Meg Mott delivers the valedictionWords of farewell: What words have fared thee well during your 21st Century Education? Here are some words I have heard stated with great import. Some of which were paddled by my own tongue: intersectionality; neoliberalism; colonialism; patriarchy; micro-aggression; hyper-masculinity

These are world-shaping words, concepts powerful enough to rearrange your universe, to make vague things clear, and hidden forces identifiable. Lord knows we need some certainty in this chaotic and confusing century.

But as someone who studies the history of ideas, who looks at how concepts turn into ideologies and ideologies into intolerance, I urge you to handle these emancipatory exhortations with care. As one famous undergraduate said to his sparring buddy, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy.” (For you Shakespeare scholars, know that I’m quoting the 1623 folio. Hamlet became less self-reflective with revision.)=

Concepts, Hamlet warns, may shine so brightly that they blind us to the existence of the myriad things that lie just beyond the boundaries of our philosophy du jour. Instead of taking in a rich diversity of ideas, we only acknowledge those things that fit our pattern of truth. We act like the producers of corn-based ethanol who plow every inch of field at the expense of wasps, wildflowers, and other mysterious things.

So, dear friends, my parting words are to wear your education lightly. Don’t let these concepts enslave you. We have given you world-changing words to help you see patterns of power. Don’t let those patterns deny you the promise of potential. From time to time, step away from the artifacts of a 21st century curriculum and look for the things in heaven and earth of which our current philosophy cannot dream. Be delighted by counter-examples. Be open to heresies. We do not yet know what this world can do.