Volume 3, Number 5
Wait a Second
by Anne Bost, Research Fellow
Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College
"Wait a second!" We hear the words often. Someone makes a seemingly outlandish remark, and the incredulous recipient interrupts. "Now hold on just one minute. You mean to tell me ... ?!" The words likely came from a time when we meant them. In a period long-gone, I imagine the scene: The listener requests the storyteller to pause, to be silent, to allow a period for reflection. And in that silent moment, the listener in turn pauses. He is silent. He reflects -- quietly, internally -- and uses the time to integrate the new information with what he knew before, to test it and contemplate its veracity.
No more. Now the phrase is simply one we use to interrupt the speaker so we can exchange places. By it we mean, "Stop talking so I can respond to your comment, without a moment's thought." Our world has become such a fast-paced environment that even the words "time out" bring images of sports teams huddling together, racing against the clock to plan the next activity.
Liberal arts colleges today offer hundreds of ways for students to become involved beyond the classroom. Athletics, clubs, fraternities, sororities, research collaborations with faculty, community service groups, honor societies, debate teams, theatre, art exhibits, musical performances, on-campus newspapers, internships ... the list goes on. Certainly involvement in these activities is an important part of an undergraduate's educational experience. Having attended a small liberal arts college, I know the benefit of full schedules and late-night meetings. In such experiences are the birth of friendships and the discovery of identity. Today's practice of measuring "student engagement" as a proxy for successful education is no wonder; it makes sense to do so. Yet, where is the role for colleges in leading students to understand the importance of time away from the busyness, simply to reflect? Implicit in the "Wait a second" plea is an awareness that the human brain requires stillness truly to process information and transform it.
Are we as faculty and staff at liberal arts colleges doing all that we can to model Aristotle's "activity of contemplation," (1) and is such modeling lauded by our academic communities? In the midst of the committees, classes, and other obligations, is there time to share an idea with a colleague or student pensively? Can we afford the luxury of mentoring individual students, one at a time, with all the "inefficiency" of the practice? Is it OK to encourage undergraduates to be involved on campus but also to save some time for reflection, without the television, without multi-tasking, without racing off to the next meeting?
Wait a second; is that what liberal arts education is all about?
(1) Aristotle, The Theoretic Life, Nichomachean Ethics, Book Ten, Chapters 7-8.
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