Oct. 15, 1998
Vol. 18, No. 2

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    Aims of Education Address encourages newest students to value every experience

    When new students arrive on campus, a multitude of Orientation activities keeps them busy as they learn about campus life. Before they enter the formal learning process in their classes, they experience a Chicago tradition-the Aims of Education Address. One of the major speeches directed at incoming first-year students, the Aims of Education Address highlights Chicago's distinctive educational experience. Following the address, students have the opportunity to talk about the speech at special discussion sessions.

    Since 1962, a distinguished senior scholar has offered the incoming class personal reflections about liberal education and its role in his or her life. This year, Norma Field, Chair and Professor in East Asian Languages & Civilizations, delivered the Aims of Education Address to the class of 2002 in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. "For much of my adult life, I have implicitly accepted the paramount value of the liberal arts and of lifelong learning for its own sake. No doubt there are multiple reasons for anyone's believing in something as if it were obvious; in my case, the generational, that is the historical factor, seems decisive," said Field. "My college years took place in the late 1960s, against the background of first the civil rights and then the antiwar movements in the United States." Field drew from several sources to illustrate how she believes historical context, the conditions of learning and the relationship between the individual and society all help determine how a person experiences and values liberal education. Part of her preparation involved an e-mail exchange with her friend Rene Arcilla (Ph.D., '90), a former Chicago undergraduate and graduate student and current professor of philosophy at Teachers' College of Columbia University.

    "I very much want students to be aware of and reflective about the society in which their education is taking place, to think about the differences between the world of the university and the surrounding society," Field wrote Arcilla.

    In her address, she told students to "keep your eyes and ears open to what's going on in the world and try to think about how that relates to what you're learning in the quadrangles of the University. Remember, if it looks like a total disconnect, that's a relation, too."

    Field also emphasized the importance of the self in the learning process.

    Field quoted a letter by children's book editor Ursula Nordstrom to author and illustrator John Steptoe, "And never forget that what you told me is something ONLY YOU know about; no one else knows just what you know about anything."

    "When I first read this letter, with 'only you' all in capital letters, I thought instantly that this was not only a wonderful thing for an editor to say to a fledgling author, but for teachers to tell their students," said Field. "And it is something that can be said truthfully to every student, for the reasons I have been trying to lay out."

    Field said she believes "Steptoe needed to put down his thoughts and emotions in picture book form in order to really know what he knew. And this is what you will be asked to do, over and over, though probably not in picture book form-and with the emphasis on thoughts, not emotions," Field told students.

    "What we know from our experiences is precisely what we learn through interaction with the world, including the world of books and CDs and videos. 'Only you know what you know,' not because that knowledge was miraculously generated inside you out of nothing, but because each of you is a unique historical accumulation of interaction with the world. There is no end to that process-but the more we can be conscious of it, the more actively we can give to and take from the world. That is why learning to put it down is so important."

    Field also reminded students of the benefits of learning from their fellow students, college advisers, the resident staff and the people of the city of Chicago.

    Field is the author of From My Grandmother's Bedside: Sketches of Postwar Tokyo, In the Realm of a Dying Emperor, The Splendor of Longing in the Tale of Genji and And Then, a translation of Natsume Soseki's Sorekara. She has published numerous papers and reviews, including most recently, "The Way of the World: Japanese Literary Studies in the Postwar U.S."

    The complete Aims of Education Address will be published in the University Record on Thursday, Oct. 29.