The Marketplace of Ideas

October 29th, 2015

Seminal Readings is an Academy-wide reading and discussion exercise undertaken once in each of the three terms at ALA. It is a time the community (students and Staffulty) gathers to discuss issues of universal importance. This post is one person’s perspective of what the week-long exercise means to him and why it is such an important exercise to participate in.

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One of my favourite parts of Seminal Readings week is the walk along the corridor at 10:05 am. I deliberately slow down my gait and my tune my ears to listen to the conversations around me. Invariably, students and staff are animated – still discussing the lingering questions and resonant ideas from that morning’s session.

This morning, students Takunda Ushe (Zimbabwe) and Mously Fall (Senegal) stopped in the middle of the walkway and asked when the revolution for the economic liberation of African continent will happen. Who will stage it and how will it unfold? Maida Thabit (Tanzania) and Tsega Seleshi (Ethiopia) sat on a grassy knoll and imagined what an African modeled after the European Union would look like. When I got back to the faculty offices, I found educator from Ghana, Cameroon, South Africa and Slovakia respectively, debating the politics of immigration in a pan-African open-labour market.

This is the tenor of Seminal Readings. The campus comes alive with conversation and debate. People are thinking about important questions and ideas that matter.  They are thinking about these ideas as a collective: sharing, probing and refining. The campus turns into a vibrant marketplace of ideas.

Seminal Reading

We are all on a quest for a greater truth. We want to become more critical and conscious citizens. We use the texts to sharpen our minds. We engage with each other to develop the best ideas possible.  In doing so, we are more empowered in our mission to craft a more peaceful and prosperous continent, and world.

Seminal Reading creates this marketplace by breaking down the traditional constructs of what school is and what learning looks like. First, we break down the barriers and silos schools can create. Your work can often feel individualistic  – be it an exam you have to study for, or a lesson you have to plan. You exist primarily in the world of mathematics, in or in the realm of science labs. Here, a Math teacher and a Humanities teacher work together to facilitate a critical discussion on Wangari Maathai’s vision for peace. The traditional barriers of disciplines are broken down and we become a community of learners.

Secondly, teachers are facilitators. We don’t claim to hold a monopoly on the wisdom. We merely guide discussion and ask questions in Socratic style. Paolo  Freire describes this kind of environment as one in which the teacher becomes a “teacher-student” – ever ready to learn, and the students becomes student-teachers, active, empowered learners ready to share with, and teach the community. We “become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow” (Cahn, 461).

It is these active and empowered learners that you will hear in the hallways on sunny mornings, talking revolution or pan-Africanism. Their voices and their passion inspire. That’s why it worth taking a few minutes while in the marketplace to pause and listen.

marketplace of ideas

About the author: Mopati Morake is from Botswana and he is a member of the Writing & Rhetoric faculty at ALA. Read his profile here.