Destination Unknown?

One of the most interesting parts of this week’s readings happened to be the five points made by Parker J. Palmer on how to educate the new professional. These five points are:

“(1) We must help our students uncover, examine, and debunk the myth that institutions are external to and constrain us, as if they possessed powers that render us helpless – an assumption that is largely unconscious and wholly untrue.

(2) We must take our students’ emotions as seriously as we take their intellects.

(3) We must start taking seriously the “intelligence” in emotional intelligence.

(4) We must offer our students the knowledge, skills, and sensibilities required to cultivate communities of discernment and support.

(5) We must help our students understand what it means to live and work with the question of an undivided life always before them.”

While reflecting on these five points, I realized that not only is Palmer speaking about students gaining a sense of empathy but he is also communicating that students need the ability to deal with ethical issues in various disciplines. My discipline already promotes these ideas partly because my discipline is based in the humanities but also due to the fact that international relations theory has ethics imbedded in it already. I have taken this for granted over time and realized that I need to make sure my students are able to face ethical issues in the discipline. The best way I can do this is through the use of problem based learning in the classroom.

Dan Edelstein supports this idea in his article. “Classes in the humanities not only offer students the best opportunities to practice innovative thinking, but also provide them with models for how to do so.” Not just interdisciplinary studies but transdisciplinary studies is just one of the ways this can be accomplished at the larger university scale. Virginia Tech is attempting to model this through the creation of Destination Areas. Destination Areas provide faculty and students with new tools to identify and solve complex, 21st-century problems in which Virginia Tech already has significant strengths and can take a global leadership role. The initiative represents the next step in the evolution of the land-grant university to meet economic and societal needs of the world. The process will result in the creation of transdisciplinary teams, tools, and processes poised to tackle the world’s most pressing, critical problems.