Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Part 3: Courage and Creativity as the Future of Higher Ed.

Despite frequent calls to consider return on investment, higher education is not just about preparing people for certain jobs. Yes, job readiness and skill and knowledge building are important. But just as important is the building of cognitive flexibility, creative thinking and problem solving. As Cathy N. Davidson says in her book The New Education, “The goal of higher education is greater than work-force readiness. It’s world readiness.” In this highly engaged, connected, global world, how do we train our students to be world ready?

In the book Robot-Proof, Joseph E. Aoun argues that “instead of training laborers, a robot-proof education trains creators.” Aoun says that training creators requires some new literacies, including data literacy, technological literacy, and human literacy.

I want to spend some time unpacking the concept of human literacy. Here’s one thing to understand when developing human literacy: Human beings need to belong. In fact, in her book Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown says that “belonging is the innate human desire to be a part of something larger than us. True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world.” In order to create what we truly need in the future of higher education, we have to have the courage to think about how we will build true belonging within our classrooms, on our campuses, in our faculty and staff meetings, and with our parents and alums.

Let’s consider the four elements of true belonging that Brown discusses in her book.

  1. People are hard to hate close up. Move in.
  2. Speak truth. Be civil.
  3. Hold hands. With strangers.
  4. Strong back. Soft front. wild heart.

These principles can be applied across the university. When we think as an institution about training creators, we need to think about how we will help our students learn to approach others with courage and engage effectively. When we think as a teacher about training creators, we need to think about how to foster an atmosphere conducive to courage and belonging in our classrooms. When we think as an administrator, we need to think about how to encourage courage and creativity in our faculty and staff.

From the institutional point of view, it is imperative that we become comfortable with the concept that we are training students for world readiness, not just job readiness. There will be pieces of the higher education experience that will cost more to do them well, and we must be prepared to make a case to our boards of trustees or regents as to why those are imperative components of a modern education. I’m thinking here about experiential learning, such as studying abroad that will build cultural competency and agility. We also have to be willing to practice new forms of leadership, as discussed in my post  Creativity, edu:Leadership and Creativity. Being open to the ideas of others, finding expertise and allowing it to flourish create a distributed leadership model that encourages flexibility for an organization.

When preparing our classrooms, we need to think in terms of helping our students acquire the ability to listen to and share with those with whom they disagree. Rather than steering clear of controversial topics or lighting a fire to see how hot the disagreement will become, it takes courage and creativity to construct classroom activities and discussions that allow students to authentically engage with one another. One of my favorite techniques is the “I wonder” question. When a student makes a blanket statement “All people who do/think x are y,” I say, “I wonder what you would learn if you asked that person to explain why they do/think that?” Quite often in my experience, another student will jump in to share their own thoughts, which are often different from the first students. This practice allows us to approach one another with curiosity. When we can say, “Help me understand your perspective,” we invite others to share with us rather than dehumanizing and thinking that they are “less than” us due to our disagreements.

Seeking to nurture creators takes courage. Seeking to find a successful approach to higher education in this new world takes courage. But I believe we have the resources to be successful in doing both.

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One comment on “Part 3: Courage and Creativity as the Future of Higher Ed.

  1. Pingback: Part 4: Courage and Leadership in the Future of Higher Ed | Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

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