MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XIX No. 5
March / April 2007
The Saga of the Struggle for Survival
of the Faculty Newsletter
The Management of Change: Institute Facing Key Issues in the Immediate Future
The More Things Change
the More They Stay the Same
Getting More Learning
out of Lecture and Recitation Time
Why Diversity Matters
The Martin Luther King, Jr.
Visiting Professor Program
Desired End State: Reaching the Goal
MLK, MIT, and Me: A Personal Essay
Recruiting Underrepresented
Minority Students to MIT
Filling the Pipeline
Faith vs. Fact in the Pursuit
of Fairness at MIT
Ode to William Wells
Stephen M. Meyer
CMI – A Bold Experiment
in International Partnership
Response to Prof. Sussman's Call
for Interdisciplinary Research
Appreciation for Special Edition
Faculty Newsletter
Cutting the Pie of Undergraduate Education
Getfit@mit with the FNL
Underrepresented Minorities at MIT
MIT Faculty:
Women and Underrepresented Minorities
Printable Version


Cutting the Pie of Undergraduate Education

To The Faculty Newsletter:

Wow. What a mission the Task Force undertook. The articles in the Newsletter offered many thoughtful responses. Basically, the problem is that the pie can be cut many ways with many different kinds of cutters. Each has merit given the assumptions that were operative in the responses. As the faculty excavates the topography of the requirements I hope that consideration will be given to some of the following thoughts.

First, we need to separate graduate from undergraduate education and goals. I think undergraduate education is based more on horizontal than vertical thinking. One blends into the other only after we encounter the problem of boundaries. But the student needs to encounter the boundaries before he or she realizes the frustration they impose and their limitations. Everything starts with a boundary. But we hope it does not end there.

Secondly, we need to realize that various courses and subjects are not only about subject matter but modes of thinking and ways to orient our consciousness to the material or projects presented. There are subjects that stress a quantitative mode of thinking and the relationship of our ideas to the plasticity of the existential world. The dialogue between the two effects our thinking as we realize the limits of our thoughts as we apply them to the recalcitrance of the world we encounter. Engineering speaks directly to this engagement. Moreover, our academic subjects construct a world. There is a world that physics constructs that is not the world of political science or sociology. There are subjects that stress the metaphoric and analogical mode of thinking. Literature and poetry teach us and force us to exercise this mode of thought as a way of investigating and understanding the world. Sociology and political science construct a different world and ask us to think about different relationships. Mathematics does the same both as a mode of thinking and constructing a world that only mathematics can enter. All attempts to explain it linguistically fail to do justice to its world or mode of investigation. The processes of thinking of philosophy and theology are historically about constructing worlds. They teach us about logical ways of thinking and also about the limits of logic and reason. In the case of philosophy we look at the argument and the premises and the rationale about their linkage. Reason and logic are the emperors of its world.

The world of the arts stresses an engagement between the imagination and the world. At the same time the arts engage the relationship of our thoughts and materials. We think through and by means of photography, painting, and sculpture, etc.

The medium is the mode of its thinking and inquiry. It gives flesh to aesthetic thinking. It embodies thought. The arts teach us that hand(body)and mind are indeed interlocked in their experience. Boundaries of art are the most porous and they teach us about the thinness of our conceptual structures. The work of the imagination is not limited to the arts. Indeed science could not exist without its work. But it is central to the work in the arts and in many of its manifestations. There is no external criteria such as the existential world that limits what it can construct and where it can go. The only limits are the limits of the media and the boundaries of our own structures. Working in the world of literature and the arts develops habits of thought that can inform and extend thinking in the sciences. But the arts, unlike literature, teach us about the limits of language and that there are ways of thinking that go where language cannot enter. (I would say the same for mathematics.)

In resolving the questions of how to construct this curriculum and what form it may take I would hope that the faculty consider how these thoughts may guide the construction of a curriculum.

Ed Levine
Professor Emeritus Visual Arts

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