Bard College: Education for the Common Good

Bard College: Education for the Common Good

August 16, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


♪♪♪ [Cole Heinowitz:] The main reason I came to Bard is because I knew students who had gone to Bard. A lot of my cohort in graduate
school had gone to Bard. Friends of mine, other poets, other
academics had graduated from Bard, and the depiction they had of the
experience here was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. [Tom Eccles:] Everything we do in terms our academic understanding, in terms of our
programming is really about engagement out in the world. We’re not
creating some kind of connoisseurs club, we’re actually trying to change the
world. [Mary Marcy:] If you walk across campus and you hear students arguing about Plato, that’s
a sign of an institution interested in education. There’s a reason that not
every college in the country has an early college attached to it, that not
every college in the country has seminars and Moderation, Senior Projects: it’s a lot of work. You have to believe in something besides the bottom
line to make those things happen. [Student:] It’s almost like a cycle. It’s, you know, to be inspired you need to use someone else’s inspiration, and that’s the job of
the critic. [Emily Fisher:] I think the unifying theme that connects the early colleges and the
undergraduate experience at Bard is the belief that young people have the
capacity to engage in serious academic work. That idea is at the heart of all
the institutions in the Bard family. The early colleges in New York, the BHSECs, believe that if you can really pump those first years of high school—ninth and
tenth grade—and really give them a rigorous curriculum, then you can move
right on into college work and they become very serious academic students. [Charles Stevenson:] Bard College wants to change the nature of American education. America, at one time, had the most wonderful public school system in the world, of which we all can and could be very proud, but that has somewhat deteriorated. So, we
wanted to have a more serious type of education that would engage adolescents
at an earlier age so that, however comfortable or complacent you were when you arrived, when you leave you will have been confused and out of that confusion—that creative confusion—you will have developed your own vision. ♪♪♪ [Joan Tower:] I think the fact that I’m an active composer and I’m on the scene is important for my
students to see, because it’s not all talk. [Walter Russell Mead:] Bard is a place that really takes the concept of liberal arts seriously, and it thinks science is a liberal art—as indeed it is—but it also thinks that teaching is a liberal art. [Shawn Moore:] I’ve taken a class with Joan before, which widened my musical horizons, I think I could say,
because I’d never tried to compose before and I always thought it was a lot
easier than it turned out to be. [Laughs] [Professor Mead:] Bard has a tradition of trying to bring faculty from the outside in to let students learn from successful practitioners. [Stephen Shore:] When an artist is deeply engaged in their own practice it brings excitement to the
classroom, not because they’re famous artists, but because they are thinking
constantly and pushing themselves and that electricity is communicated to the
students. [Professor Tower:] When I tell my students that all players must compose at one point or another I’m putting them on the other side of the
fence. And they look at me like, “Well, we’re just beginners. How do we do this?” “Figure it out!” [Laughs] If you treat students like adults rather than passive kids, you’re saying, “I know
you can do this. You know. Do it.” [Leon Botstein:] We had an unusual combination in our history: intellectual ambition, idealism, and poverty. Those three things are an explosive
combination. 150 years ago, John Bard founded an Episcopal institution, but
it’s interesting that, over the years, the classical and the progressive, the legacy
of a sacred tradition and a secular tradition, that of a university and the
freestanding College all left their mark. And finally Bard had this rich, complex
character, but the College was always very small, so if one wanted to
institutionalize all the best parts of Bard’s history, one actually had to show
some courage to enter the national debate. ♪♪♪ [Student:] I wrote about how an occupation affects a family. In the village of Azzun Atme, we spoke with a man who, because there was a settler road dividing the village in
half, his sister hadn’t been to his house in over two years. [Mujahed Sarsur:] Students here are given an enormous amount of responsibility to go and do things
either in the school or in the world. My friend Aaron Dean and I wanted to
establish a similar program for Palestinian teenagers in the West Bank
to help them express themselves, and we wanted to establish the first Palestinian children’s library, and the College supported us. [Paul Marienthal:] The ethos of the College is, you know, it’s a place to think and then to act, and I think that
we all take informed citizenship very seriously. We have said collectively as an institution, “We take you seriously, so
step up.” [Faculty member:] What have you taken with us so far? [Student:] I’ve taken sociology. [Max Kenner:] While I was an undergraduate here at Bard, you know, I said to myself, “What’s the best thing we could do at this institution, which has so much capacity and so much willingness to do things that others
aren’t?” ♪♪♪ [Tabetha Ewing:] The uniqueness of Bard lies in the trust that we place in the hands of the young people who come to us. If our students have a really interesting idea about community support we have the tendency to make it happen and then
figure out how to make it work. [Kenner:] The Bard Prison Initiative is a program we’ve had for roughly 10 years. There are five prisons where we, Bard College, enroll incarcerated women and men in associate and bachelor’s degree programs. [Roger Scotland:] When I look at the Bard experience and people like Max Kenner who were just students when
they started these programs, you wonder how they have the the gall to do such, to
take on such such great endeavors, but the College has been able to do so. [Schoolchildren in unison:] Refuse to be average, because you are exceptional. [Ric Campbell:] We have two issues in our current crisis in education: getting high-quality
teachers in the schools where they’re needed and keeping them there. So, what we’ve
done in California is we have established a school of our own. It’s a
public school in Delano, California, 85% of our students are Mexican American. And if you walked into this school you would see graduate students walking out of
graduate classrooms and next door into a sixth-grade science class or a tenth-grade history class. And it’s obviously become a vision or idea about education
that we think should be an idea about education anywhere and everywhere. [James Ottaway:] I think it’s exciting that we’ve now extended the College’s liberal arts mission to, really, a new way of doing an
international education overseas. Ten years ago we started Smolny College, the first liberal arts college in Russia with the University of St. Petersburg; with a new liberal arts honors college at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem;
and our latest adventure is to create a similar partnership between Bard
and the University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. We go to difficult
places [laughs] and we look at some of the huge universities in America with large
endowments that don’t do half as many things as we have done. [Professor Ewing:] There’s one quality that sets Bard College apart: it is the inculcation from the leadership
on down that anything is possible. ♪♪♪ [David Schwab:] When I went to Bard as an undergraduate, Bard viewed itself and was viewed by others as a progressive college. That’s a group
of institutions which thought about education in particular ways that not
everybody agreed with. The word that I would introduce is experimental.
Everything that worked in the past may be wonderful but you have to keep trying
to make it better. [Susan Weber:] You know, it’s one thing to start a small institution, it’s another to have a world-class operation, and fortunately we
have been amazingly successful from very early on. [Charles Stevenson:] I think Bard is a kind of magnifying lens for someone who might wish to make an effort. We’re a tiny
school so we have huge effects. It’s terribly important that we succeed
because other institutions are watching us. If we stop doing what we’re doing
they will be confirmed in their view that to take no risks and to not engage
themselves in the world, that that is a winning strategy. So we can show these
other institutions that they can do what we’re doing and that they will actually
be better and that the world will be better. [President Botstein:] I did not think when I started this career that I would be actually engaged in the use of education to
defend the future, and it turns out that’s exactly the battle that has been
joined. And the fundamental nature of freedom and of a free society,
they are both at risk. We, as universities— because the nature of research, the
nature of learning, nature of debate and dissent on the side of freedom—if we are
not in the forefront as universities in the fight for truth-telling, then who is
going to lead that fight? ♪♪♪