We live in an age of deliverance, where conditions of ‘efficiency’, ‘speed’, ‘multitasking’, ‘adaptability’, ‘relationality’, have become defining templates of our lives – personal and organizational. Under such conditions, the norm of ‘should’ has given way to the elasticity of ‘can’, emphasising the immense possibility of personhood through its agentive and transformative skills. This new human, driven by the logic of ‘can’ and the consequent exponential performance, is thus faced with a pedagogical crisis of creative balance, what the ancient Greek philosophers saw as ‘harmony’ while essentializing its importance in one’s life.
As the world becomes more digitalized, rendering more centralized speed, new epistemes of life skills need to be incorporated into the terrains of higher education pedagogy, a pedagogy, which could lay equal emphasis on the potentiality and actuality of learners, while simultaneously ushering importance of mental health and will power. After all, the potentiality and actuality of learners depend on good mental health and creative shock-absorbers. According to a recent WHO data, around 20 percent of the world population suffers from mental health issues. Hence, we need to ensure that the speed of the human world’s progress does not result in a disconnected life.
Consequently, the philosophical ethos of liberal arts education with multidisciplinary underpinnings and the imminent relational outlook can be highly useful to nourish and prepare learners for uncertain future times. Building on the multidisciplinary approach of liberal arts pedagogy, learners can be taught ways to align the seemingly unseeming disciplines, wedded as it is to the practice of civic engagement in humanistic ways. Admittedly, a demonstrated discipline by learners to train their multiple senses for the well-being of larger society is the final purpose of any knowledge.
This also reflects the art of living with the rampant changes happening around. If one can demonstrate the multiple visions to connect with the disconnected surrounding, society, organizations, and world, in ways that are meaningful and enabling to these sociological structures, then one has definitely learned the art of living with the unliveable, although in empowering ways, with a renewed skill to locate and remove any existing ‘constraint(s)’ – to use a term by Prabhu Kumar Aggarwal, Bennett University – in life and surroundings. Likewise, the famous Greek stoic, Marcus Aurelius, offers a prescriptive method to such constraints, when he says, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” To further advance the argument by Prabhu Kumar Aggarwal, when one has the freedom to be not limited by a categorical choice, what attains greater significance is the action taken by an individual to move towards the goal. The ability to identify a constraint and resolve it from multiple positions is a civic skill. In the same way, if learners get an opportunity to be introduced to multiple disciplines of liberal arts, they can learn new ways of cultivating a humanistic approach to domains of science, technology, law, management, and others.
That said, the vibrations of the multidisciplinary outlook of liberal arts can be effective in striking balance. Such a multidisciplinary learning method can render one the ability to have an ‘aerial view’ – a term that I borrow from Sudhanshu Verma, Bennett University – without losing the importance of understanding multiple reasons for a singular problem. Amidst all the turbulence of this rapidly transforming world, higher education pedagogies must foreground methods to strengthen learners’ willpower, mental health, resilient skills, and decision-making not limiting their growth to matters of chance or destiny but grounded in everyday experiences of multidisciplinary training of liberal arts education. These skills are inherently embedded within the true philosophy of liberal arts education, and its pedagogical training can surely improvise ways to perform relationally in the age of speed.
*Om Prakash Dwivedi is Associate Professor of English Literature, Head School of Liberal Arts, Bennett University, Greater Noida. He is the Vice-Chair of the international research network, Challenging Precarity. He tweets @opdwivedi82