by Natalie Grinnell
Professor of English
Author of the Funnier Than Grading blog
For me, education is exciting because it is unpredictable. A clear plan of study, a well-designed curriculum, even a simple lesson is shaken and transformed when engaged by human minds in action, and you never know exactly what’s going to happen. Ancient knowledge becomes new again and again as new minds grapple with it in different contexts, and looking back while looking forward creates and sustains the story of human civilization. I don’t know what we’re going to discover this year as Wofford examines the history, purpose and future of the liberal arts education; I suspect that some of what we read and discuss will consist of problems and ideas that would be familiar to teachers and students in Ancient Athens, medieval Oxford or nineteenth-century South Carolina, while others would be alien and surprising even a generation ago.
As I write this, a device weighing nearly a ton hurtling toward the planet Mars at 13,000 miles per hour has slowed and dropped, landing on a spot in the solar system that no human hand has ever touched. Its journey was meticulously planned and designed, but its accomplishments are still unknown, its discoveries awaiting analysis. It’s called Curiosity, and it will add to the totality of human knowledge. Reactions to that knowledge, like reactions to reading a sonnet or balancing an equation, will help us understand what it means to be human. That is the journey of every educated mind, and this year I look forward to exploring some of the many paths that journey can take.