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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Turning the mind away from war...what it takes

Roger came back from his time in Washington D.C. and offered this observation: The mind of engineering and higher education is turned toward war and the consolidation of profit (or that unholy alliance of the two).  In essence, the dynamic is "domination for personal gratification."

You might think that sounds ridiculous, but I find that when I consider the stated purpose of higher education ("to get a job"), or a lot of the rhetoric in the seminal documents that inform public policy about engineering education ("Rising above the gathering storm"), I see a nationalistic agenda for global economic dominance.  Sometimes this is agenda is thinly hidden in the phrase "Innovation to maintain our competitive edge."  The competitive edge of what?   or  "Higher education must invest in STEM education so that we don't fall behind"  Behind what?  or who?

What would it take to intervene, to turn the mind toward peace?

I believe I understand now all the difficulty, conflict and crisis that some of us are is the turning of the mind away from domination for personal gratification.

It is really true that many of us faculty in SUSTAIN experience a kind of personal crisis.  This is a crisis of identity. In the process of liberating our stduents from the "system," we are liberating ourselves. That liberation is quite uncomfortable.  It is like walking into the blinding (painful) light after years in a dark place.

I have had a great deal of conflict with my colleague in physics, who is so beautifully in a place of personal inquiry and self-reflection.  We are in a kind of power struggle...both dedicated to our ideals ("serving the students' well-being"). What is at stake in the power struggle of ours?  It seems our very selves are at stake (of course they are not).  What if I am not a good teacher?  What if students neither value or learn what I have dedicated my life to?  Some of us are encountering these questions for the first time.

To turn the mind away from dominance for personal gratification, whether this be the dominance of insisting that another adopt your point of view ("a demand for obedience") or whether this be the imagined "winning" by getting one's way, I am finding I have to locate in my self the parts I had to leave behind to survive in this culture.  Engineering is so "all consuming" in its demand for attention to technical knowledge, that it has largely required me to leave my humanity behind.  I have abandoned the part of me that would ask, "How is what I'm learning related to what I value?"  I've had to leave behind a great deal of caring, a great deal of nuturing, a great deal of serving something larger than myself.

It is both shocking and liberating to discover that there is time to change the way that I have lived my professional life.

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