John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Relevance: The Week That Was

January 25, 2010John N. GardnerInsights0

Some years ago my wife and I had moved to a new community and she was shopping for a church. I went with her a few times but couldn’t stand it. It struck me as if the well educated and likable priest, whom I knew knew there was an outside world, must be assuming his flock did not want to hear of the outside world. This made me think at the time of how many of our students may often wonder the same thing about us academics, where to many of us the word “relevance” is anathema. I am reminded of this matter of relevance in the context of the week we have just been through.

For those of us who think of the classroom as a laboratory, or at least a way of connecting our students to the outside world in order to better understand and cope with it, this past week certainly presented teachable opportunities. And, for any of us who missed it, there is still time. There are so many opportunities to use relevance to create powerful learning, and few weeks with more fresh meat than the one we have just had.

This was the week that: 1) the Democrats lost their “safe” seat in Massachusetts, a citadel of previous Democratic strength; 2) the health insurance reform bill was derailed and millions of Americans lost their chance to have health insurance, surely not for decades now; 3) the President unleashed a populist blast against the bankers and fat cats of Wall Street; 4) that and the health insurance bill demise let to the tanking of the stock market as corporate America watched the biggest corporate welfare bill in history go down the tubes; and 5) the Supreme Court put American government at all levels on sale.

Surely any discipline could relate to any or all of the above. We could examine the math of it; the ethics of it; the history of it; the politics of it; the justice of it. But many of us academics will pass on this moment, some of us out of despair. Our hopes for a new civil rights bill are dashed and we shall adjust by crawling under a rock for a while. Like many of the “haves” who voted in Massachusetts, we too are among the haves; and we are resignate that so many of our fellow citizens do not really want all to have access to health care for we feel it will cost us to provide for others. I hope our students will demand that we help them think through the implications of what this is costing us all now; for as long as all do not have equal access to health care, or as we define that in the US, health “insurance,” we will have a markedly different quality of life and set of values, and certainly not justice for all.

-John Gardner

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