James Chandler, director of the Franke Institute for the Humanities at the University, shared his passion for learning with students and faculty on Thursday at Rockefeller Chapel’s Interreligious Center. The talk was part of the Chapel’s ongoing lecture series “What Matters to Me and Why,” which hosts speakers from the University’s faculty and student body.
Learning, Chandler explained, is an active process: “It is not about being learned, or erudite,” but about being continually challenged, he said. “The object of learning should be an area that opens horizons as you progress along it, rather than one with a definite ceiling.”
Chandler emphasized the importance of distributing opportunities for learning in society, in a discussion of his own childhood “in a Soprano-like culture in New Jersey” and his experiences as an inner-city high-school teacher in south Boston.
“I knew people with extraordinary capability, but—for whatever reason—didn’t have the chance to exercise them at full capacity. Because they were stuck below their potential they ended up twisting their own abilities, perverting them down the line,” he said.
He expressed gratitude to his friends for motivating him to fulfill his own potential. Chandler recalled that during his time as a school teacher, he would come home and spend eight hours a night “studying, reading, writing poetry, and basically acting like an English graduate student.”
“I would’ve kept drifting along if they hadn’t noticed and pushed me to go ahead and apply for graduate school,” he said.
Chandler also highlighted the University’s unique community of learning for students and teachers alike. He focused on the College’s humanities and social sciences Core, praising the open discussion format while pointing out the weakness of a less structured teacher-student relationship.
“There is a definite excitement amongst the faculty when we meet to discuss the Core, although sometimes I feel we can be a little selfish in our own learning. We tend to concentrate on what we can learn from the students rather than provide a structured ‘Introduction to X’ type class you see in so many other universities,” he said.
Chandler still practices his mantra of active learning. He is currently taking Berthold Heckner’s music analysis class and said that he now enjoys opera like he never has before. He recently attended a performance of Rossini’s Barber of Seville.
Smiling, he said assuredly: “I’m definitely happiest when I’m learning.”