Section VIII: Reimagining and Reinventing Education

Track 3: Higher Education
(Marcus Ford and Stephen Rowe)

The atmosphere of higher education, and more specifically liberal education, today is often gloomy, with diminishing support, mechanistic and merely numerical forms of accountability and planning, and widespread questioning about the value of education beyond short term economic considerations.   

Meanwhile, the problems of the world are very real.  On the one hand there are the problems of climate change, species extinction, loss of democratic institutions, and the great disparity of income and opportunity and, on the other hand, there is a crisis of meaning, hope, and well-being—especially in affluent, highly industrialized, countries such as the US.  Higher education, in its present form, is doing a remarkably poor job addressing either of these two sets of issues which we believe to be intertwined.

And yet, there are some encouraging developments.  There are discoveries and claims which point to a new era and a new paradigm for education which are extremely hopeful.  With focus on capacities-based purposes in education, and the support of sophisticated, science-based evidence as to the dimensions of healthy human development and thriving, we can speak of transformative and integrative education, and demonstrate the concrete values of service learning, civic engagement, and inclusion.  Organizations such as the Association for the Contemplative Mind in Higher Education and YES+ are working within with universities to provide programs aimed at helping students better understand themselves and their potential, using age-old techniques of breathing and meditation and drawing on the latest discoveries of neuroscience.

On the environmental and social justice front there are also some encouraging developments.  Increasingly students are becoming aware of the problems that the modern world has created for itself and are taking action.  For example, and other student-based groups are working to mobilize citizens in the US and around the world for effective political action to combat climate change including a campaign for colleges and universities to divest their endowments of fossil fuel stocks.   

For the most part, these two efforts – toward personal development and social justice — have been separate from each other and, although loosely tied to higher education, “extracurricular.”  The standard academic curriculum remains more or less unchanged and rooted in a way of thinking about the world that does not support either personal meaning or social justice.  Environmental problems are thought to be largely scientific issues, difficult to understand, and amenable to technical solutions.  Issues of meaning and value are thought to entirely private and “non-academic.”   

So here is the problematique:   We’d like to take the few sessions of the Seizing an Alternative conference that are allotted to our track to talk about what we can do as educators who remain committed to liberal education as a deep and ineffable ideal associated the developed capacity to live an “examined life,” which for us includes a clear understanding of the world we live in, its problems, and a willingness to act.   More specifically, the question becomes one of how we can be effective for and with our students in the world of today – at a time of creative challenges and great opportunities—and how can we transform our institutions of higher education so as to make them relevant to the deeper needs of both persons and society.  

It seems fitting to have this conversation under the umbrella of Whitehead as a worldview alternative, since his is indeed one of the most powerful articulations of the Relational Worldview and its implications for education (see especially “The Aims of Education”).  Whitehead encourages us to sharpen our question one step further: given the hope we hold in and for the Relational vision, how can we organize and present liberal education as a most persuasive path for students today?

We have eight sessions stretching across three days, so we can have a real workshop in which we can weave some pre-selected presentations into a genuine inquiry (speaking of liberal education!).  So if you have a paper or presentation abstract you’d like to submit, we will happily consider these.  And if we can help with institutional support, we will write you a letter of invitation with specific mention of acceptance of your proposal.

Next June at the conference, we’ll basically begin a face-to-face inquiry with the statement above, with other such statements that emerge electronically through the next academic year, and presentation proposals received.  We’ll converse, hear some presentations, converse some more, and see how far we can go.


