Category: personal stuff

Education without University

I graduated from university this past August, but I’m still uncertain what to make of the experience. As I’ve indicated elsewhere, I certainly did not receive an education, even if one limits my courses to my own major (Literature). Despite receiving a good grasp of English-language literature from about 1850 on, my school didn’t even offer many classes beyond that. No classes at all on Greek or Roman literature (in fact, there’s no classicist on the faculty), no classes on Medieval or Renaissance literature (except Dante and Shakespeare), and few on non-English language literature.

Fundamentally, I struggle to see any guiding philosophy behind the school I attended, and the same problem seems to extend to most American colleges. What is the university’s goal? What should its graduates look like? What are they expected to know by the time they graduate, and why? Though a core curriculum existed, the arrangement of courses seemed arbitrary, and despite attending a university that claimed to emphasise interdisciplinary studies, I saw no attempt to link one field with another.

Though American education suffers from many problems, I suspect that most schools could address them first by simply deciding on their first principles; essentially, deciding what a newly graduated student should look like. Should technical expertise take priority? Or should they favour a more traditional approach and emphasise a liberal education?

The latter may be impossible in the climate of most schools, with their emphasis on diversity. Though it should be obvious that DI-versity is opposite to UNI-versity, most schools I’ve looked at proudly advertise their diverse studentry and multicultural approach to education. Though non-western cultures certainly have much to teach, nonetheless the United States arose out of Western European culture, so an American university that claims to value a liberal education, which cultivates the student’s character by learning from what’s best from the past, must emphasise the West.

Most colleges, though, are essentially technical or vocational schools. Thus, fields that have little to no relation to cultural matters, like business, accounting, or engineering, receive just as much of the university’s attention as traditionally liberal subjects like philosophy or natural science. There’s nothing wrong with teaching these fields, of course, but they have no place in a university devoted to liberal education. Students studying, say, finance, feel that an arbitrary assortment of history or art courses have no bearing on their major. They’re right, of course, because to profit from the study of history or art requires some depth of study, not just a couple introductory-level courses, which on their own become little more than an exercise in futility.

So, where does that leave students? Those looking to learn technical skills do learn them, though I often hear that graduates learn much more from actual working experience. As for those, like me, who look for a liberal education, are left largely on our own. Again, my classes weren’t completely useless, but large gaps remain, and I think I’m beginning to understand what Ezra Pound meant when he referred to ‘young men threatened by university.’ The real draw for university, I think, is the presence of professors who can direct students to the best of Western civilisation, and the students must then take it on themselves to learn from that. So, I’ve started with Ezra Pound, recommended by one of my better professors, and working from his suggestions (mostly in his ABC of Reading). Beyond that, for now I’ll just have to stumble about the library, I suppose.…

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Summer Reading List 2010

I wonder a bit at the utility of making a Summer Reading List. Last year, though I read a lot, what I read only about half resembled the list. Perhaps such an activity is less about a plan than a general goal: “I want to read roughly this amount, and what I read will likely include several of the following.”

Alternatively, making lists is just fun. So, here goes.

Paradiso – Dante (trans. Allen Mandelbaum). I’ve already started this one, actually. Having finished and greatly enjoyed Inferno and Purgatorio, Paradiso is obligatory. Reading a parallel-text edition only makes it more fun.

Spring Snow – Yukio Mishima (trans. ┬áMichael Gallagher).

The Cantos – Ezra Pound.

The Pillow Book – Sei Shounagon (trans. Ivan Morris).

Caritas in Veritate – Pope Benedict XVI. Actually, I intend to read several papal encyclicals, but this is the largest of them, and my highest priority.

A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy – ed. Wing-Tsit Chan. I’m mostly interested in the Confucians, but it should be an enjoyable book.

I also plan on reading several comics, but I tend to choose those even more arbitrarily than prose. Series I’ve already started and will finish, though, include Masami Tsuda’s Kare Kano, and Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack and Ode to Kirihito.…

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Semester in Review

Well, what a semester; I say ‘what a semester’ mostly because of a month of near-constant panic due to a flurry of closely-packed assignments, but I’m even more anxious now that the year’s almost over. Now that I’m halfway through Senior year, people are asking what I’ll do after graduation and actually expecting a definite answer. Like my senior year of high school four years ago, in fact.

Fuck if I know what I’m doing, though.

I don’t really feel called to any particular vocation, but am attracted to teaching at the university level. That entails graduate school, though, probably a Ph.D., which is fine, but where do I go for that? Besides, it’s too late to apply now for the next academic year, so I’ll have to take at least one semester off. That’s fine too, but most schools also want letters of recommendation, and I haven’t really bothered to brown-nose my professors that much. I haven’t gotten any help from my advisors, either.

That whined, though, I guess my anxiety is ultimately, as Led Zeppelin put it, “Nobody’s Fault but Mine.”

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Summer and Summer Reading

Finals are done. With that, summer begins.

