The pendulum swings

I think that Michael Wesch hits the nail on the head in his article Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance when he states in the first two sentences that,

The most significant problem with education today is the problem of significance itself. Students – our most important critics – are struggling to find meaning and significance in their education.


A dominant problem in our educational system is that we lose the student by silencing their voice. We do not make the education relevant to their lives, and therefore they do not engage.

It is my opinion, though, that as we discuss solutions to this, we go too far. We, as people, have a tendency to rebel against one extreme by running to the other. When it’s cold outside, my mother cranks the heat in the car until I’m sweating. When all pop music sounded the same, we ended up with such levels of individuality that some music became hardly musical.

I think this can happen in education too. Today, Christine Ortiz, the Dean of the Graduate School at MIT announced that she is taking a leave to start a new university with “no majors, no lectures, and no classrooms.”

Too often we ignore the input of the student crying “This isn’t relevant to me!” But we need not run so far that we ignore wisdom of the faculty member saying “I know it’s a stretch for you, but this is really important for you to learn.” How do we provide a meaningful and significant experience for the student without losing the direction of their education?

The nice thing about the car heater is that it usually ends up at a comfortable temperature after a little bit of sweating. And thanks to those that have continually pushed the boundaries of music, we’ve ended up with so many original masterpieces.

We need people like Dr. Ortiz to help us push the pendulum in a new direction. I can’t wait to see where we end up.

Why is education significant to you?
What do you think of Dr. Ortiz’s new university?
Where do you think education is headed?

9 thoughts on “The pendulum swings

  1. I challenge your use of the pendulum as a metaphor. It sticks us in a back and forth that requires movements to re-trace themselves. If we are in fact looking to re-frame our thinking on education we need not return to equilibrium nor necessarily repeat previous patterns. I say, we need to consider what is the pivot point, the weight, and the string tying the two together. Then, what should each be? What might be a better metaphor for what we want learning to be?


    1. Hi Noel!

      So, as I was picturing the metaphor of a pendulum, I was imagining a pendulum with damping. Where we are now is not the equilibrium, nor is the other extreme. In fact, it lies in the middle. Looking to find that place that is, as my grandfather used to say, a “giggling psychic” (a happy medium)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t know if we need to nit pick the metaphor. Even before I read the post “The pendulum swings” meant that there is a wind of change, i.e. we are moving in a new direction. I do agree that it is human tendency to go from one extreme to another, but I am very keen on seeing Dr. Ortiz’s university develop – it is refreshing to see an entirely new education system that will be based on today’s needs and today’s technology (instead of rehashing an old system that doesn’t seem to work).


  2. Can you explain a little more? I am not an engineer; so I looked up pendulum with damping. There are a lot of what I am sure are very interesting mathematical models to explain it. I bypassed those and went straight for images; I understand images better than numbers. Anyway, I found a lot very interesting images that I think generally reflect the path the such a pendulum might make. Digging a little more I found an image of a weighted object attached to a pole; but based on your description, that doesn’t sound correct either. Still not satisfied, I finally came across something called “Chaotic” Damped Driven Pendulum ( and, and it occurred to me this could be a useful metaphor. Although, having starred at the moving wave for quite a while (it is somewhat hypnotic), I am not sure you could ever find that giggling psychic; I think what Dr. Ortiz is doing reflects the creative possibilities of chaos.

    As a hopefully future academic the idea of genuine project based learning is very exciting. I think there is a lot to be said for intentionally (mindfully) creating a space for this learning. I also think she is onto something with re-thinking the tenure process for faculty. It would be hard to implement this type of teaching in institutions that require the traditional hoops of tenure to be jumped.


  3. I enjoyed reading your post–and Wesch’s article–because I feel like I’ve lived this. When I was getting my bachelor’s degree, I cared only about the avenue I was passionate about. I did not pay as much attention to the other liberal arts classes as I should have because I could not see their relevance even if they sounded interesting. In my master’s and now PhD programs, I am directed and focused because everything is relevant to my career. I feel we need to make education more practical, and the link to the real world more obvious, if we want the younger generations to engage in school.


  4. I think the loss of significance of education to students is partly due to the fact that the contents of learning are exclusively dominated by adults. Adults have the total privilege of determining what to learn and what not to learn. What’s more shameful, even these adults often fight each other as for what is proper to teach. For example, some places still oppose teaching Darwin’s evolutionary theory based upon their very specific beliefs. To some questions children really care about but often hesitate to ask, such as sex, many adults are strongly against teaching at all! If you teach some sex to a certain aged students, I bet they will never fall asleep and cry “this is not significant to me!”


    1. I’m not certain that “We only let one group of people do this” is a valid argument for change. We only let doctors prescribe medicine, and we only let aerospace engineers design airplanes. In fact, education is one of the only spheres where we feel like just being there means you deserve a voice. Personally, I don’t really care how many times you’ve flown in an airplane, you really shouldn’t weigh in on flight science, unless you have some expertise in the area. likewise, as much as I’d like to listen to the students opinion of what they think is relevant, they may be lacking the experience to determine that with any degree of accuracy.


  5. I am big fan of Dr. Ortiz’s idea – having students work on long-term projects and having those projects at the center of the learning experience would be a brilliant way to motivate students and help them realize the significance of their learning experience.


  6. On the surface, I like Dr. Ortiz’s idea. It would be an interesting way to ignite students’ creativity and passion for learning. I have some reservations, though. Mostly, I don’t like the idea of doing away with liberal arts education entirely, even for people in the sciences and engineering. I didn’t want to take philosophy at the time, but looking back I’m very glad I did. No, it’s never been directly relevant or “significant” to my career (though you’d be surprised how often my class “Philosophy and Science Fiction” comes up), but it taught me valuable lessons about how to think that have carried through to my everyday life. Just because a student doesn’t see the relevance now doesn’t mean they never will, and just because it isn’t practical doesn’t mean it’s not useful.


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