Reconsidering School

This place might be more alive than I initially suspected. At least, the younger students are in motion and seem very happy. I was in the cafeteria today and a ton of them, all looking cherubic in Sunday dress, came from Mass and bounced off the walls and distracted me while I was writing out some notes. – I, for my part, looked like a total lunatic and loner in the back of the cafeteria, especially as I tend to stare at everything around me while talking to myself. –

Everyone else, even when happy, reminds me of these lines of Dickinson’s –

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
A Wooden way,
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

I’m not saying people aren’t doing their job, or aren’t doing it well. One example is that the older students are very serious. I just get the feeling that everyone here is overburdened. And that is the worst irony, if this is indeed the case, for my books tell me over and over that leisure and wealth are necessary for education, and it looks like neither are present here.

What this place may be burdened with is a myth, the myth that hard work and fighting tons of obstacles is rewarded by grace in this life. Grace in this life stems from what can be reasonably expected of another (cf. Strauss, Xenophon’s Socratic Discourse). The version of the American dream imposed here is not unlike that imposed on many of my friends on the East Coast: lots of work must result in something useful, good things must happen to good people. If nothing good results, quite obviously no good was done during the process.

The immigrant song we were sold – where the Irish and Italians assimilated and all are happy – is a shadow of a dream now. If Scorcese hasn’t exploded it via Gangs of New York and The Departed, we should see it utterly annihilated now as American life impractically expects the practical to solve everything.


  1. Neat- this is a really good post. It is interesting how that faith persists- I wonder whether it is something that is psychologically useful to beleive. One of the things that science reporting always demonstrates is that humans aren’t good at working with probabilities- we are binary beings. In that sense thinking that work does acheive results might be a useful mechanism to get us to actually do things- as opposed to the conviction that it doesn’t. The more accurate conviction that it partly does- but there are other factors which have x percent to do with it- is the hardest to cope with.

  2. … and as someone who grew up in europe, may i say that this is a particularly north american belief. north america seems to be built on the “if … then” paradigm, an almost cute sense of straightforward causality. it’s interesting that there is no idiom for that. in german, we call it a “milchmaedchenrechnung” – an accounting of the milk maid.

  3. Yeah, I know this is an old post… I’m clicking around basically randomly and looking at old stuff. It is unfortunate that the majority of us have that attitude instead of having the desire to step back and try to determine what actually does work and what is just wasted activity (and I am talking primarily about business, not education). I’m sure we could be more, well, productive. On the other hand, worker bees are very necessary. We can’t all be systems analysts. I think it’s possible to be both. I like to think that I usually am both. (for what it’s worth I also did a lot of my growing up in Europe; maybe it’s something in the water…)

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