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One of my major projects this year was to help rethink and rewrite Hamilton College’s Educational Goals as part of an ad hoc committee appointed to this task.  This was an extremely fun assignment, motivated in part by the two-year-old Mellon Curricular Leaders’ study of the Open Curriculum at Hamilton both internally and in comparison to other places.  My focus in this study is on Creativity and Performance, while my colleagues are studying Writing and Research, Quantitative Reasoning, and Curriculum and Advising.  The visits we made last year to other schools with open curricula, Amherst and Brown, impressed on all of us the need to further develop Hamilton’s vision as expressed in our educational goals.

We worked on these goals for the most of this past year, and happily the faculty approved the new Educational Goals earlier this month.  They are now posted on Hamilton’s website with their full descriptions.  Here are the goals in short form:

  1. Intellectual Curiosity and Flexibility
  2. Analytic Discernment
  3. Aesthetic Discernment
  4. Disciplinary Practice
  5. Creativity
  6. Communication and Expression
  7. Understanding of Cultural Diversity
  8. Ethical, Informed, and Engaged Citizenship

In order to help make these goals more fully understood and useful, I offer my take on the internal logic of these goals and their significance for Hamilton’s vision of the liberal arts.

The most significant aspect of these goals is that they are written to be transdisciplinary – the individual goals are not tied to any particular course or field.  This encourages all of us, students and faculty, to think of our fields and courses as having multiple dimensions in which various kinds of thinking and capacities are brought together.  In every field we use analysis, creativity, aesthetics, communication, and practice or Craft.  To be successful in anything one has to integrate all of these capacities.  Rather than viewing a course as fulfilling a particular requirement, this approach recognizes that each field is a complete universe unto itself, and challenges us to develop and integrate multiple intellectual modalities.

To the question of breadth versus depth of courses, this way of thinking about educational goals does not exclude other notions of breadth.  It is still compatible with the traditional understanding that breadth means taking various kinds of courses – as in the sciences, a foreign language, the arts, math.  The transdisciplinarity of the new Educational Goals suggests a new way of approaching breadth, so that a student (with their advisor) can think imaginatively about developing their intellectual ‘chops’ in ways that are customized to their experience and interest.

There are other themes in Hamilton’s historical language which may not be expressed directly in the new Goals: prominent among these are research, collaboration, making connections across disciplines (or interdisciplinarity), leadership, career preparation.  The first three of these could be considered part of #1 Intellectual Curiosity and Flexibility, and leadership is captured by #8 Engaged Citizenship.  The goals as a whole are a necessary (though not sufficient) part of career preparation, which also must include the constellation of skills around professionalization.  These days we are all mindful of the need to prepare our students for the career marketplace they will be entering.  But the focus of the new Goals is on a different level – on the ends of an individual’s development rather than on specific means or on professional training.

The Educational Goals constitute our view of the essential elements of a liberal arts education, and should themselves be considered an important piece of a larger puzzle of preparation for life.  In reviewing our old language I am struck by how much more focused and organized our new Goals are, and by how they capture much more the full range of intellectual activity on Hamilton’s campus.  The challenge is that one size does not fit all.  Our new Educational Goals give the student maximum flexibility while providing a template for continual reassessment: am I developing all of the capacities in the spirit of the liberal arts that I will need in my life?

While taken individually, Hamilton’s new Educational Goals may not be unique in the world of liberal arts colleges, the transdisciplinarity of the Goals as a whole is in fact distinctive, and shows Hamilton as a place where both the discussion about and the practice of the liberal arts is dynamic, lively, progressive, and visionary.

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