I subscribe to the school of thought that states that spring, fall, and winter all properly belong to school. Summer, however, has a sacredness about it that is profaned by classes. Summer classes are, frankly, an abomination, and though I realise that they are necessary for some, I have only scorn for those who would destroy their summer vacation willingly.

Not that my summer will be completely free, of course. Besides a part-time job and mowing the lawn regularly, I have also a few goals set out for myself. The first is to build up my art skills a bit for a drawing class I’ll take in the fall. Second is to avoiding forgetting everything I’ve learned in Japanese the last two semesters. The third is to tackle a summer reading programme I’ve developed for myself – perhaps “programme” is too ambitious, but anyway it’s a list of what I’d like to read in the coming months. The early version looks like this:

Absolom, Absolom! – William Faulkner (just finished, actually)

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young DogDylan Thomas

Rashomon and Seventeen Other StoriesRyunosuke Akutagawa

Literary Essays of Ezra Pound Ezra Pound

All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque

Mencius

In the past, I’ve failed at summer reading lists, because I always get distracted by other projects or other books. Maybe this year will be different?…

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Junior-year Reflections

I am wrapping up my third year of university, and am consequently in a reflective mood regarding my collegiate experience so far. Looking back on the classes I’ve taken, I cannot help but be amazed at what a waste most of them are.

Now, it is better to know something than not know it, and there is much to be said about a broad-based education, but nonetheless of the thirty or so classes I have taken through this semester, only a handful are at all related to my field of study. Even including those, the classes that were worth the effort (and money) involved I could count on one hand.

The reason is not something I can quite define. One problem lies in the number of “Core Curriculum” classes, which seem overly numerous. Another is the fact that, as a secular school, there is no common foundation from which to teach.

Perhaps a fundamental difficulty lies in the purpose of the university system. An especially honest professor of mine, expanding on a point made by Ezra Pound, pointed out that the university’s purpose is not education – one can educate oneself as well as the school. Rather, the purpose is accreditation – which is something else entirely. Much like primary and secondary education, university does not exist to teach students how to think critically or approach difficulties, but instead they ensure the student (customer?) possesses enough knowledge (separate from wisdom or understanding) that they can be given a diploma with which the student can prove the fact to prospective employers – employment, not education, being the ultimate goal of most students.

The root problem, I suppose, is cultural. Education in itself is not valued as highly as good employment. What once were universities, then, become technical schools to train students in practical skills for the end of finding a job. How this is to be reversed, I do not know. Probably it should begin in a change of attitude on the part of the students and professors.

For the time being, I am mostly just thankful that I received scholarship money and thus did not have to pay too much for my accreditation. Unfortunately, I will have to pay for others in the form of taxes to pay for government-sponsored scholarship programmes.…

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Going Back

Classes begin anew in three days. I’ll be starting the semester off right, too – a quiz in my first class on my first day back. It’s the second semester of a foreign-language class and the instructor wants to make sure we all meet the minimum requirements.

I’ve never flunked out of a class on the first day, but there’s a first time for everything!…

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Bad Assignments File

A post for the “Ridiculous Assignments” file.

In the creative writing class I’m currently taking, our final project is to take a piece we’ve written during the semester, and translate it into a different medium.

In other words, for a creative writing class, the most important assignment of the year is to create something, anything, except what this course is supposed to be about. That’s great.

Theoretically, the purpose of this assignment is to… I suppose help me better understand my original piece by translating it to something else. However, I’m in this class to learn to write, and this assignment is, at best, only tangentially related.…

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Summer’s End

Ladies and gentlemen, my eyes have lost the glimmer of youth.

For me, the betrayal of my childhood has been a slow process, one that began in high school when I took a part-time job. Income leads to money, which leads to responsibility like paying for one’s own entertainment, in addition to gas money.

The second event that led to the end of my childhood was college. Now, that’s an external force, not treason, and in any case is only dangerous in combination with other forces. In my case, getting to school requires a car, which in turn requires I keep that part-time job. Between school and work, I no longer have any hobbies. That’s what it feels like, anyway.
So, the only time left for being childlike (or childish) for extended periods is summer vacation, and that is where the final blow has been struck by a summer class.

Now, summer is supposed to be a time for doing nothing, but instead I’m taking exams, reading textbooks, and, as mentioned previously, writing critiques. My summer is a season of drudgery!

Man, that post was depressing. I’m sorry for being so out-of-character. Here, have a Jill sandwich (NSFW) to cheer you up.…

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On Critiquing Live Music

So, right now I’m trying to write a critique of a live concert by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra for a class I’m taking.

The problem is, all I can really say about it is that I enjoyed it, though it suffered from some problems to be expected from an outdoor concert. Somewhat unclear sound, sirens from a passing fire engine, and some other miscellaneous distractions. However, I made the critical mistake of not taking notes at the concert. Even driving home from the event, I could scarecly have said much about the early pieces performed (out of seven or so total). Since I got home a bit late and had to wake up early the next morning, I made another mistake in not writing anything down before going to bed.

Lesson learned for the next assignment, though.…

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