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 Fall 2011

Antioch Notes

Purposeful Education

Antioch College is up and running. Faculty and students are at work, and College administrators are planning for future growth. Yet, people still ask: Given the many obstacles we face, is it worth all the trouble to recreate Antioch College?

Mark Roosevelt, President

Mark Roosevelt, President

The question assumes (rightly) that we still have much to do. We have to establish many new systems to schedule courses, purchase textbooks, secure access to medical care, offer food and recreation, etc. The question also assumes (rightly) that despite recent good news about Board giving and the sale of YSI Incorporated, our endowment is small and our needs—for campus improvements and student aid—are great. To survive, we must raise substantial sums of money and embrace cost-saving innovations.

We must also provide powerful reasons for students to enroll here.

One answer to the question of worth is that the Antioch educational model, the three C’s of classroom, co-op, and community, is as valuable today as ever. This is our core work: making sure that the academic program is rigorous, that co-op helps students gain perspective on their academic pursuits, and that participation in community builds critical skills and understanding.

That answer is necessary but not sufficient, as Antioch College has always been about more than academic excellence. Horace Mann’s quote about shame and winning victories for humanity may have overly sharp teeth, and its use by the College can appear self-congratulatory, but it is the heart and soul of Antioch. Yes, our core work is offering rigorous academics, but we are unafraid to do so with a purpose.

As we re-open we begin with the premise that the way we live in America today is not sustainable. And we couple that with a commitment: Antioch College will be a place where faculty, students and others come together to discover new and better ways of living.

Our traditional liberal arts curriculum now centers on five global seminars focusing on urgent issues threatening the quality of life for people around the world – water, food, health, energy, and the relationship of these issues to public policy.

If you believe that America is grappling successfully with these issues, that, for example, we are prepared to handle the coming population boom in nations and communities with already degraded land and water resources, then our program may not resonate with you.

If, on the other hand, you believe that a tipping point has already been reached, that humanity’s negative effects are overwhelming the planet’s ability to recover, and that the effects are pushing economic and social systems past their breaking point, then preparing young people with the skills to address these problems just makes sense.

The applicants for our first class convinced us that many young people see beyond the economic challenges of the moment, real as they are, to the larger issues that threaten to make today’s challenges seem relatively simple.

America has always needed laboratories for change, especially when the issues are complex and the potential solutions are discomforting. Often new paths are forged by people outside of the mainstream. African Americans, Quakers, and others at society’s edges created the Underground Railroad when a path out of slavery to freedom was hard to envision. More than a century later, Freedom Riders risked life and limb to focus public attention on Jim Crow laws that severely limited that freedom.

So, our answer to that recurring question of whether this is worth it: The challenges we face now—disparities in access to health care, lack of quality food and water in large areas of the globe, and systematic environmental degradation—require that our students become adaptable critical thinkers who are audacious enough to believe they can win victories not just for themselves but for the world.

It will indeed have been worth all the trouble when our thriving community is once again setting the standard by examining the way we live now in search of a better future for us all.