Oglethorpe Magazine Examines “The Art of Critical Thinking”

Attention all OU alumni, parents, students and friends—the latest issue of Oglethorpe’s award-winning Carillon magazine is here!

This issue delves into the role of liberal arts and sciences in the 21st century and features articles written by senior Foss Baker and Dr. Brian Patterson, assistant professor of computer science & mathematics, President Schall, and our new provost, Dr. Denise von Herrmann. 

Read stories about Oglethorpe alumni using their liberal arts education—sometimes in unusual ways!  Did you know an OU alum wrote the 2010 CMA Song of the Year? Or, that an OU alum’s thriving business was featured on HGTV, and that another alum is the editor of a top magazine?!

Get a sneak peek into the plans for a new student center. Learn about the freshman class’s new What the Dog Saw common reading program, and hear from the newest additions to the Office of Campus Life—Danny Glassmann, Kendra Hunter and Bre Berris—about the plans they have for student life at Oglethorpe.

Alumna Chloey Mayo’s “Oglethorpe in Lights” offers a glamorous twist on some campus events of Hollywood proportion with a review the TV shows, movies and commercials that have used OU as their backdrop.

 Read the Carillon here or look out for the magazine at your home—and let us know what you think!

Do What Oglethorpe is Forcing You to Do

Foss Baker

Senior Foss Baker is the news editor of the Stormy Petrel student newspaper.

My dad often used the phrase “college teaches you how to learn.” I don’t know where he got it from, or if it was his own invention. All I know is that it made no sense in high school. I would question it because it essentially made college useless. Every high school kid knows how to learn, right? No, absolutely not. All of them think they do; I was no different.

I came to Oglethorpe thinking I had it all figured out: career, dreams, and how to reach both of them. I was going to be a hugely successful sports/entertainment attorney. I was going to make tons and tons of money. I was going to have it all. From Oglethorpe, I learned none of that was what I wanted. I don’t care about money that much, I don’t care about having a hugely successful name that strikes fear in the hearts of sports franchises and movie producers. I just want to learn.

Oglethorpe has been designed in such a way that questioning your self is unavoidable. Just look at the first year of Core. “Narratives of Self”? What else could that be other than an examination of your being and values? Just when you think you figured out the problems from that course, you have “Human Nature and the Social Order”. Another puzzle for yourself that you must answer: what values do you hold, where do you stand in society, and what do you want from society? After this, you’re thrown another curveball, being forced to reexamine these practices and decisions in “Historical Perspectives.”

All of this, hopefully, allows you to look at yourself and question the pit of your beliefs. Maybe you have to find new ones, maybe the ones you held before Oglethorpe are reinforced; either way, you’re a better person for it. You have gained a system of beliefs that you hold concretely, and there are very few things more comforting than knowing you stand for beliefs that have been stripped down to their very core, and you found them agreeable.

Perhaps this type of examination of Oglethorpe only exists in the mind of a philosophy major. Perhaps I examined this the way I did because of the professors that I have. Dr. Belcher showed me that your beliefs are basically worthless if you don’t know why you stand for them. Dr. Carton taught me that nobody is the same, and there are so many different internal processes that make up a person that understanding them all is impossible. From Dr. Smith I learned everybody does things their own way. We don’t know why some things are done the way they are, but the fact that they are done in such a way might tell us more about that person or those people than if they had done it the “normal” way. Numerous other professors here taught me other things, but these are the ones I hold in the highest regard.

The most important thing to notice about the things I learned is that none of them are classes. I didn’t take a “reasons why your beliefs might be wrong class” or a class on “things that people did in history that we don’t understand” because they don’t exist. Sometimes, the most important thing to learn from a class isn’t the subject of the class at all. This takes some work, but the work and payoff will be well worth it. Your experience will undoubtedly be different. You will have different classes, different professors, and different friends. This difference will make you examine things in your own way, and that leads to a different experience for everybody. This means Oglethorpe has done its job.

