(Fourth post in the “Why Design?” series. All of Garreth’s writing represent a view from the crossroads of education and design. See more of Garreth’s posts here.)


A few weeks ago I wrote that I would be delving into the ways I see design as a method that honors the traditions and goals of liberal education as outlined by Professor William Cronon in his essay, “Only Connect”: On the Goals of a Liberal Education.

This post represents the first foray into the connections between the 10 goals of Prof. Cronon (and the great liberal educators who came before him) and the skills necessary in great design and designers.

Some of these posts will be longer than others, but my intent is to put Prof. Cronon’s ideas into dialogue and play with the field and skills of design, and in doing so to recognize, without question, design as a liberal art.  The implication here is two-fold.  First, the development of designerly minded learners is a doorway to the development of singularly self-directed, self-determined learners.  And, second, the liberal arts are key to security and prosperity in the future for ourselves and our students.

So, onto Cronon’s list (all 10 are in the main branches of the mindmap below):

main-branches
Part of a personal Mindmap of Cronon’s Argument in the essay, “Only Connect.”

1)  They Listen and they Hear.

Cronon states that this goal of a liberal education is something you’d think goes without saying.  Essentially, it describes people who “work hard to hear what other people say. They can follow an argument, track logical reasoning, detect illogic, hear the emotions that lie behind both the logic and the illogic, and ultimately empathize with the person who is feeling those emotions.”

There is hardly another goal so clearly linked to design as this one.  Education, like design, is a human-centered endeavor.  Thus, like designers, educators must empathize with their students/users.  If empathy is the heart of design, and design thinking more specifically, it seems listening and hearing is a fitting place to start this comparison, and more fitting to this argument that Prof. Cronon begins here as well.

I’ll admit to a good deal of bias here.  I’m a debate coach.  Offering students activities that help them work towards this goal is easy.  Engage them in structured controversies like debates and constructive discussions.  There are any number of debate structures you might employ, with the more formal styles outlined clearly and fully at websites like the National Forensic LeagueThe Pennsylvania High School Speech League, and other such leagues around the nation.  Additionally, teachers can employ structured discussions.  Programs like Paideia Seminars, Socratic Circles, Literature Circles, or The Touchstones Discussion Project all offer students opportunities to speak and listen and learn from each other in many different curricula (not just language arts or social studies).  Historically, dialogic learning like this is older than Socrates himself.

However, for the teacher practiced in design-based learning, the opportunities to practicing listening skills increase exponentially.  Teaching students how to use empathy maps during interviews, or even as ways to track and analyze characters in works of literature help to hone this skill through real world practice or close reading.  Design research of this sort hinges on the key skill of listening deeply and empathetically.

My list is not exhaustive, but I am certain of the solid outcomes each of the different strategies I suggest can produce if a teacher buys into and believes in their individual processes.

And in the end, listening and hearing?  Sure, you can’t test for it, but you sure as heck aren’t building a solid foundation for a democracy if all you focus on is computation and comprehension.   At least by focusing on a goal like “They listen and they hear” we’ll have a chance to erase future episodes of The Jerry Springer Show from our airwaves and promote more civil discourse than what we’ve seen in the world lately.

Featured image: Simon Sinek–Quote Fancy.