I like the new WordPress 3.8. I live in Kansas City so Charlie Parker has some significance for me. Now, that I have “Parker” everything is up to date in Kansas City.
Mom, friends, educators, students: We don’t have to assign papers, and we should stop. We need to admit that the required-course college essay is a failure. The baccalaureate is the new high-school diploma: abjectly necessary for any decent job in the cosmos. As such, students and their parents view college as professional training, an unpleasant necessity en route to that all-important “piece of paper.” Today’s vocationally minded students view World Lit 101 as forced labor, an utter waste of their time that deserves neither engagement nor effort. So you know what else is a waste of time? Grading these students’ effing papers. It’s time to declare unconditional defeat.
Most students enter college barely able to string three sentences together—and they leave it that way, too. With protracted effort and a rhapsodically engaged instructor, some may learn to craft a clunky but competent essay somewhere along the way. But who cares? My fellow humanists insist valiantly that (among other more elevated reasons) writing humanities papers leads to the crafting of sharp argumentative skills, and thus a lifetime of success in a number of fields in which we have no relevant experience. But my friends who actually work in such fields assure me that most of their colleagues are borderline-illiterate. After all, Mark Zuckerberg’s pre-Facebook Friendster profile bragged “i don’t read” (sic), and look at him. — MORE —
A long time ago I used to sit and grade “essays” in English comp. I looked forward to reading the work of maybe 10% of my students. Then there were the ones with promise and commensurate willingness to improve. They were welcome challenges. The rest I dreaded. As a teaching assistant I dreaded the rest of the hopeless ones. But I slogged on through twenty or so papers because I believed that English composition was important and fundamental to making logical minds. The ability to write even the five paragraph essay, an extended definition or a cause-effect exposition seemed important to preserve civility and good citizenship in a democratic republic. How can you vote if you don’t know when a politician bombards you with oversimplified causes and argumentum ad hominem.
Truth is you know and “argument to the man” when someone attacks the person instead of his mistaken ideas. It seems natural to know it. Who cares what it’s called?
I do, but that is me. I also believe life is richer having read a little Shakespeare. In the case of The Bard, I have no doubt that millions can live beautiful, productive lives without ever having met Hamlet. My thing is not for everyone.
I have also known high school friends who never darkened an English professor’s office and can apply fine logic to life and letters. It seems a natural act to sense the illogical. Or they had excellent high school teachers.
At the same time it is a very sad day when college students debunk the essay and surf the Internet to plagiarize and thus circumvent essential mental discipline. But I guess no one misses what he has never known — the delight of learning, often just for the hell of it.
“I still teach, and do so with a veteran’s pride in what I know and what I hope I can give. My classrooms are, I hope, bright and sunny places where we can spend good time with Joyce’s Ulysses or Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. But I know what some of my students sense, that what we do now faces an array of problems, any one of which might prove surmountable, but which together amount to an enervating spectacle. Fewer and fewer undergraduates are showing up in classrooms, mine and everyone else’s; the pleasure of undergraduate reading is everywhere blighted by worries about money and career; university administrators are more likely to classify “literary types” as budgetary liabilities than as assets; the disciplines we teach are in a free fall, as ideology, ethnicity, theory, gender, sexuality, and old-fashioned “close reading” spin away from any center of professional consensus about joint purposes; and the youngest would-be professionals, shrinking in number, stare at diminished job prospects.
It would be a pleasure to map a way out of this academic dead end. First, several of my colleagues around the country have called for a return to the aesthetic wellsprings of literature, the rock-solid fact, often neglected, that it can indeed amuse, delight, and educate. They urge the teaching of English, or French, or Russian literature, and the like, in terms of the intrinsic value of the works themselves, in all their range and multiplicity, as well-crafted and appealing artifacts of human wisdom. Second, we should redefine our own standards for granting tenure, placing more emphasis on the classroom and less on published research, and we should prepare to contest our decisions with administrators whose science-based model is not an appropriate means of evaluation. Released from the obligation to deliver research results in the form of little-read monographs and articles, humanists could then resolve to spend their time teaching what they love to students glad to learn. If they wanted to publish, they could do so—at almost no cost—on the Internet, and like-minded colleagues could rapidly share the results of such research and speculation. Most important, the luxury of reading could be welcomed back. I want to believe in what they say.
