Crisis? What does that really mean? And what does it mean to say that a crisis has been averted? It seems that I’m gaining some insight into these questions.
A crisis can be defined as a situation in which an existing functional structure is in jeopardy of collapse. One fascinating example of a crisis occurred when Citigroup Center in Manhattan was built. A potentially fatal flaw in the building’s construction was subsequently identified by an engineering student and the situation was rectified before the building actually collapsed. Crises such as these can serve as excellent learning opportunities. In fact, the Citigroup Center crisis serves as an important case study in ethics.
As expected, the College has been experiencing crises along the way—some of which it has emerged from and some of which are ongoing. It is inevitable that this will occur from time to time in the College’s future. A major part of our education will involve learning how to deal with these crises in a rational and effective manner according to our self-defined principles, and we will all become stronger by doing so. Since it is the nature of human existence to experience crises from time to time, is this not one of the most important goals of an effective education?
Before discussing our crises I must recognize that we should be very proud of the fact that we have been going for nearly three months with a core group of about 12 students from many different walks of life—different ages, socioeconomic groups, cultural backgrounds, personal beliefs and life goals. They have been taking time out of their busy schedules to come together for wonderful discussions treating a variety of important topics including politics, art, science, metaphor, trust, authority, societies and cultures, curiosity, mathematics and technology. We have also recently expanded by welcoming five additional students.
So what are these crises I’m speaking of? Well, consider that Phase I is entitled “Self and Other”. In this phase students learn about themselves and other people, and how similarly and differently we think. To effectively accomplish this it is important for us to actually have a diverse group of people (which we do). If we’re all too similar then we will tend to simply nod our heads in agreement about important issues facing society rather than being forced to effectively crystallize and communicate our ideas so that they can be fully considered by those who oppose our points of view.
With a diverse group, however, it is natural that some students are not going to be as willing to endure difficulties as others. So one crisis we encountered is that, without going into too much detail, something that occurred in a class was extremely objectionable to some of the class members and this nearly resulted in the loss of students. Such a loss would significantly diminish the quality of our educational experience. If this were to happen it is conceivable that the loss of other students would soon follow. To the credit of the affected students, they are honoring their commitment to the completion of Phase I and have opted to continue, and it seems to me that all the people involved have learned from the experience (myself no less than the others). This is highly encouraging and bodes well for the future of the College.
Another crisis—one that is ongoing—is that some students are experiencing significant challenges that make it difficult for them to attend classes and interact. For one thing, several students have missed a number of class meetings or can only attend a portion of classes. Although a great deal of of energy was exerted to schedule classes at times that were convenient for the students, schedules have changed and students need to work at their jobs in order to survive. The scheduling problem is significant, and I’m quite concerned that some students may not be able to return for some time, or at least not until the College has matured to the point that the students can be hired to work directly for the College. It is my hope that the College will be able to accomplish this soon so that students will have the flexibility to focus their energies on their education.
There are several other crises, but outlining them all would become tedious. Suffice it to say that we have some enormous challenges before us. Although these challenges are present, all indications are that if we remain vigilant everything will fall into place as necessary to bring the College to the point where we can help people achieve the knowledge they desire and deserve. And as crises are detected we will continue to do our best to handle them in the most effective way possible, and we will certainly all grow as people in the process.