I was a member of the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies faculty for fourty-one years and it was, for me, the best job imaginable. The School offered an extraordinary education not only for its students but, in its highly interdisciplinary way, for its faculty as well. We were students and teachers together — an utterly unique program and I miss it. Instead of talking about all that, though, I’m going to tell a Hutchins anecdote. At this distance it seems about right.
I often go to a beach near where I live to get some exercise. One afternoon as I was getting off the beach, a group of seniors, tourists, asked me for directions and a recommendation for a place to eat. We got to chatting and eventually they asked me where I worked. I told them I was retired from the faculty of the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies at Sonoma State University and that for me it had been the job of jobs. They immediately wanted to know all about the Hutchins School so I went into some detail (small seminars, high student engagement, a thematic curriculum, etc.). At one point I said that my own academic background was in literature but that over the years in my constant attempts to help students discover their own best thinking, I had — and to some degree the whole program had — taken a greater and greater interest in and concern about critical thinking. What a bombshell the phrase “critical thinking” had on the group! At first they all started talking at once. To paraphrase, it went something like this: “No! Given the state of things, I thought critical thinking was long dead.” “Does anyone talk about it in school any more?” One woman said, "Your Hutchins School needs to behave like rabbits, breed all over the country.” As I remember, another added that we might start that breeding program in Washington D.C. They were laughing and laughing by then, having a good time: "Think critically. Start a revolution.” But then one of them said that it was really a dreadfully serious matter. “Sometimes when I watch the news on TV I don’t recognize my own country. You and your colleagues must be awfully dedicated, and sometimes awfully discouraged.” There is some truth in that last remark. Still, as far as critical thinking is concerned, may the Hutchins School never give up, and may the School live on and on. And to that I’m sure that group of tourists would say, Amen."
B.A.1961, Columbia University
M.A. 1966, University of Washington
Ph.D. 1970, University of Washington