Practice in Excellence
I have long been fascinated by people who have regular practices. As a magician, Larry spends a lot of time on practicing. He runs through basic sleights, vocal exercises, and script rehearsal on a regular basis. My work doesn’t require that kind of basic skill review, so I am always a little bit in awe of his dedication and willingness to plan time every day for a return to “beginner mind.”
But in the past year, I have come to have a practice of my own. Although I have taken yoga classes for many years, by committing to a daily yoga routine (in my case inspired by the Ashtanga yoga tradition), yoga has evolved from something that I happen to do into a genuine practice.
For me with my yoga, and for Larry with his skill drills, something more emerges in a practice than simply improvement or meeting a challenge. A practice requires that we make it a habit and approach it in a regimented and scheduled way—we have to practice regularly, in other words. But it also requires that we bring a certain kind of devotional attention to our actions, a focus on the process as well as the result. We bring our full selves to the work and stop seeing it as something that only our hands or our bodies do. We return from these sessions not only more limber or controlled but also spiritually and emotionally refreshed. Habit, attention, process, challenge—these are the cornerstones of having a practice.
The patient attention to the process of learning is an old virtue—and some might say it is an old-fashioned one. Technology has speeded our access to information; can’t it speed up our access to knowledge and perhaps even to wisdom? Well, as we know at Austin College, some things can’t be rushed. Critical thought sometimes requires soaking in a vat of ideas. Good solutions arrive on their own timeline and after relentless digging into the problem.
That is why we look forward to adopting and adapting new technologies into the Austin College experience. We are excited to bring Sal Kahn, founder of the Kahn Academy, to campus (see page 7) to hear how he created unprecedented access to basic skills by providing free online teaching materials to tutors, teachers, and students. And it is why members of our Humanities faculty have recently begun a digital initiative exploring ways that digital archives and communication media can enhance learning in languages, literature, and other fields.
But our passion for the deep work of learning is also why technology only can enhance—and not replace—our face-to-face, high-touch, hands-on methods of teaching and learning.
On campus we continue the practice of bringing out the best in our students. You can read in this magazine about experiences of students in international study and service. Students in multiple disciplines are involved in research and a record number of our students are presenting work at professional conferences this year. Even now, students are thinking about January Term adventures awaiting them—adventures that may include the sorts of life-changing perspectives that many of you have shared with me.
Thank you for the investment you make in our students. Austin College could not continue without the love and support of our alumni and friends. Reaching out to give a hand up to a Kangaroo, confident that the chain of support will be passed on to the next generation—that is our way. Our challenges are many, and the struggle to preserve both academic excellence and access for students of modest means continues. But we are facing these questions head on and in a spirit of commitment to our core values.
May you continue this holiday season with peace and joy in your heart.
Marjorie Hass, President