desire for Something More

During the last number of days, the response to the closing of the Department of Education here at Cornell University has been something to behold. A groundswell is taking place, not simply emerging from those within the department, but also from outside of it. There is a growing community of students--both undergraduate and graduate--who recognize the tremendous loss that is occurring with the closure of the department and the loss of the institutional home for education here at Cornell.

Without a unified approach (although we're quickly trying to coalesce our energy), groups and individuals have been reaching out to the administration within CALS asking fundamental questions about what the loss of the Department of Education means for both the college as well as the university. There is, to quote one of the students from outside of the Department of Education, a need to recognize that the response to what's taking place deals with more than simply the department. He writes:
"it became clear that we were not grieving over the loss of the departmental edifice; we rather fear the loss of a forum; a free space in which to question the purpose of our education and coactively develop ourselves into the reflective practitioners we seek to be."
 With individuals and groups coming together, there is desire to try to engage a broader cross-section of the Cornell community as well as those beyond this campus who recognize and want to raise attention to what is taking place. For an institution such as Cornell to close the Department of Education speaks volumes to what is valued and what is expendable. There is no doubt that the precipice we face was brought on by the economic climate which has pushed many higher education institutions to question what they can and cannot support. This has been especially true for public higher education and land grant universities. So where do we go from here?

A number of graduate students who are concerned about the future of a space for educational discourse and questioning have recognized that we must be the ones who do something. We cannot, in good conscience, stand on the sidelines and let this issue simply become a forgotten headline.

A website, Cornell Education Matters, is serving as a hub for information and resources for those concerned with the future study of education here at Cornell. From the website, we also have a Google Group which enables individuals to sign up to receive emails about what's going on. Additionally, we have created a Facebook Page which will allow us to share information with one another as well as to gain broader support for what we are trying to do. We are doing all we can to connect people and share information about what's going on.

We have learned that the Department of Education will be able to meet with Associate Dean Max Pfeffer  on Thursday, November 4th at 5:00pm. Just to make this clear...

On Thursday, November 4th at 5:00pm, there will be a very important meeting with CALS administrators and we need as many people as possible to be there to show support for the study of education at Cornell University. 

The location is yet to be determined, we would want to let everyone know that we're encouraging as many people as possible to come to this meeting to show support for the study of education at Cornell. The physical presence of concerned individuals is a very powerful way to demonstrate the extent to which the Cornell community (as well as those beyond) cares about what's taking place.

President Skorton has called for the hiring of new faculty members humanities. The article in the Cornell Chronicle notes that,
"Far from being irrelevant in the digital age, the arts and humanities not only teach the basic skills of critical and contextual thinking, communication and ethics but also have value as disciplines of research and critical analysis in their own right. And on a fundamental level, they teach us what it means to be human, he said." 
This comment is something I wholeheartedly agree with, and I would argue that much of what takes places within the field of education asks these deeply important questions about what it means to be a person in today's world. I would argue that the college and university administration have failed in understanding what it is that happens within the Department of Education. If they knew, they wouldn't be closing it down. Education is much more than simply teacher preparation (and by no means am I demeaning teacher education). What I mean to say is that education engages questions about what it means to be a citizen in communities, states, or the world. There is serious engagement with some of the most important questions about who we are and how we might live with one another in the future.

Stay tuned and stay in touch. This is a tremendous opportunity for those of us at Cornell and those at other universities and colleges to ask deep, fundamental questions about what higher education means today in our democracy. This is an extraordinarily important question for public higher education. Education is more than the dissemination of information. The support for a forum in which faculty and students might engage in discussion about what education means only highlights the need to further engage one another about what it is that these institutions of higher education are doing and how.

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