The Educated Self Today

How fascinating is that class
Whose only member is Me!
Sappho, Tiberius and I
Hold forth beside the sea.

What is cosier than the shore
Of a lake turned inside out?
How do all these other people
Dare to be about?

– from Auden’s “Islands”

1. So all the students came back from break on Wednesday, and people are back to jumping off the walls again. I get to sit in on classes and go to choir and eat – that last thing didn’t happen regularly during the week and a half this school was closed.

I’m not sick but concentrating comes in bits and spurts still. I feel like I’m pushing myself and I always feel tiredish and not much is getting done. (That should change in a few minutes, though, especially after I eat a little more.)

2. Yesterday I caught a bit of Newt Gingrich lecturing at some AEI thing on C-Span. Lots of things he said irritated me even when I agreed with him, but where we most sharply disagree is the purpose of education.

At one point he was proposing incentives to get people to finish school more quickly and work. I don’t think that’s the worst thing – it’ll definitely work well for people who don’t want to be in school in the first place – but this “one size fits all” sort of viewpoint that emphasizes practical over theoretical learning is just far too immature to be considered as the way to fix the schools. Could Speaker Gingrich, who has a PhD., have attained the knowledge he has if the whole system were crafted to get him out of school as soon as possible?

More to the point: is education about giving you the knowledge you want and making you productive asap? Consider that many individuals of whom you may not approve were and are very productive. Mussolini, after all, made the trains run on time. Porn stars probably work very hard (I wouldn’t know – *whistles*).

As Joshua Parens has said, Montesquieu does list “work” as a “virtue” in his account of “economic commerce” – from the last, American modes and orders are derived. But Aristotle and Plato would never consider work alone to be a virtue. That “work” would be considered a virtue is an attack on real virtues, i.e. temperance or justice or wisdom.

Gingrich thinks hard work and busy-ness alone are an expression of a higher value. The conservative blogosphere echoes this nonsense when it declares that the majority of visitors on liberal sites don’t have jobs. The inability to think through this position entirely on the part of the Right should scare those of us who are conservative: it is probably an indication that our losing the schools means that we’re getting dumber and not realizing it.

3. What I see happening is an increasing, unnatural divergence between my wants and the means needed to bring about those wants.

It’s one thing to expect me to make some compromises in my political vision when deciding on a candidate. But Speaker Gingrich is not a candidate for office currently, and compromise on the issue of education with him in any case would be tantamount to saying I’ve wasted – and am wasting – my life.

The issue of school is yet another problem. Yes, I’m happy with all I’m learning here, and no one is treating me badly. A few are treating me very, very well. And yet, I’ll ask you my audience this: don’t you think it’s rather curious that I have virtually no readers from my own university, save one or two?

I’m not saying any of this to mope, although I feel mopey right now. The issue is bigger – education centered around the individual and his desires has triumphed, and to literally insist on more from education of this sort makes those of us who see this as a social endeavor, centered around a sense of value, exiles within the very walls we are most qualified to maintain and further. I know I shouldn’t be the one feeling alienated from myself, not at this point, not with so much on the line and only an aimlessness disguised as “progress” defining all politics nowadays.


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