Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"Where do watermelons come from?" "This time of year, they come from Mexico or Central America." "No, I mean, do they grow underground?" This question was raised by a student in a group of graduating seniors from a major university honors program. The student had scored in excess of 32 on the ACT to qualify for admission and had just finished 4 years of rigorous academic study. Interesting, no?

So what is the point of knowing things that are outside your area of expertise? One of the things that we know now is that the boundaries between disciplines are artificial constructs. There are no clear distinctions between the study of math and the study of art. Physics can be learned and applied in the wood shop. Arts, music and literature are as essential as electrons in the development of technology.

No expertise is useful unless it is deeply and broadly interwoven in a general framework of fundamental reality and human culture.

When I was at the CODA conference, I met with craft school directors and someone mentioned the therapeutic aspect of involvement in crafts. Stuart Rosenfeld of Regional Technologies Strategies, Inc. suggested that we not overlook the way crafts stimulate innovative thinking... His idea was that corporations may be unwilling to invest in craft schools on the basis of therapeutic value, but might be willing to become partners if they were to come to a clear understanding of the ways in which involvement in crafts can stimulate innovation. One of the ways involvement in crafts stimulates innovation is that it breaks down the usual isolation of expertise, bringing in a cross-disciplinary approach to understanding reality.

Of course crafts aren't the only way to reach this important goal. Sometimes sitting on the bank of the river eating watermelon and asking seemingly dumb questions can do the same thing.

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