Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

A Mish Mosh Approach to Education

< shelf in my house sits a bird figurine made out of one cork, one toothpick, two feathers, and two plastic googly eyes. It’s a relic of my childhood days at an alternative school where we called our teachers by their first names and never took tests. What we did take, however, were ideas and things into our own hands, especially when our art teacher let us do something she called, “mish mosh.”

Mish mosh involved a lot of meager little items lying around on tarps and tables: buttons, beads, wood blocks, feathers, glitter, pipe cleaners, fabric scraps, all of the detritus of an elementary school art closet piled on the ground. It involved staplers, glue sticks, tape, and hot glue guns. It involved no rules; it involved sticking things together this way and that and hoping the adhesive held. It involved frustration and trash cans. And one day, it involved a little girl in red overalls turning a cork into a bird.

Over a decade later, I still find myself trying to assemble the disparate elements I have gathered into a cogent and valuable whole. It seems to be the philosophy behind a liberal arts education to allow students to experiment as they see fit, to try to glue the button of a freshman religion seminar onto the paper cup of international relations, and if that doesn’t work, to peel the button off and try to stick it onto a women’s and gender studies toothpick. After four years, the student has plastered a lot of little things together, but is it really a statue? Or rather, is it an education?

The value of a liberal arts education and mish mosh revolves around the ability of the whole to exceed the sum of its parts. The difference between a bunch of arbitrary classes and an education is the difference between bits of hot glued junk and a bird statue. It revolves around connection and creativity and the bestowal of value.

This mish mosh education also involves a certain patience with pathlessness, which is something that I struggle with at times. Some of my friends have heard me joke that my life would boil down to a blues song called, “Ain’t Got No Man, Ain’t Got No Career Plan.” (I also considered adding a verse called, “Ain’t Got No Carletonian Article,” after my initial plan to write about tenure this week was unexpectedly postponed, but I digress.) It can be terrifying to watch my friends trundle down specific paths toward careers and adult lives while I’m still trying to decide whether to staple the thumbtack to the pipe cleaner.

But in the midst of my doubt, I remember the little bird and its one cork, one toothpick, two feathers, and two plastic googly eyes. I made the sculpture once, I say to myself. I have to believe that I can make it again.

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