The Stories We Tell

Dear Colleagues,

It’s been a powerful stretch of storytelling. In the past three weeks, we remembered the Holocaust through the stories of survivors. Via “Natural Shocks” we heard the story of a woman threatened by physical violence. We listened as students shared their celebratory and challenging experiences with Jewish identity and practice.

I am proud of storytelling at Gann. We have a modality that we celebrate for what it offers both speakers and listeners. Through stories we share, in a truly captivating way, the diverse experiences of those about whom we care deeply.

StudentVoices

 

Our expanding curriculum and our experiential learning initiatives offer the opportunity to hear from so many, on and off campus, in the United States and abroad. When we encounter their narratives, we understand their complexity. When we listen carefully, we recognize emotional threads. We begin to map the world through their eyes, we develop empathy, and we begin to think creatively about how to improve our community and the wider world around us.

I am now thinking about all the opportunities for storytelling that we might afford our students in the next academic year. What might we prioritize? What should we highlight?

Field Notes

Something has gone wrong with the flow of information. It’s not just that different people are drawing subtly different conclusions from the same evidence. It seems like different intellectual communities no longer share basic foundational beliefs. Maybe nobody cares about the truth anymore, as some have started to worry. Maybe political allegiance has replaced basic reasoning skills. Maybe we’ve all become trapped in echo chambers of our own making – wrapping ourselves in an intellectually impenetrable layer of likeminded friends and web pages and social media feeds.

But there are two very different phenomena at play here, each of which subvert the flow of information in very distinct ways. Let’s call them echo chambers and epistemic bubbles. Both are social structures that systematically exclude sources of information. Both exaggerate their members’ confidence in their beliefs. But they work in entirely different ways, and they require very different modes of intervention. An epistemic bubble is when you don’t hear people from the other side. An echo chamber is what happens when you don’t trust people from the other side.

C Thi Nguyen. Aeon. Escape the Echo Chamber.

 

In July 2017, the Pew Research Center released the results of a national poll: A majority (58 percent) of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believed that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, up 13 percentage points from the previous year. The Pew survey is not the only recent sign of growing public distrust of higher education: This year’s percentage increase in state support for higher education is the lowest in five years; tenure is being attacked and in some cases eliminated; and we hear frequent expressions of doubt about a college degree’s “return on investment.”

Various explanations have been offered for this devaluation. In the early 1990s, state institutions began raising their tuition, and tuition rates at most colleges rose disproportionately to growth in middle-class incomes. The economic downturn of 2008 accelerated the disparity between family income and college tuition and fees, while simultaneously weakening the link between college degrees and high-paying jobs. Anti-intellectualism, always quietly present in the American zeitgeist, became noisier; suddenly, studying the humanities was “useless,” and religious beliefs became an accepted counterweight to critical thought. Wariness of “cognitive elites” paralleled a growing suspicion of immigrants; both seemed to be taking jobs away from working-class white men, who resented the loss of income, as well as their loss of status as the backbone of the American economy.

But there’s another reason for public distrust of higher education that few are talking about: the increased presence of women. Now that women enroll, succeed, and in many cases, surpass men in attaining college degrees, the value of those degrees is diminishing.

Nancy Niemi. Chronicle of Higher Education. Why Does the Public Distrust Higher Ed? Too Many Women.