Reading David Brooks’s op-ed piece on “The New Humanism” in The New York Times of March 8, I am reminded of the 21st century skills and habits of mind that we as educators talk about so much: critical thinking and the ability to analyze, to synthesize a body of material and to recognize patterns. But his piece also reminds me of why I was drawn to work with young people; teachers not only care about the intellectual growth of their students but also about their emotional and psychological growth and well being. Teachers help shape and expand the minds of our young people, opening them to infinite possibilities, and for our students to develop and evolve and become fully human, surely the “emotional and rational are intertwined” as Brooks says.
Helping students achieve balance and perspective is an important element of our work, as is emphasizing the importance of character and respect. I hope we can help our young people move beyond merely tolerating something with which they disagree, to understanding and even accepting the “different” and the “other” in life. Honesty, respect and concern for others are abiding and life enhancing values, and need to be taught and modeled for the young.
Many of our students will be traveling this spring break to do service work in Ecuador. We believe so strongly in the value of this kind of work that we have made it part of the academic requirement for those who will graduate from GFA with a Concentration in Global Studies. My first hope for these students is that empathy, trust and understanding are part of their daily interactions with the people they meet in the towns and villages. Trust is the foundation of so much of what it means to be human. These students will also, I hope, return with more compassion and with minds that are open to the infinite variety and beauty of the world. My long-term hope for this generation is that they will be the ones to embody the “new humanism.”
Creative commons image by TZA