May 9, 2011
Licking Leaves As the father of two young boys, Professor Hartnett brings another new perspective to the Wabash Classics Department. He shared his observations and their parallels and relevance to teaching and learning in a recent Chapel Talk. An excerpt:
One outrageously rewarding thing about being a father is watching your kids encounter something for the first time, because you get to rediscover it yourself. The lesson: It’s so easy for our world, because of its familiarity, to become muted to us—the colors, tastes, and experiences dulled. What is it that can make you open your eyes and see your environment from a fresh perspective? A kid can do that, but what about a film, a novel, a kick-ass course, or a trip halfway around the world? How do you get outside yourself and the limitations of your own time, place, and circumstance? How do you learn to view your own world anew?
The lesson, however, isn’t just about what you see in your world, but how you might see and investigate it. Babies have a lot to teach about our main business at Wabash, the business of inquiry. Watch a baby sometime and witness its inspirational strategy for investigating its world. When babies come across something like a leaf, they use every means they have to figure out what the hell it is: Babies grab the leaf, look at it really carefully, try to crinkle it to see what noise it makes, they rub the leaf against their face, and, ultimately, they inevitably stick the leaf in their mouth. Looks, touch, sound, texture, and taste—every tool in the arsenal is used.
Watching this process as a father, and as a professor, makes me wonder how often our own inquiries are as rich and novel as they could be. What resources do we have at our disposal that go unused? Our hope, in a liberal arts education, is that you will be armed with a vast array of ways of looking at something complex like bioethics—we hope you can put scientific, philosophical, and other perspectives in conversation with one another rather than falling prey to jingoistic blurbs.
Intellectually, we hope you’ll do the equivalent of licking the leaf, rather than barely noticing as it crunches beneath your foot.
Watch or read Hartnett’s complete talk at WM Online.