This piece is part of a series of posts from the Founding Class at the Minerva Schools at KGI about their experience reimagining the traditional college experience. Minerva is a new university program that prepares students to solve complex global problems. Minerva's students live and learn in up to seven of the world's greatest cities throughout their time in college and study in small engaging seminars.
"The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes." -- Marcel Proust
During Senior year of high school, the common question was, "Where are you going to school next year?" But teachers, parents, and students seemed much more interested in the name of the destination than what this question really meant. To me, the most important part is not the where, but the going, and what that really means.
Going somewhere requires changing location. I know of two ways to do this: moving physically and moving mentally. A walk moves you physically; a book can move you mentally. But neither on its own ensures that you successfully see the world differently. A crab can crawl a hundred miles and never leave its shell; and even the most sparkling imagination has its limitations. I have, without stepping off of my front porch, heard the wisdom of countless professionals; but I could not engage them in conversation. I have flown thousands of miles to a different continent; but found myself right where I was when I boarded. I believe that to truly go somewhere, one must engage in both mental and physical movement.
Going to high school was a two-step process. The first part physical: I walked out the front door, down the hill, across the street, through the woods, and into the school's parking lot. Everyday, I knew where I would end up because going to class was a simple journey that started at one street address and ended at another. There was one room in which I learned physics, another for Spanish, and a third for U.S. history. Only once snug at my desk, could the second portion of the journey begin. The lecture that ensued was intriguing, but it rang hollow. The information too often felt out of context, one degree removed from the world I was a part of. This is how it is on traditional campuses. Going to class is a physical journey that ends in a chair. The physical and the mental pieces are disjointed; the process is too passive.
When it came time to answer the question of where I was going to go to school, I wanted to choose somewhere that wasn't a destination, but a vehicle. I wanted my education to enable me to see the world for myself rather than show me where to look. I settled on a new school, Minerva, dedicated to teaching students how to think rather than what to think. At Minerva there is no traditional campus. Students live in seven different cities over their four years and the classes are engaging seminars based on the science of active learning. All classes use the flipped classroom model, which means that knowledge dissemination and content transfer is done before class, and class is for students and professors to debate, discuss, and apply what they've studied. There is no street address for an arts or sciences building, because classes are taken via an interactive online learning platform. The first year, students study in San Francisco and spend subsequent years in cities like Berlin, Buenos Aires. When I enrolled at Minerva, because going to class is reduced to clicking a button, I was worried something might be lost. I was wrong. Although classes are online, the entire city is our classroom.
One of the most moving places I went to this past semester was a kitchen. I didn't learn to cook a new dish or meet a famous chef; I washed dishes. The work was part of our study of homelessness. The head of the kitchen, who had been living on the streets only eight years prior, walked me through how to most efficiently clean the few hundred trays and cups we had. He also answered my countless questions about the program, the people we were serving, and his personal story. I had researched homelessness in San Francisco before, but when I really went there, my understanding of the issue was drastically changed. At the same time, if I hadn't prepared myself mentally, the wisdom the opportunity offered me would have been overlooked. The combination of intentional thought and action is what enabled me to learn, as well as serve.
Learning is not isolated to a certain time of life or a certain location. There is no campus where one must be or a particular desk where one must sit. In fact, I think the opposite is true: learning happens in those moments of movement. It is that deliberate step from what was thought to be true into the light of what is true. This past semester, I have taken many steps, but there are still many places and ideas to explore. So let's go. There is much more to learn.