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Ned Houston says, “For me, education should enlist the many aspects of our intelligence and actively engage us in the living world and our fellow organisms from people to plants. Having said that, however, I also like the John Dewey ‘s comment that nothing is so practical as a good theory.” Houston believes that, in addition to connected practice, we need to develop in students their abilities to build, understand, and judge theories that we use to make sense of the world. Thus, for example, a person needs to actually build fires in the winter to understand both how to do that and to appreciate what a good fire, well-made in short time can mean. But practice, he says, can be greatly shortened and enhanced by understanding the theory behind good fires—airflow, ignition temperature of various materials, how the split logs efficiently, etc. Understanding good theory and its implementation allows for generalization of education which of course is necessary since so much new knowledge is being created and so many new situations face us in this era of rapid change. Thus, Winter Expedition has the potential to teach students how to cope successfully with adverse conditions and challenges that look nothing like winter in Vermont but have everything to do with having goals, working together, being organized, practicing personal skills, not giving up, and taking calculated risks.
The past thirty-four years of Houston’s work have been an on-going team project of creating and sustaining a college that exemplifies the ideals about education and living that bring out the best in people. His own higher education was both rigorous and conventional with a great emphasis on formal academics. “To be sure, I learned a great deal that stands me in good stead,” he says, “but I have realized that much powerful learning in my life happened in ways and settings not recognized by the formal curriculum.”
In particular, throughout his life, Houston has found great joy in designing and building things, in taking a project from an idea to full, physical realization. The imagining—the abstract, intellectual process—was always part of his formal education; the actual doing all too often was not. He says, “For me, the doing informs the imagining, and to engage in one without the other is to miss the power of integrated learning. The curriculum at Sterling College is distinguished by its commitment to such integrated learning, and that commitment drew me to Sterling back in 1978 and has kept me here as we have developed from a one-year certificate program to a four-year bachelor’s degree college.”
Houston’s jobs at Sterling have included a full range of administrative positions (everything except the Business Office, even a short stint as interim president) but have always included significant teaching responsibilities. He has worked in the outdoors teaching climbing, paddling, and other Bounder activities. Indoors, he has taught literature, inter-disciplinary courses such as Humans in the Environment and Intercultural Studies, courses that focus on public land management and agricultural policy, and integrative courses such as senior seminars that aim at broad linkages across disciplines.
“I love the outdoors, climbing in particular,” he says, “a love I can share as part of my work.” Houston and his wife have run a small livestock operation which gives them direct insight into the realities of farming. They live in a solar/wood heated home that they designed and built next to Sterling’s property. Much as they love to travel, and they have been fortunate to spend quite a bit of time in the backcountry out West, we always value coming home to Craftsbury and to Sterling.
M.A. in Social Ecology, Goddard College, 1980
A.B. Harvard University, Visual & Environmental Studies, 1970