Friday, April 01, 2011

at a land grant university

Today I am at the University of Wisconsin where my daughter is considering graduate school. We've been walking around the beautiful campus and I've been thinking about Jonathan Baldwin Turner who as father of all the Land Grant colleges in the US believed that every state should have a great university. The idea of course was to put education in the hands of the more common people. How about that?

His work led to the enabling legislation through which the University of Wisconsin was created. Surprisingly, he was a great friend also of the manual arts and a reformer against classical lecture based learning which too many have adopted in his absence. The following is from his Griggsville Address, May 1850:
"...a classical teacher who has no original, spontaneous power of thought, and knows nothing but Latin and Greek, however perfectly, is enough to stultify a whole generation of boys and make them all pedantic fools like himself. The idea of infusing mind, or creating or even materially increasing it, by the daily inculcation of unintelligible words--all this awful wringing to get blood out of a turnip--will, at any rate, never succeed except in the hands of the eminently wise and prudent, who have had long experience in the process; the plain, blunt sense of the unsophisticated will never realize cost in the operation. There are, moreover, probably, few men who do not already talk more, in proportion to what thy really know, than they ought to. This chronic diarrhea of exhortation, which the social atmosphere of the age tends to engender, tends far less to public health than many suppose."
"The most natural and effective mental discipline possible for any man arises from setting him to earnest and constant thought about things he daily does, sees and handles, and all their connected relations and interests. The final object to be attained, with the industrial class, is to make them thinking laborers; while for the professional class we should desire to make laborious thinkers; the production of goods to feed and adorn the body being the final end of one class of pursuits, and the production of thought to do the same for the mind the end of the other. But neither mind nor body can feed on the offals of preceding generations. And this constantly recurring necessity of reproduction leaves an equally honorable, though somewhat different, career of labor and duty open to both, and, it is readily admitted, should and must vary their modes of education and preparation accordingly."
 I have to wonder what would happen if the powers of social networking were applied to the situation that we have in American education. If twitter and facebook could bring real live revolutions to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, what would happen if we were to use the same powers towards the adoption of hands on learning? To make, fix, and create  are movement in direct opposition to mindless consumerism which has become the enslavement of the middle class. Working for cheap goods is the same thing as consuming empty calories, in that they provide no nourishment for the creative spirit.

Make, fix and create. Use social networking to share what you have done. We might just have a revolution on our hands.


  1. I'm down with the revolution. I like to think of it as a re-evolution. Thanks in part to corporate greed, people have lost the motivation and ability to take care of themselves- in this sense, we are not evolving. We live in a fast-paced, impatient, depressed, push button society. We have gone back to walking on all fours! I think our hands are the way to get us back on our feet! Get off the couches and put down the potato chips America!

  2. Anonymous5:34 AM

    I owe Mr. Turner a debt of gratitude, being a land grant college graduate (Oregon State U). And OSU is still the place to go for programs involving the hands.


  3. Mario, Our daughter Lucy will visit OSU next week, and it seems that here choices may be narrowing down to one or the other.

    It seems that many universities get around to hands-on when student get deep into advanced courses, but only after weeding out so many of those who would have benefited much earlier from hands-on learning. Lecture anyone? No way.