Education: Shaping your station in life

This week’s column reminds me of those grade school writing assignments that asked me to compose an essay on how I spent summer vacation. As I prepared to write this week’s column, I’m torn between fleshing out from scratch a traditional education article and sharing an intriguing academic concept I discovered between the pages of a very old book.


Jayne Matthews Hopson

By the third day of my blended family’s first extended vacation I was nearly ready to panic. The mechanics of getting two teen-aged girls, a husband, a 21-year-old son and myself packed up and ready to travel began to take its toll even before the plane landed in Los Angeles.

After a careful search, I had to accept the fact that the research notes for this week’s column were not inside my carryon bag. This vacation was supposed to be work-free. With my notes I could have finished the article on the flight to California. No notes, no story. However, I wasn’t going to let that spoil my whole trip. I would squeeze out some time to write once I got settled in.

Upon our arrival, we stopped twice to see three sets of relatives before getting into our beds, exhausted. The next morning everyone weighed in on how to best spend the next two weeks. My son wanted to go to Santa Monica for a “new” vintage camera and some old LP’s. The girls wanted to go shopping, first to Rodeo Drive, then to the fashion district and the mall.

My husband, a big baseball fan, planned to see three California teams play, an Angels game, a Dodgers game and a day trip by train to San Diego to watch the Padres battle it out with the Orioles. My perfect vacation day would be hours at the beach doing absolutely nothing other than reading and sipping a cool beverage.

Coordination of these activities proved to be a matter of managing expectations and resources. One rental car shared by five people wanting to go five different places is essentially a test of everyone’s capacity for compromise. I prayed for the wisdom to make good, fair choices for my family. With my deadline fast approaching I also asked for some divine intervention to bless me with a meaningful, thought-provoking idea for this week’s column.

While coordinating and implementing everyone’s vacation wishes remains a work in progress, the inspiration for the column came in a tiny, very old volume of prose titled “Sesame and Lilies” by John Ruskin. Purchased in a second-hand bookstore by my youngest daughter “Sesame and Lilies” was published in 1865. It was at the time considered “a classic nineteenth-century statement on the natures and duties of men and women.”

In its 2002 reprint, Yale University Press describes Ruskins’s ideas and concerns as “widely recognized as having anticipated [today’s] interest in environmentalism and sustainability.” A careful consideration of Ruskin’s words compels the contemporary reader to think more deeply about what we want our schools to do and why. Here is a brief passage that speaks directly to our society’s concept of a good education:

It happens that I have practically some connection with schools for different classes of youth; and I receive many letters from parents respecting the education of their children. In the mass of these letters I am always struck by the precedence, which the idea of a “position in life” takes above all other thoughts in the parents’—more especially in the mothers’—minds.

“The education befitting such and such a station in life”—this is the phrase, this the object, always. They never seek, as far as I can make out, an education good in itself; even the conception of abstract rightness in training rarely seems reached by the writers.

But an education “which shall keep a good coat on my son’s back; —which shall enable him to ring with confidence the visitors’ bell at double-belled doors; which shall result ultimately in establishment of a double-belled door to his own house; —in a word, which shall lead to ‘advancement in life’; —this we pray for on bended knees —and this is all we pray for.”

It never seems to occur to the parents that there may be an education, which, in itself, is advancement in life; — that any other than that may perhaps be advancement in Death; and that this essential education might be more easily got, or given, than they fancy, if they set about it in the right way; while it is for no price, and by no favor, to be got, if they set about it in the wrong.

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes weekly on education matters because “only the educated are free.”

Fred Lazarus IV: Arts Educator Creates a Masterpiece

One of America’s most influential college presidents has announced plans to retire next year. With bold, metaphorical brush strokes Fred Lazarus’ created an academic masterpiece. Under Lazarus’ leadership, the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) has become an internationally recognized creative design center.

Lazarus came to MICA in 1978 after a stint in the Peace Corps. His academic background made him a surprising choice for an art college— he had an MBA and undergraduate degree in economics. Furthermore, the “canvas” for his masterwork posed its own set of challenges. The school’s main buildings were surrounded by several impoverished, crime ridden urban neighborhoods and art schools were falling out of academic favor, as the public’s attention began its shift towards science and technology courses.

Nevertheless, over the next 35 years Lazarus successfully implemented the mission of a small, private art college, and sparked revitalization in a community fallen upon hard times.

MICA’s enrollment has more than doubled; the size of the campus has increased tenfold; the endowment has grown by more than 25 times; three research centers have been created; and seventeen undergraduate and graduate academic programs have been added. The MFA graduate programs are ranked in the top 10, nationally by US News and World Report.

Parade magazine recently promoted MICA’s undergraduate studio arts programs as one of the top two nationwide. Programming instituted by the College in both interdisciplinary study and community and social engagement have sparked international trends in higher education.

“I am very proud of MICA’s international reputation as a place where the most talented artists and designers come to understand and begin to realize their potential as cultural and communication leaders,” Lazarus said. “I have been able to watch gifted young people come in as freshmen, graduate with all of the promise in the world, and then take their places as art and design leaders, business owners, and catalysts for societal change.”

One of the jewels in his professional crown is Artscape, anchored in and around MICA’s sprawling campus.

Drawing crowds of over 350,000, Artscape is the nation’s largest free arts festival with an economic impact of 26 million dollars. The annual event is credited with bolstering Baltimore’s reputation as cultural destination.

Upon the announcement of his retirement the media, politicians and community leaders have been showering Lazarus with well-deserved praise. The Baltimore Sun said, “Maryland Institute College of Art President Fred Lazarus IV is transforming a section of Baltimore through his understanding of the connections among art, education and community development. MICA under his leadership has grown and increased in prominence, but his most permanent contribution to the state may be in the flowering of the Station North Arts District.”

“Lazarus’ leadership has not only helped empower countless cultural organizations, but also strengthened the state’s colleges, arts education in K–12 schools, and even the economy through the thousands of visitors who attend the annual Artscape festival, said Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. “Because of Fred’s legacy, I know that MICA will continue to attract the most creative students to Maryland to learn and eventually become key members of the innovative workforce that makes Maryland unique.”

“My association with Fred goes back to 1978 when I chaired the search committee that selected him as MICA’s president, and it was one of the best decisions in which I ever have participated,” said George L. Bunting, Jr., a long-time MICA Trustee and major benefactor of the College. “His leadership has inspired me, and countless others, to see MICA’s great potential, and to work closely with him in achieving it.”

Founded in 1826, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is the oldest continuously degree-granting college of art and design in the nation. The College enrolls nearly 3,500 undergraduate, graduate and continuing studies students from all 50 states and 57 countries in fine arts, design, electronic media, art education, liberal arts, and professional studies degree and non-credit programs.

Redefining art and design education, MICA is pioneering interdisciplinary approaches to innovation, research and community and social engagement. Alumni and programming reach around the globe, even as MICA remains a cultural cornerstone in the Baltimore/Washington region, hosting hundreds of exhibitions and events annually by

students, faculty and other established artists.

Jayne Matthews Hopson is an education development manager who writes each week about education because “only the educated are free.”