Evans School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
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Tom Kennedy's Blog

On Berry General Education

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Comments Made to Parents of Prospective Students at Firsthand Friday, February 2014

Chances are that you, like almost all parents of potential college students, are concerned about how much college costs. And you want your child to get a job after college, so you are not as interested in the humanities, arts and social sciences, the collection of disciplines I represent as Dean of the Evans School at Berry, as you are in some of the other programs we offer at Berry. We in the humanities, arts and social sciences get that. It doesn’t make us happy and it doesn’t mean that we think you are right, but we get it. And we, too, want your child to get a job.

Whatever your child majors in at Berry, the likelihood is that more than a third of his or her courses will be with instructors from the Evans School and we think that’s a very good thing.  We call those courses foundational or core general education courses and we at Berry believe that those courses are just as important as the courses a student takes in his or her major. At Berry, we offer a complete education, and not just an area of expertise. We hope we are not preparing specialists at Berry; our aim is to prepare students who will be ready to live as responsible and informed citizens in this rapidly changing world in which we live. And that requires something more than specialization. We want your son or daughter to fall in love at Berry—to fall in love with ideas and various ways of thinking about things; to fall in love with beauty; to fall in love with care and responsibility.

To live as responsible and informed and caring citizens requires some grasp of what is going on in the world—what is happening in social institutions and political institutions. At Berry, your son or daughter might take a course in American politics with Professor Peter Lawler who served on President Bush’s Council on Bioethics, tasked with the responsibility of advising the president on what it means to respect the dignity of human life in a world in which our technological prowess may have outrun our wisdom. Or she might take an “Inside-Out” course with Sociology Professor Sarah Allred in which students study with and alongside of inmates in the Floyd County jail. To live successfully as a responsible and informed citizen requires skills of writing and speaking, but skills all by themselves are not enough. You need to have something worthy to write and speak about. You need to have some sense of what matters and how things matter and how much they matter. In different ways we address these questions in our composition classes with instructors like English professor Jim Watkins who at the same time he is teaching students how to organize and present their thoughts is also encouraging them to think about things like where their food comes from. Or with Professor Randy Richardson who at the same time he is conveying skills of public speaking is asking them to think about contemporary political rhetoric and what kind of speech is appropriate for citizens of a democracy. Or with Philosophy Professor Michael Papazian who thinks students will better understand what laws we should have and what laws we shouldn’t have if they have wrestled with Plato and the meaning of law. Or with Theology Professor Andrea Hollingsworth who believes that contemporary Christians will live more faithful lives if they understand the Bible and the great theologians of the faith as well as contemporary cognitive science. To live as responsible and informed American citizens requires us, I would argue, to be able to understand the culture and language of others, so your son might study Latin American literature with Professor David Slade, Spanish culture with Professor Lucia Llorente, 20th century Germany with Professor Christine Anton or Parisian culture and language with Professor Vincent Gregoire. 

To live as responsible and informed citizens requires some understanding of how things have gone and how things might have gone differently here in Georgia or the U.S. or abroad. Your daughter may study the Congo and post-colonialism in Africa with Professor Matt Stanard, and maybe that will bring her to a closer understanding of why the people of the Central African Republic are experiencing the horrors currently inflicted upon them, or she might study the American Civil War and the civil rights movement with Professor Jonathan Atkins and get a better sense of who her parents and grandparents are. Your son or daughter will attend a concert and she will understand and appreciate that contemporary piece that Professor Adam Hayes commissioned for the concert because of what she learned in her Music Appreciation class with Professor Lauren Denny Wright—it won’t be just noise to him. Or maybe he or she will come home and tell you “You gotta listen to the piece of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers we are playing in Jazz Ensemble. And you gotta come to our concert!” Or maybe she will say, “Can we go to the High Museum this weekend? I want us to see some stuff Professor Virginia Troy was talking about.”

What matters to us in the Evans School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences is what matters to you, I suspect: that your children live good lives, that your children develop into good citizens and good people, that they love what they ought to love, what is worthy of love. You have already spent a lot of time and a lot of money to that end—children aren’t cheap. We want to continue your good work. Majors—particular areas of study—are important, and the Evans School certainly offers those, but majors are not the only thing that is important; maybe not the most important thing. We are convinced that caring about our world, understanding the world, asking the right questions about the world, and developing the skills and knowledge and confidence to speak clearly and listen carefully to the world in all its wonder and complexity is crucial not only for the well-being of individuals—for you and me and our children and grandchildren—but also for the communities in which we live, and also for the world. At our best, that’s what Berry offers your children: Scholars who care about our world, teachers who care about their students, mentors to the next generation of our nation’s leaders.

Thomas D. Kennedy


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