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Posted: Sep 22, 2015

Thinking about ‘interdisciplinarity’ as a way of life

College Connection

In life, everything is interconnected.

One might use knowledge one learned in math class and English class in order to solve a problem in the grocery store. Not everything is divided up into neat sections in the world outside classrooms. Because of that simple truth, the University of Maine at Augusta’s academic theme for this year—Interdisciplinarity—is a valuable concept to focus on.

Interdisciplinarity, as defined on UMA’s website, is “the quality or state of involving more than one discipline” or “the quality or fact of involving or drawing on two or more branches of knowledge.”

For education, this means that a person can combine knowledge from more than one branch of study in order to create a more rich understanding of a subject. Combining the study of English and the study of justice can make one a more articulate advocate; studying biology and political science can help one to apply accurate information when affecting public policy. The combinations — and therefore the possibilities — are endless with interdisciplinarity.

But, as is befitting of the concept, it doesn’t just apply to academia. The principles of interdisciplinarity can be used in other settings as well.

A few weeks ago, Dean Greg Fahy wrote a blog post about the debates around Maine’s concealed carry laws, and how stunted the discussions are. While his point that anecdotal evidence isn’t helping the debates any is important and true, another culprit is serving to stunt arguments. Part of the concept of interdisciplinarity is an openness to various points of view. Many debates, such as debates around gun laws, happen between people from different backgrounds and value systems. A hunter in Maine is going to have a vastly different cultural understanding of a gun and what it is for than someone who has never seen a firearm in their life. Each of these experience are their own type of discipline. If each side of the debate was willing to engage with the other in a real way, each individual’s understanding of the issue would become richer and more comprehensive.

To extend this metaphor even further, discussions would be more productive if people were willing to self-direct their education outside of their “disciplines.” Staying within one’s bubble of opinions is far too easy; searching out dissenting opinions and truly listening to them is much harder. The more we push ourselves to search out people who disagree with us and truly give their opinions a chance, the more we will have a deeper understanding of the world around us.

No one has all the answers; each one of us has a different set of experiences and lenses through which we view the world. However, the more we can share the knowledge we have — the more we engage in interdisciplinarity — the better equipped each of us will be as individuals.

 

 

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