Hannah Arendt, the German-American political scholar who was perhaps the 20th century’s most eloquent and avid defender of freedom and the humanities, left a particular legacy at Bard College: Following her death in 1975, she was buried on the campus, along with her husband Heinrich Blucher, who taught Philosophy at the college for many years. The college also inherited her library, which contains more than 4,000 volumes; and half a dozen years ago Roger Berkowitz, a professor of Politics, Philosophy and Human Rights at Bard, started the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and the Humanities, with the aim of hosting in-depth discussions about some of the most pressing issues facing society in an objective, nonpartisan framework.
Coming up is this year’s annual conference at the Hannah Arendt Center, “Failing Fast: The Educated Citizen in Crisis,” held October 3 and 4 at Olin Hall. Speakers will examine the demands and threats to education posed by technological change and the crucial role that it plays in our democracy. Given the populace’s overall lack of civic involvement, the growing gap between rich and poor and the extreme partisanship that is hampering government’s ability to govern, this discussion about education, civics and the relationship between the two could not be more timely, and hopefully will bring some clarity to the subject and construe solutions.
Lectures held throughout both days will touch on whether there is a crisis in educated citizenship; how civic education can avoid being propaganda; whether college is a prerequisite to being a good citizen; the role of public schools; privatization of education; the contribution of the arts to citizen engagement; whether the practical arts, such as carpentry skills, should have a role in civic education; and the potential of online courses to help save education. The presenters are noteworthy, cutting-edge thinkers representing a variety of viewpoints, including Richard Rodriguez, author of Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez and Brown: The Last Discovery of America; Danielle Allen, UPS Foundation professor at the School of Social Science at the Institute of Advanced Study and author of Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education, Why Plato Wrote and other books; Bard College president Leon Botstein; Matthew Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft and senior research fellow at the University of Virginia; and Andrew Ng, professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab and co-founder of Coursera.
Arendt wrote about the nature of power, politics, democracy, authority and the threats of totalitarianism. Her commitment to preserving the dignity of the human being and protecting individual freedom comprises the moral compass of this discussion of how education can better address civic engagement and evolve in a world transformed by technology, globalization and social change. “The prime goal of education is to teach young people to think for themselves and have the courage of their convictions,” Arendt wrote. “It is diametrically opposed to the indoctrination of politics, and by cultivating students’ independence and uniqueness, gives them the tools they need to transform the world.”
“Failing Fast: The Educated Citizen in Crisis” asks how America can reinvigorate the cultural and educational institutions that nurture public-spiritedness, the bedrock virtue of American constitutional democracy. And it asks, “Who is the educated citizen of the future?” Arendt understood acutely the price that a society pays when education fails, the humanities are no longer valued and citizens lose their freedom. The conference will examine those concerns in the context of today.
“Failing Fast: The Educated Citizen in Crisis,” October 3-4, Hannah Arendt Center for Politics & the Humanities, Olin Hall, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson; (845) 758-8578, https://www.bard.edu/hannaharendtcenter/conference-fall13/. Pre-registration is requested, but the conference is free with the exceptions that there is a charge for lunch, and a $20 charge for the Friday night performance of “No Child” at the Fisher Center, both of which are optional.