A Bennington Education: Capacities
Central to Bennington’s founding vision is the belief that a dynamic, relevant education is best achieved when students themselves define its direction. We believe that as a result of such purposeful self-reliance students take with them when they graduate not only what they have learned but also how they have learned it.
This process assumes that meaningful learning works best when rooted in a student’s ever-expanding curiosity, rather than being dictated by institutional paths. We believe that when students, in consultation with faculty, design the content, structure, and sequence of their curricula, internal sources of order replace external templates. In this way education prepares students to direct their lives toward the self-fulfillment and constructive social purposes to which the College has long been committed. The core educational structures of the College—such as the Plan process, the Field Work Term, and advising—are continuously reviewed and adapted in support of these aims.
During their time at Bennington, students design their own course of study, taking full advantage of the College’s varied resources both inside and outside of the classroom. Students identify one or more areas of interest that spark their intellectual curiosity and provide a foundation for their academic work. The role of the faculty in the dialogue that points towards the fulfillment of the student’s own goals is to help the students refine, broaden, and deepen both their inquiry and the work they do within it. Education at Bennington is necessarily integrative and holistic: inquiries can be pursued, and Capacities developed, by way of the curriculum, the Field Work Term, and relevant residential and co-curricular experiences.
A Bennington education will demonstrate that a student has developed, through iteration and self-reflection, and in increasingly sophisticated ways, several fundamental Capacities: to construct a course of inquiry; to perform research; to create and revise work; to engage with others; and to communicate their work to the world. Each of these Capacities intertwines with, and builds on, the others.
Throughout their time at Bennington, students will progress in their Capacity to:
As students formulate questions to advance their studies they define and refine a clear line of inquiry that elucidates the unknown while questioning the known. Students learn to assess the breadth and depth of their studies, and to approach question(s) with an open mind. They learn to gauge a scope of work that is feasible in terms of their time, resources, and skill level. This process of inquiry allows them to gain confidence in taking appropriate risks when examining and analyzing relevant issues and questions.
Students expand their knowledge through active, self-determined investigation, learning the steps needed to master a topic, and to distinguish deep research from surface familiarity. They test hypotheses by using methodologies appropriate to their questions and fields, from observing, reading, interviewing, and experimentation, to documenting, prototyping, data mining, and surveying. They gain flexibility and responsiveness, crossing disciplinary boundaries, and allowing multiple perspectives to guide them. Students situate their research within broader cultural and historical contexts, and reach new conclusions, confirm existing theories, or expand on the research of other scholars.
Students make and revise original work, develop new ways of understanding, and engage in generative and critical problem-solving, often in collaboration with others. Creating work requires both imagination and rigor, as well as the willingness to take risks. Revision is understood to be an inherent aspect of the creative process, to make the work the strongest representation of the inquiry and subsequent research underlying its creation.
Students participate in a community of learning, both in the classroom and in the world beyond. In their campus life, students share their work in performances, publications, peer feedback, critiques, presentations, or other mechanisms. Through individual and collaborative experiences inside and outside the classroom, students develop values of respect, empathy, and personal and social responsibility. Shared experiences and explorations, by way of field work, student governance, or public action also connect students to both local and global communities. In strengthening these Capacities, students see that collaboration and community engagement make work that is more than the sum of its parts.
Students learn to express their ideas with clarity and effectiveness, and learn to listen and respond to the voices of others. Communication unites even the most solitary work of thinking, inquiring, investigating, and creating with the outside world, making all work a social act, an act of participation that directs students to a variety of constructive social purposes. Whether a dance or a biological study or a musical composition or an historical analysis, ultimately the student’s work must be shared, communicative, legible, and capable of being received by others.