Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Experience and Education

A perceptive student of mine made a comment in class today that really caught my attention. She said that Americans tend not to trust anything that does not connect with their own personal experience. Is this true?

Then, later, in an independent study session with another student, I shared this insight with that student. He thought it might be true of people in general. I found myself saying, in response, that there is a theory of education that claims that the purpose of education is to expand one's intellectual and emotional horizons beyond the limits of one's own personal experiences. The well-educated person is able to believe that there are parts of the world unlike anything he or she has actually seen, and is able to care for those who suffer in ways that that person has not suffered.

It is true that personal experience is very powerful, and that much of what we most effectively learn comes from experience. But our own experience will always be limited. And maybe we cannot even learn well from our own experience until we can interpret it within a larger context of human experience and human knowledge more generally.

Why have we largely lost that vision of what education can be? Can we re-claim it?

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