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You May Say We Are Dreamers

President's Letter: TC's role is to serve society as a catalyst of human creativity.

On any given day, I hear beautiful music pouring out of Milbank Chapel, across from my office. Sometimes, I’ll poke my head in to enjoy the jam sessions among visiting high school students, classical recitals by talented faculty and students from TC’s music education department, teach-ins by the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, or a performance by a visiting African pop band.

The music reminds me of TC’s role: to serve society as an incubator and catalyst for human creativity.
Our leadership has never been more vital. As Newsweek recently warned, creativity, which nourishes our cultural, economic and civic health, has become a casualty of TV and videogame overload, unimaginative schooling and organizational inertia.

Thus it is not enough for TC to “imagine” the future. We must also re-imagine the world by creating models of teaching and learning that fan the sparks of creativity in formal and informal educational settings alike.

As Professor Janet Miller describes on page 8, TC philosopher Maxine Greene urges us to understand “the given” as something contingent, to be repeatedly “enacted otherwise.”

The creativity of very young children is certainly a given—but it wilts unless we cultivate each child’s creative capacities early and often. At TC’s Rita Gold Center (see page 46), our faculty and student teachers take their cues from children’s spontaneous play, using their ideas and questions to focus discussions, projects and field trips.

The magic of the arts is another given—one we often take too much for granted. As Professor Hal Abeles argues on page 17, the arts enrich our lives not only through preparing our young people to compete in a global economy but also through “engaging the imagination and communicating ideas and emotions that words cannot adequately express.”

Technology, too, can unlock human potential. While computers and the Internet serve as agents of mass culture, their greater power, as Professor Robbie McClintock demonstrates (page 50), lies in empowering individuals. During the ’90s, Robbie brought learning technology into many New York City schools. Today, as he says, high school students have online access to “personal libraries that no scholar prior to the year 2000 could match.”

Ultimately, reimagining the world affirms the human spirit. Witness Dennis Chambers, a TC security officer who completed his doctorate in spring 2010 (see page 40). As a counselor to young people and as a scholar, Dennis makes reimagining human possibility his life’s work.

So does alumna Vivian Ota Wang, Program Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (see page 34). She seeks to reconcile the science of DNA with the riddles of human individuality. Vivian’s leadership is ensuring that we proceed wisely in a field of great promise and risk.

TC is also reimagining itself (see page 62). Through community building, seeding promising research and an examination of our own culture, we seek to achieve the full creative potential of our people.

While this issue contains other vivid demonstrations of TC’s leadership in creativity, the lingering image for me is TC’s Macy Gallery (see page 12). Year after year, the Gallery is reconfigured as a space for artists ranging from preschool children to some of the brightest stars in the international firmament. Each exhibition has its incandescent moments. Then the exhibition comes down, and a new moment for reimagining the world has arrived.

Susan Fuhrman (Ph.D., ’77)

Published Monday, Dec. 13, 2010


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