Bringing It

Bringing It #80: A New Chapter for Bringing Theory to Practice: Announcing the Paradigm Project

February 16, 2022

Dear friends, 

With this letter, we bring you important and exciting news. Bringing Theory to Practice is announcing the launch of an ambitious multiyear initiative, the Paradigm Project. The project will work to develop new models of holistic, inclusive, engaged learning and to catalyze systemic change—not simply piecemeal innovation—across higher education. It is the result of many months of reflection, consultation with our Advisory Board and others, and staff planning; and it is enabled by generous support from The Endeavor Foundation, including a new three-year grant of $1.5 million. We are thrilled to undertake this new chapter of BT2P’s work. We hope you will join us, and we invite you to share this message or our press announcement with others who may be interested.

The Paradigm Project emerged in response to the current moment of turmoil and transformation in higher education. We’ve written often about the intersecting crises of the past two years—the pandemic, its material and emotional damage, the endemic harms of white supremacy, the rise of political polarization and conspiracism—and the ways these crises amplified longstanding problems in the academy. At the same time, we have sought in our grants, podcasts, and these letters to lift up the reality of positive innovation across higher education. Everywhere there are beachheads of change that point the way forward, but they remain too often disconnected from each other.

It was this context—turmoil and exhaustion, resilience and creativity, inspiring but fragmentary change—that sparked the Paradigm Project. How might we move beyond the significant but piecemeal innovations that BT2P and many other change-makers (including many of you) have advanced? How might we contribute to more holistic, inclusive models of the college experience, one that supports all students and all teachers as whole people in institutions that are themselves holistic, collaborative with one another, and fully engaged with the needs and strengths of their communities? Could we meet the moment by working to catalyze a movement for systemic change?

The Paradigm Project will aim to answer these questions by braiding together three efforts:

  • Advancing integrative and inclusive design that turns the siloes and partial innovations of the typical undergraduate experience into models of a new whole, one that is greater than the sum of its parts and that equitably welcomes and nurtures all students.
  • Building a powerful movement that mobilizes faculty, staff, students, alums, and others to advocate for such change and engages decision-makers who have the power to realize or thwart it.
  • Shifting the public narrative toward a vision of the personal, social, and civic purposes of higher education, one that includes but embraces more than completion rates and economic returns, the dominant themes of the current national conversation.

We envision this weave of activity—integrative design, movement-building, and public narrative change—constituting the lion’s share of BT2P’s work over the next six to seven years. It will involve, we hope, a wide array of working groups and community networks. It will include field scans that harvest existing innovations from across higher ed; design labs that evolve new ideas about curriculum, pedagogy, and institutional organization; and publications and media where these ideas and the values underlying them can be distilled, debated, and publicized. Here is our Paradigm Project Overview, which summarizes this initiative’s rationale, strategy, and plan of action.

It’s a big undertaking, and given the magnitude of the challenge, it may seem to some an overreach. We know that the goal of systemic change depends on a broad, inclusive coalition of educators, institutions, students, alums, educational and public leaders, and others; it will need the expertise, energy, and creativity of change-makers in such areas as racial justice, civic engagement, student well-being, curriculum and pedagogy, institutional leadership, and educational policy.

We are fortunate to have the generosity—material and intellectual—of The Endeavor Foundation. The foundation has long supported Bringing Theory to Practice; its commitment to liberal education and the interconnection of liberal learning, democracy, and human well-being is inspiring. We are grateful that Endeavor has entrusted BT2P with the resources to launch this effort. We are fortunate too that here at Elon University, we have a campus home so resonant with our values and aspirations. And we are fortunate in the community of educators and change-makers with whom we have worked over the years. This project will need your expertise, energy, and creativity. We hope you will be interested in taking part.

As we said, it’s a big undertaking, and success is by no means guaranteed. Yet however daunting the stakes, we believe that this is the moment to take on the project of systemic change on behalf of the core purposes of education. Big change is coming to higher ed, one way or the other. The need to make it positive change is urgent.

You can read more about The Endeavor Foundation grant in this public announcement and more about the project itself in this Paradigm Project Overview. If you would like to learn more or express interest in getting involved, please reach out to David at [email protected]. To stay up to date on our work, make sure to sign-up for our mailing list.

With many thanks for all you do,
David, Gianna, Kelly, and Todd