In hindsight, I want to leave the readers of this with a few suggestions. First, don’t live your life thinking you know what you want because that is what your parents want for you, or because you saw it on TV. If you really want to be this idea you have in your head, no amount of reexamining will change your mind. If you end up changing your mind, it means you’re growing, learning. Have an open mind, it will do wonders for you. Second, take Oglethorpe for what it is. The classes can be frustrating and, believe me, I hate Petrel Points* as much as the next guy, but I love Oglethorpe. The community, professors, faculty, and students will always hold a special place in my heart. If you come here expecting perks of a large university, don’t expect to be satisfied. Take the small school atmosphere and embrace it. Develop relationships with your professors; and gain close friends; you won’t regret it. The third suggestion is to just listen to people. You can’t learn if you don’t. Listen to professors; they are wildly intelligent and are here only because of the students. They honestly have your best interests at heart. If they suggest you think about something or reexamine something, do it. They care and know best.

And above all else, just learn.

*All first-year students are required to accrue a total of 12 Petrel Points during their first academic year by participating in three areas of campus life: arts, education and ideas; civic engagement; and campus leadership and citizenship.

Printed in the Stormy Petrel student newspaper, Dec. 1, 2011, and reprinted in the Carillon magazine, Winter 2011.

Gaining Perspective

Incoming Freshmen

During an OU Passport orientation during the summer, incoming freshmen and first-year students competed in a scavenger hunt. The winners, pictured here, won copies of What the Dog Saw---required reading for the entire class.

As the class of 2015 prepared for its first semester as college students, the undergrads had more in common than just their freshman status. All first-year students shared a cross-major reading of Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw: and other adventures as part of a new common reading program at Oglethorpe.

“Several colleges and universities have established common reading programs over the years,” explained Kendra Hunter, director of student leadership and activities. “By introducing this program at Oglethorpe, Campus Life wanted to incorporate an academic component to New Student Orientation that would create a common experience for new students to begin the development of community among them as well as help prepare them for the academic and intellectual experiences they will have.”

Far from the ordinary textbook, What the Dog Saw is a compilation of 19 features written by the Canadian journalist, all of which were first published in The New Yorker magazine. In this collection, Gladwell explores the “back story” of society’s everyday stories, and makes an effort to find a larger meaning in them. The book is divided into three parts which examine: “minor geniuses” (those who find ways to do ordinary things in extraordinary ways); the theories or ways of organizing experience (such as the controversial program found in some big U.S. cities designed to tackle the problem of homelessness by giving the chronically homeless their own apartments, while less severe cases stay on the streets); and lastly, the assumptions and predictions we make about people (“How do we know whether someone is bad, or smart, or capable of doing something really well?”).

“Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade,” says Gladwell in the book’s preface. “It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else’s head.”

Indeed, Gladwell’s book was selected with the input of first-year instructors for its direct connection to first-year curriculum and its potential to encourage debate and real-life application.

What the Dog Saw is composed of essays and themes which appeal to a variety of students and can be connected to multiple disciplines,” said Hunter. “Resulting discussions ranged from their thoughts about the book to having a ‘pitching’ contest in which students took an ordinary object and pitched new and unusual uses for it. Currently, we are looking into visiting a homeless shelter and then discussing or debating the ideas from one of the essays, ‘Million Dollar Murray.’”

Throughout the year, students and faculty have found other ways to incorporate the book’s theme, turning what started as a summer reading assignment into a year-long intellectual discussion about the importance of perspective. Hunter said that three freshman classes took a trip to Dialog in the Dark, an exhibition that forces guests to “see” through the eyes of the visually impaired, using a series of darkened galleries created to replicate everyday experiences. “During that trip students gained a different perspective on everyday life with a visual impairment, encouraging them to be open to ideas and viewpoints other than their own,” explained Hunter.

Not surprisingly, others at OU have found ways to adapt the book as well. The OU Theatre department has plans to modify it for the stage. To be created and performed by students, the play will be presented exclusively at Oglethorpe by special permission of the author on April 12-14, 2012.

What the Dog Saw encourages its readers to think counter-intuitively and to question experiences and the assumptions they make,” said Hunter. “This is exactly what we want our students to do; critical thinking is such a large part of their education and individual development.”

This article first appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of Oglethorpe’s Carillon magazine.