I have also wanted to believe that English and American literature constitutes a subject of study that is historically coherent and shaped by the intrinsic design of its own making. The causes giving it that shape can be analyzed, as can the merit and integrity of each of the achievements within it. And students, without whose energetic presence the study will wither, can be attracted to an activity—partly aesthetic and partly detective-like—in which they can participate along with teachers who bring enthusiasm to the work at hand. Like young scientists teaming together with older scientists at the same workbench, they can be made to feel that what they are doing makes sense, is shared by others, and will result in knowledge worth having. Perhaps they, the youngest generation, can labor with their teachers in putting together the house that has forfeited its sense of order. If they do, they can graduate with the knowledge that they possess something: a fundamental awareness of how a certain powerful literature was created over time, how its parts fit together, and how the process of creation has been renewed and changed through the centuries.
Some of their detective work could involve topics of great current interest—the role of race or gender or sexuality in the making of a work. But the focus would or should be on the books, not on the theories they can be made to support. English departments need not refight the Western culture wars. But they need to fight their own book wars. They must agree on which texts to teach and argue out the choices and the principles of making them if they are to claim the respect due a department of study.” — more —
My time in graduate school and the “profession of English literature” ended in 1973 — during the peak years of English departments. I had left business. At three universities I made up an English major, earned my M.A., and completed course work for the Ph.D. (See “Ph.D. -R.I.P” ) in The Tortoise Factor. I have not found a better summary of the context of my days in the humanities than Chace’s essay — nor the passion of a more committed professor. So much of what he says, I felt in those days — particularly the degradation of the teaching of English composition. Over forty years there has been no appreciable change in the “profession of English.” Something precious is being lost with the decline of the humanities in the University —, much of it explainable in the passage of time for the reasons Chace cites. But much of it is due to the dereliction of duty by a self-serving profession that let the precious slide away. Even a Graduate Teaching Assistant could see it then and many of us did. There were of course a few like Professor Chace. I just never met any.
I will just refer to the film, “The Paper Chase” to capture the essence of the time and Chace’s essay. Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr., a law professor played by John Houseman told his first year law students, “You teach yourselves the law, but I train your minds. You come in here with a skull full of mush and ; if you survive, leave, thinking like a lawyer.”
In all those six years as a striker in the “profession of English literature,” I never heard nor met a professor who felt any obligation to train the mind. They were dedicated to their own minds and careers. There was no effort to teach or even mentor “thinking like a professor.” And, of course, there was nothing like the bar exam for assessing one’s knowledge in breadth and depth. But then the law is a profession. Undoubtedly we were expected to teach ourselves literature and criticism. Indeed, it was sink or swim. And every teacher had his own swimming pool. The Sixties and Seventies were anarchic. Many of our heads were full of mush; indeed, it was the style. Universities could not control it all. There was no center to hold. There still isn’t. Thank you Professor Chace.
“Halfway through my sixth decade, I’ve made a wonderful discovery about aging: You get to keep growing.” — more —
via Life in the Middle Ages: A New Blog by Connie Schultz. C. Tobin Tortoise approves and recommends this blog — especially to those who often think life ends before death or those who fall into despondency.
“That’s how you think and act like a marketer. When serendipity presents you with an opportunity you capitalize on it. And when serendipity doesn’t present you with an opportunity, you create it.” —more—
This article covers far more than “marketing for lawyers.” Whatever a person’s business or profession these days we all must be personal marketers. Here is a bit of wisdom from an analogue world of pressing the flesh. These days we hear much about SEO(search engine optimization) which is decidedly not personal and human as Susan’s experience was. I liked the story because it reminded me that Indians trading pelts on a river bank was marketing and it did not take place in a rubber room.
by Claire Goodman