Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Hands on learning for high rankings

<lass="page layoutArea column" title="Page 1">

“To attend chiefly to the desk or schoolhouse, while we neglect the scenery in which it is placed, is absurd” – Henry David Thoreau

Sometimes as I take a deep whiff of artificial sweet on my way to the library for another long night, I long for the cows; the time when content heifers wandered not far from the perimeters of our college. I often wonder what it would be like to study at Carleton when a vibrant local farm produced most of the food for students and faculty, and the moos of award winning dairy cows echoed through the bald spot. But above all else, I wonder if I would have been a happier student at Carleton in the 40’s and 50’s.

In the 1960’s, Carleton abandoned its technical agricultural training program in order to embrace a “liberal arts” agenda. After selling its herd and closing the farm, Carleton had abandoned most vestiges of its agrarian educational past, embracing with full force a new education paradigm that would allow the college to compete with more prestigious institutions.

But as an aspiring small farmer, I worry that this quest for prestige glossed over an important aspect of education; physical, hands-on learning.

Liberal arts institutions extol their curriculum for fostering well-rounded students – requiring students to learn foreign languages, and engage in science, social sciences and humanities analysis. However, despite such claims, there seems to be a growing divide between technical colleges and liberal arts institutions. And while Carleton students are encouraged to stretch the limits of their mind, they are not encouraged to acquire practical skills – if students want to learn how to grow their own food, build a home, fix a car, they do not have access to professional instruction. And I think that this educational structure does great injustice to students.

From a food systems perspective, we no longer learn how to take our diets into our own hands. Skills like gardening, foraging, and cooking are under valued, to the point that we feed ourselves merely by “heating.” On one hand, this is a boon for convenience, but on the other, it makes us a little more powerless, and deprives us of an important skill-set that would also serve use throughout life.

Low-skill eating promotes heavily processed ready-made meals and limits our capacity to live off of local landscapes. Every region provides a unique set of seasonal ingredients, but if we handicap our ability to accept and adapt to new food and culinary challenges, we become reliant on the familiar, homogenized, and mass produced foods. This harms our health and environment.

But in terms of education, I understand that I chose to attend Carleton. I could have enrolled in an agricultural program, and students seeking more hands on learning can enroll in trade school. But what if we aren’t sure? What if we like both forms of learning? Furthermore, I take issue with the notion that Carleton can create well-rounded students without offering classes in hands-on, technical knowledge. As we pay for a “higher,” education, the absence of such classes implies they are somehow beneath us, not worthy of our institution.

I believe that a school worthy of high ranking should provide avenues for all sorts of learning. Scientific and social, philosophical and physical. Carleton and its peer institutions ignore this glaring knowledge gap. We wonder why our communities rely on centralized and at times destructive systems of production, studying theories of politics and economics instead of how to produce for ourselves.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *