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March 18, 2010
Student Writer Initiates Vital Dialogue At Tech
The Pencil Warrior
SOCORRO, New Mexico (STPNS) -- A March 1 front page opinion piece in the New Mexico Tech student newspaper, Paydirt, provides a glimpse of contemporary student life at a small American engineering and science research university.
Freshman minerals engineering student Kathryn Daniel’s 833-word piece, entitled Special Report: NMT "Breaking Up" with the Arts" bemoans the low level of student participation in arts classes offered through the university’s Humanities Department - "stained glass creation, painting, (and) performance arts such as choir and orchestra."
Ms. Daniel notes that a planned spring production of the musical "Grease" had to be cancelled due to a scarcity of auditioners. "Students have many classes to choose from at the start of each semester . . . yet the actual participation in the programs is dismal, and as with any class with small enrollment, the classes tend to be terminated."
Ms. Daniel asserts the importance of balancing the kind of thought generated in the left side of the brain (“logical/sequential, rational, analytical, objective”) with what’s recognized as right-brain activity, characterized by subjective, intuitive, or synthesizing thought.
“New Mexico Tech prides itself on its export of smart, educated, prepared people. Yet the emphasis on science, mathematics, and technology encourages students to tend to access only the left side of their brains . . . it is vital for ‘well-roundedness’ that any student access the right side of their brains, if not only for experience, but for sanity.”
Katy’s words echo a sentiment not uncommon among students, administrators, and several faculty members I’ve met in this academic community.
Yet the difficulty in maintaining the balance between the rigors of a curriculum almost notorious for the demands made on students with their need for a more holistic educational experience may be more deeply rooted in contemporary perceptions of higher education’s role in society than is commonly perceived. Katy’s choice of words, unconsciously perhaps, reveals the new market approach to education: “export of . . . prepared people.” Prepared for what? is a question that begs an answer.
As club sport director and rugby coach at New Mexico Tech, I feel a sense of shared purpose with those few who also deal primarily with the right side of students’ heads. Like the music instructor, the ceramic teacher, the art and literature professor, my dealings with the young adults of Tech involve developing thinking and cooperative skills fundamentally different than those associated with the acquisition of raw knowledge and know-how involved in engineering or the sciences.
Our presence at Tech is testament to an awareness of the need for broad-minded citizens in a healthy, dynamic, and vibrant society. Yet we often see the intangibles get lost among the constant grind of homework and innumerable projects, labs, and presentations to which students must attend.
In exploring possible causes of this “non-involvement” at Tech, Ms. Daniel characterizes the attitude of many if not most parents: “you need to do something worthwhile with your life, something that makes money; art will not make you money.” While acknowledging that many parents may downplay the role of the humanities in a modern education, Katy concludes that “we are now responsible for ourselves and consciously make our own choices daily.”
Yet I wonder to what extent the factor of money affects the trajectory of modern college students. Although New Mexico Tech is one of the more affordable universities of its kind, graduate debt levels can still be considerable, and current uncertainties of landing a job must be a major factor in the choice of study.
Ms. Daniel exposes a daily influence in many students’ lives which we never thought of in my college days, namely the ubiquity of media technology and video gaming: “students who only come out of their rooms to eat and go to class, and spend the rest of their time building their online profiles, blogging, and playing WOW.” World of Warcraft, a “massively multiplayer online role-playing game” (MMORPG) had 11.5 million subscribers in the western hemisphere as of December, 2008.
Here Katy raises a crucial point for dialog with her characterization of digital communication as often taking the form of a “shying away from expression of oneself in front of other people, face-to-face, due to the fact that it is easier to interact and express oneself on-line.”
"Breaking Up" with the Arts" is undoubtedly the most intriguing and relevant article I have seen in 11 years of reading our campus newspaper. I hope students, faculty and staff take Katy Daniels up on her closing call for reader responses.
Opportunities to share our thoughts and perspectives – exercising our right brain skills – are far too uncommon at Tech and not to be missed, especially when the subject involves the ideals of the society we serve.
Dave Wheelock, a member of the Oneida Nation, is a collegiate sports administrator and coach. His history degree is from the University of New Mexico . Reach him at davewheelock@ yahoo.com. Mr. Wheelock's views do not necessarily represent those of the Mountain Mail.
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