The Nature of College by James Farrell

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A genuinely liberal education will produce whole persons with intellectual breadth, able to think at right angles to their major field, practical persons to act competently; and persons of deep commitment, willing to roll up their sleeves and join the struggle to build a humane and sustainable world.

David Orr, Earth in Mind

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In our everyday language, we often say that students go to college to get an education, and books like The Nature of College are, I hope, a part of that process. But I also hope that we go to college to give an education, applying our knowledge in the world around us, both in college and afterward. When it comes to environmental issues especially, our ideas increasingly need to be actionable, practical, and practiced, both in our individual lives and in our institutions—which is why all of the chapters in The Nature of College end with examples of designing minds re-designing the culture of college, and American culture as well.

The examples in the book, however, are only a small fraction of the millions of ways that activists have started to change the world and the planet. In Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken suggests that environmentalism is the largest social movement in the history of the world, and that it encompasses the whole world, with citizens of every nation engaged taking responsibility for the ways that culture impacts nature.

There are thousands of examples on college campuses alone, and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) catalogues them in a weekly bulletin, and an annual publication. For inspiration and examples of practical idealism, sign up for the bulletin, and check out the AASHE website.

There’s no need to duplicate what AASHE already does so well, but there is a need, I think, for the stories behind the achievements recorded so well in the bulletin. So I’ll tell some of the stories I know, and link to others I don’t know as well, but I invite you to share your stories too. I hope you’ll tell about your successes, of course, but I also hope you’ll talk about failures, about the ideas, assumptions and habits of college culture and American culture that sometimes still prevent the institutionalization of good ideas.

In Ishmael, Daniel Quinn contends that “You can’t just stop being in a story, you have to have another story to be in.” So let me know about the ways that you’ve converted ideals to action, words to new worlds of experience, individual insights to institutional achievement.