To See A World is the title of a decades old book written by Dr. John Harrington, a legendary professor at Wofford. Students knew him affectionately as “Doc Rock.” Written from the perspective of his discipline, geology, and influenced by the sensibilities of the liberal arts, the book enables readers to look upon the world as it is, and it equips them to see it as it was and as it will become. Those of us who had Doc Rock as a professor remember his creative labs. Each week there was a field trip to an important local geological site. They were excursions to Kings Mountain, Chimney Rock, the Smokies and the beach. Each lab concluded with an assignment: “In three sentences describe what you saw and tell how it got to be that way.” Occasionally there would be the added question, “What will this area look like in 10,000 years?”
Very soon, we — students, staff and faculty — will once again return to campus and engage in efforts “to see a world.” Each year is distinct, and that’s just one of the appealing parts of being involved in academic culture. It’s an understatement — if not correct grammar — to say that this year may be “more distinct” than most.
During my own Wofford orientation, I remember the chaplain telling us that liberal arts education is a search for truth. He noted that we were likely to discover that some of the things we assumed and believed weren’t true. “That’s OK,” he assured. “If it isn’t true you don’t need to hang onto it.” When you find the truth,” he said, “It can set you free.”
Education can be freedom, and not just the new-found freedom that comes from being away from home. The word “education” comes from two Latin roots: educare and educere. Educare means to “train or mold.” In order to develop competence in a discipline or profession, we dedicate time to take available information and let it shape, or form, who we are. The word educere means “lead out of darkness.” This aspect of education equips us to see where once we could not.
Education can be very uncomfortable. Just when we think we are free from constraints, people are working to shape us and help us see new things. Learning to see a world exposes ugliness. It reveals moments of pain and of inspiration, though not necessarily in equal portion. Learning to see a world enables us to see each other more clearly — our differences, our similarities, our distinctive gifts, our aspirations. It enables us to grapple with who we will become as individuals, as a community and as a society.
This year we will embark upon that annual journey that is a Wofford liberal arts education with a new awareness of the settings and the stories of the past. We will explore more deeply the ways that past has impacted the present, and we will chart a future that will emerge from our current discomfort. Hopefully, it will be a future that will be honest, just and filled with opportunity. That’s up to us. I suppose it depends upon what kind of world we allow ourselves to see.