A couple of weeks ago we had a series of revisit days with admitted students and their families. These were fabulous visits – and very successful (85% of the students who revisited ended up enrolling). This was the tail end of a very successful admission season with record numbers of applications and an incredibly high yield. As part of revisit days I had a chance to talk with parents about our academic program.
These conversations focused primarily on Authentic Inquiry – our approach to teaching and learning that honors students’ own questions and helps them learn to explore these questions with rigor and creativity. I noted how well this approach aligns with research on learning and teaching, how it helps students develop the skills and habits that correlate with success at college, and how college admission and academic leaders are very supportive of this work.
A question often comes up in these discussions: “But what about content coverage? Isn’t that important?” And my answer is always: “Of course it is.” We engage students in broad and deep explorations of the liberal arts. This is our intellectual heritage – the ideas, philosophies, and values that scholars have developed and refined over many generations. A broad understanding of this heritage, this shared wisdom, grounds our students and gives them a place to stand as they think about their future.
But exploring the ideas of others is not enough. We must also invite students into the tradition of inquiry. To do this, we encourage students to develop and follow their own intellectual curiosity. We show them how their work can add value to the world. This helps them find purpose, direction, and passion in life.
So is “content coverage” important? Yes, of course. But not as an end in itself. It is only important to the extent that it exposes students to beautiful ideas and helps them think anew about their own world – and their own questions.