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The theme for the 2016 NCHC Seattle conference is Know Yourself, and the information below is an explication of that concept from three perspectives: 1) at a personal level; 2) in regard to honors education and the NCHC and; and 3) in relation to Seattle, the site of the 2016 NCHC conference.
AT THE PERSONAL LEVEL:
Although the process of self-discovery is at the personal level, the effects of knowing yourself are wide-reaching and essential for growth. At the most basic level, in our attempts to know and understand the world outside ourselves – everyday happenings and experiences – we are all very much affected by our personal history, our knowledge, preconceptions, attitudes, values, and our emotional reflexes – i.e., by who we are. We see the world through our personal lenses, and without becoming aware of those lenses, we’ll always be limited by them in what we are able to understand and learn. Thus, knowing who we are is critical for meaningful learning to be able to happen.
Additionally, knowing who you are is a necessary step to successful and sustainable interpersonal relationships, as well as to understanding and then interacting successfully with those of diverse cultures. Finally, knowing yourself is an essential part of the process of answering the major questions of life, such as what is our role and purpose, or how can we best bring meaning to our lives and benefit others.
IN RELATION TO HONORS EDUCATION AND THE NCHC:
How does knowing yourself or self-discovery relate to honors education and the NCHC? Honors education has deep roots in the concept of liberal education, an approach to learning that both empowers individuals and prepares them, through broad knowledge of the wider world, to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. Becoming empowered – i.e., finding purpose and direction, which can be termed as self-authorship – starts with and then builds upon knowing who you are. Ideally the educational experience by being relevant and significant is able to develop that awareness of self and then enable self-authorship. Specifically, an education that has self-discovery and self-authorship as part of its focus will turn surface learning or vocational training into deep learning – i.e., education that goes to such a deep personal level that it changes behavior and enables personal growth that brings purpose and meaning. Our honors students seek just such an experience from their education – they expect their college or university experience to help them discover who they are and how they will contribute in the world. Additionally, as honors staff and faculty we make the educational experience more than training in a discipline, more than just a vocational path to a high-paying job.
Education that highlights self-discovery and self-authorship is particularly apropos today – because of the push in higher education to move students through their undergraduate experience as quickly as possible into the job market; because of the move away from the humanities and fine arts on the grounds that they are superfluous; because of the attitude on the part of more than a few legislators that higher education is not important enough to deserve adequate funding. The NCHC, however, through its concept and promotion of honors education challenges the notion that colleges and universities are simply dispensers of marketable skills that enable people to gain power, prestige, and material wealth. Rather, it knows the value both to the individual and society of teaching and learning that reaches deep into the personal level and is a model for the rest of the academy in integrating lives and learning.
IN RELATION TO SEATTLE:
Why is the setting of Seattle so appropriate for the theme of knowing yourself – and self-discovery and self-authorship? Seattle has distinguished itself as an enlightened and highly progressive city in that it’s aware of its role in the national and global society and thus has striven to act responsibly. For example, on the theme of social justice, it one was of the first cities to have organized labor. It was also the site of the massive protest against the World Trade Organization in 1999, and it was recently recognized as the nation’s most sustainable city.
For more examples of Seattle’s progressive initiatives, as part of the city’s 2014 $4.8 billion budget it included:
- $1 million for services for the homeless: The budget plan allocates close to $1 million to help the homeless through hygiene and shelters, including transitional encampments.
- A plan to speed up implementation of the $15 minimum wage: earlier in 2014 the city approved a $15 minimum wage — the highest for any major city in the United States.
- The idea of a tax on the upper 1% income earners: the budget commissions an exploration of the legality of a new tax on millionaires in Seattle, where there are many. In 2010, Seattle passed a measure increasing taxes on high earners successfully.
- Support for minority communities: allocation of funds for Career Bridge, an Urban League community-building initiative that provides targeted job assistance to men of color, and for birth-related services for immigrant families.
These types of initiatives show that Seattle is aware and mindful of what a city should be providing for the overall good of all its inhabitants; also that it is purposeful in allocating its resources not necessarily for profit but to improve the quality of life. In other words, Seattle shows a strong sense of what it is as a large urban center and is intentional about where it is going – a good example of self-discovery and self-authorship.
Finally, Seattle is a city of entrepreneurs – e.g., home base for Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, Google, and Costco – and a mecca for people who are willing and able to look at things in new ways. The basis for this type of innovation and leadership is a strong sense of personal identity and purpose, since these people are creating a unique product.
In sum, Seattle in its governance and culture shows that it is aware of what it is, including both positives and negatives, and is using that knowledge and awareness to better itself and be a contributor in the national and global arenas.