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Down the Education Rabbit Hole

“Alice had a lot of trouble in this unusual game of croquet. The balls were live hedgehogs and the mallets were live flamingos. She had a lot of trouble managing her flamingo. We all have a lot of trouble managing any living, changing thing. If we have a narrative that privileges control, objectivity, and linearity, we tend to get embarrassed about our lack of control (Palmer & Zajonc, 2010). However, if we have a narrative that privileges the exploration of multiple perspectives and maintenance of core values in the midst of shifting circumstances, we are simply practicing our craft and helping students to co-construct meaning.”
-Jane Fried, Of Education, Fishbowls and Rabbit Holes



Of Education, Fishbowls, and Rabbit Holes
Rethinking Teaching and Liberal Education for an Interconnected World
Jane Fried, Ph.D.
With Peter Troiano
Foreword by Dawn R. Person


It was at the 2014 NASPA conference in Baltimore that our editor, John von Knorring, reconnected with Jane Fried, joining the audience of a well-attended session at which she outlined the argument and ideas that form the basis of this book. He writes:

It’s not every scholarly presentation that uses the Tenniel Alice illustrations or Ernest Shepard’s original Pooh drawings as visual metaphors for her message, but then not many scholars of education have the unconventional lens of Jane Fried, or her knack for asking the unexpected or uncomfortable questions that lend a fresh perspective to matters we’ve taken for granted.

As to rabbits of the title, to quote Jane Fried in her Prologue:

“There are two very different rabbits in this text, Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh (Milne, 1926) and the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland (Carroll, 1865/1993). Pooh’s Rabbit is a Fluffy Sort of a Rabbit who is Easily Confused but Very Accommodating. The White Rabbit is a Very Important Rabbit, who has responsibilities in a royal entourage, is always behind schedule and who lives in an Alternate Reality. Pooh’s Rabbit is in this book for Comfort and Reassurance. The White Rabbit is the creature who entices Alice to go down the Rabbit Hole where she discovers that nothing is as she had thought it was and where the rules change constantly. A significant group of creatures live down the Rabbit Hole, and Alice is expected to interact with them appropriately. However, she has a great deal of difficulty trying to understand their expectations about appropriateness.”

To see the full relevance to higher education you’ll need to read her thought-provoking and stimulating book.

Suffice it for the moment that the fishbowl of the title is the atmosphere that we breathe and inhabit, the structures and cultural assumptions of higher education that are deeply rooted in a rationalist, Cartesian, Eurocentric tradition, and created for the development of historic elites preparing for lives led in reasonably ordered and predictable worlds.

The question that Jane Fried posed in Baltimore back in 2014 is: What sense is there preparing students for a career when they don’t know themselves, who they are or what their predilections will be, let alone what careers will look like a decade hence? Her view is that it is the full development of self, of self-authorship, the discovery of one’s talents and deep interests, as well as the honing on an intellect that can engage critically with the world, which should be the primary goals of education. Once those goals are achieved, and students have a sense of their life trajectory, a sense of values, and a developed sense of curiosity, and of how to deal with complexity and ambiguity, only then is it appropriate to develop specific career-oriented skills – skills, moreover, to which they will bring their full engagement and enthusiasm because they will understand their relevance.

The general education that leads to this phase needs to stimulate discovery and creativity, and expose students to ideas and experiences that will help them form a sense of values and make sense of our fast-moving and complex world, and the big issues of our time.

All this assumes that those of us who teach and mentor students recognize the diversity of cultures and viewpoints they bring to our campuses; and that, just as Greek and Theology had to be jettisoned from university curricula when higher education transitioned from the training of clergy and the elite in a pre-industrial society, we need similarly to rethink what is relevant to today’s students and the unpredictable world they will inherit and have to shape.

Click here to find out more about Of Education, Fishbowls, and Rabbit Holes.

About the Author: Jane Fried, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Counselor Education and Family Therapy at Central Connecticut State University. She is the former coordinator of the Student Development in Higher Education master’s degree program. Dr. Fried is the author of Transformative Learning Through Engagement: Student Affairs Practice as Experiential Pedagogy and Shifting Paradigms in Student Affairs, as well as co-author of Understanding Diversity. She was also one of the primary authors in Learning Reconsidered 1 and 2 and has written several monographs on ethics in student affairs and student development education. She currently writes a blog, where her primary topics of concern are racism and transformative learning, and hosts diversity dialogues to support leaders in higher education who want to develop a deeper understanding of the ways that racism affects our society.



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