Presenters at a Glance:

Marcus Ford, Appalachian State University
Stephen Rowe, Grand Valley State University
Howard Woodhouse, Saskatchewan University
Elizabeth Minnich, American Assoc. of Colleges & Universities
Robert Neustadt, Northern Arizona University 
Laura Gardner, Winthrop University
Elizabeth Minnich, Queens University and AAC&U
Brenda Montjoy Sorkin, Senior trainer for Programs of movement Intelligence
Kimberly Rae Connor, University of San Francisco
David Halfand, President, Quest University
C.A (Chet) Bowers

Participants and Presenters Details 



Below is schedule of presentations to be interwoven into a three day inquiry into the two guiding questions of this Track: What should liberal education look like now?, and How can we bring this into being? This means that in each session will consist of both presentations and ongoing pursuit of inquiry. We understand that presentations will be 20-25 min max, followed by brief questions of clarification, leaving at least 30 minutes (some of which may come at the beginning as well as the end of the session) devoted to integration of the presentations and their questions/discussion/discoveries into the ongoing inquiry.

It’s fine if you’re presenting (hopefully not just reading) from a larger paper, one which you might want to make available to Track colleagues. But for presentation in our sessions, we need to be serious about time limits, and the need to focus our individual work on the shared questions and high level dialogue (as the essential art of inquiry).

One other preliminary note: In an effort to support substance, we’ve not added titles. Rather, we want to think of the Roster document as a necessary attachment to our schedule.



2-3:30 Launching an Inquiry: Everyone introduces themselves and speaks very briefly (approx. 6 minutes) to the two questions, followed by observations and discussion about the nature of our group, its unity and diversity, and the unique challenges of our day.

4-5:30 Marcus Ford and Stephen Rowe (preceded by brief intro of Howard Woodhouse)


11-12:30 Elizabeth Minnich and David Helfand

2-3:30 Darren Iammarino and Bob Neustadt

4-5:30 Elizabeth Minnich/Laura Gardner/Brenda Sorkin and Howard Woodhouse



11-12:30 Abigail DeHart/Joseph Hogan and Sheryl Petty

2-3:30 Vandana Pednekar Magal and Chet Bowers

4-5:30 Conclusions, continuations, and new initiatives. Three minute statements from each participant, followed by discussion.


Sessions Include:

Relational Teaching in Philosophy, Art, Movement [Details]


Background Materials:

Stephen Rowe, “Two Americas and the Drama of Education: Essays Toward a Relational World”

Stephen Rowe, “The Missing Dimension”

John Cobb, “The Anti-Intellectualism of the American University”

Elizabeth Minnich, “The Evil of Banality: Arendt Revisited”

Howard Woodhouse, “Mathematics as Liberal Education: Whitehead and the Rhythm of Life”

Kimberly Rae Connor, “Roundtable on Pedagogy: Response: Curiosity as Pedagogy

Marcus Ford, “A Whiteheadian form of a Liberal Arts Education”

Bob Neustadt, “Looking Beyond the Wall: Encountering the Humanitarian Crisis of Border Politics

Chet Bowers, “In The Grip of the Past: Educational Reforms That Focus on What Needs to be Conserved and What Needs to be Changed

Relational Teaching in Philosophy, Art, Movement

Locally Grown Organic Vegetarian Meal

>We will explore with participants some of the practices and meanings of the teaching arts we have discovered thus far in a project querying how we, working in presently divided disciplines, find deep and, we think, suggestive commonalities in why we work with our students as we do. Initially bracketing philosophies, techniques, and subject matter, we start by focusing close in on how we practice the art of teaching. We move, then, from highly particular practices to themes and values that inform them. Moving among our disciplines as well as from practices to philosophies, we will choose through-lines to consider from emerging project themes such as the importance of being present; balancing between inward and outward attentiveness; relating and translating; moving among activity, pause, reflection; chaos and coherence. Each of our fields also suggests philosophical questions and orientations to which we are now returning in order to explore them afresh, as we will in this session.

Background Materials:

Howard Woodhouse, “Mathematics as Liberal Education: Whitehead and the Rhythm of Life”

Elizabeth Minnich, “The Evil of Banality: Arendt Revisited”

Stephen Rowe, “The Missing Dimension”

Stephen Rowe, “Two Americas and the Drama of Education: Essays Toward a Relational World”


Check back soon for more details!