Christopher Pratt <email@example.com>
It seems to me that the values that should be evident in an MIT education are those required for life in the communities where we live and work. Those values are linked irrevocably to responsibility. We must each first take responsibility for our selves, and then concomitantly we must take responsibility for each other. This is a simple and yet often difficult lesson for us to learn and remember.
The world looks to MIT as a very special place, and to our graduates as highly gifted individuals, for leadership, and for service; stewardship. Employers, like society, hire and promote on the basis of competencies, but the competencies are not major dependent. They are required for an effective life; they are required of leaders, and in service; for stewardship. They can and need to be learned as part of the educational experience at MIT. They cannot, however, be taught only in the classroom, and in fact due to the myriad demands on our traditional curriculum there is often no time for them there. But they should not only be taught, they must be lived.
We can all recall the frustration we have experienced, and observed in our students, when the espoused values, taught and tested, are not delivered in our interactions with those who espouse them. We can see this throughout most of our institutions.
MIT Sloan School's own Peter Senge writes that, "Real learning gets to the heart of what it means to be human. Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we reperceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life. There is within each of us the deep hunger for this type of learning. This, then, is the basic meaning of a "learning organization" - an organization that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future "generative learning", learning that enhances our capacity to create."
The mission of the residence life system should be to help students learn about themselves and the relationship between themselves and others, not only at MIT, but also in the world where they will live and work.
It should help them learn about the world and how to live in it together, taking responsibility for themselves, and for each other; providing leadership and service, stewardship. Students should experience the world in the residence life system; they should learn about the relationship between what they do at MIT and life after graduation. They should learn to develop the competencies required beyond technical knowledge; to make informed decisions and find opportunities to contribute to civilization. This is an ongoing developmental process. Above all else, it is a generative process, which provides a foundation for achieving goals throughout life.
As a parent this is a primary goal in raising my children, and I would hope that it would be reflected, supported and extended in an institution of higher learning where I would send those I love. Parents give us their children as gifts, and we take responsibility not merely for filling their minds with facts and formulas, but for igniting in them the dual flames of discovery and stewardship.
Incumbent in achieving these goals are first that we see this as a generative environment and that we facilitate students taking responsibility for it. Students need to be shown and taught, but they need to learn as well by their experiences.
The new residence life system should engage students not only in the design, but also in the ongoing delivery of the system. Together we should build a new integrated, interactive, and asynchronous curriculum for our life together. A new curriculum that is not just an extension of the infamous "fire hose", but one that provides opportunities for students to make choices about when and where to participate, but one that requires participation. Students should be involved at every level, from operation to peer education. Students, faculty, professional and support staff should collaborate as equals, learners, travelers on a journey to places we have not yet been, and to what we do not yet know.
Students can learn much from conceiving the services needed and the daily delivery of them to their fellow students in the community. Their shared experiences can lead to a deeper and broader learning experience, changing their values and their behavior forever.
If we as a community believe and are committed to the tenets of a learning organization composed of self-managed learners, we will see as the proper balance to consider this work a natural part of our life in this community. The rewards for this are not a quid pro quo, but a greater return on our investment in the learning community of which we count our selves fortunate to be members. It is part of our citizenship in MIT and the world. We are both teaching values and competencies, and demonstrating them with our lives.
Instead of developing independent living groups, we should strive for interdependent living groups, achieved as much by their proximity as by their shared mission.
Electronic communication to enable asynchronous learning is certainly essential to this, but an important balance must be struck between personal interaction and electronic. We need to recognize and applaud the separate, but equal contributions of our students, faculty, and professional and support staff in delivering this new environmental curriculum. We might also benefit as a community, by creating teams of representatives of each constituent group, students, faculty, and professional and support staff who rotate living and working together in the new residence life system over time.
This is no Utopia, Walden or Shaker village that I am describing, but perhaps an old New England town that embodies much of the best of the spirit of independence and mutual support that gave birth to some of those social models.
In essence the new residence life system is very much a new social model for the MIT community. The environment should be elastic, providing opportunities for bonding and cohesion, while also inspiring individual contribution. It should be value based with rules clearly emanating from those values, but with opportunities for rich dialogue, dialogue that can change the rules when values shift. It should be student designed, implemented and led. There should be a focus on students learning from each other how to rely on each other, and to survive and thrive together. There should be time to reflect and celebrate our achievements. There should be fun, and perhaps we should see us all as students.
Lastly, I would offer that rather than looking to create today a 40-50 year model for residence life, we should seek to build a truly generative model, an evolutionary model that is still developing in 40 years and can recreate itself for years to come.
I hope that some of these thoughts may be helpful to the work of redesigning our residence life system. Thank you for the opportunity to contribute. I hope to participate further in this important and ongoing, generative work.