04 December 2011

Generation of Greatness ~ Land's 1957 MIT Ideas

This past Friday after the MIT Corporation meeting and our App Ventures Showcase at the Media Lab, Professor Hal Abelson and I discussed Polaroid founder Edwin Land's amazing 1957 talk at MIT -- Generation of Greatness: The Idea of a University in an Age of Science. Many provocative things there, including educational innovations such as master-lecture movies and personal projects -- inspirations for today's OpenCourseWare and UROP. But what Land also talked about -- and what MIT still does very poorly -- is the need for some kind of effective advising, what Land called an Usher whose role is to connect with young students...
"...as they come to the university and see that they become, during the first two years, sophisticated in science generally, and sophisticated in the world of literature and the arts generally. They would see that these first two years are dedicated to a deliberate program of induction into mental maturity. [...] The ushers encourage this reaching out, stimulate and guide it. As they acquire insight into the personality and the needs of the incoming [student], they open the doors of the university to him... the right doors, at the right time. They build, with each man, a program of reading, of lectures, of seminars. When the usher feels his group of students is ready to talk with a great professor, he arranges for the meeting, seeing to it that the students are prepared ahead of time to ask the right questions. We have already seen the usher starting his men on their personal research projects. As each man pursues his investigation, his usher is the trusted and trusting friend, the master whose criticism he can ask for and take without losing face; he is the senior colleague who knows his way around in all of the fields that the investigation will inevitably come to involve."

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