From Ice to Snow in Dallas

All of you are asking what it is like down here, so I’ll tell you. This place was a sheet of ice the last few days. I don’t want to comment too much on how well things were cleaned in the apartment complex or campus; suffice to say, the work was barely adequate. What actually started giving us traction to walk around was the snow that fell last night. People are still slipping but not falling. I know a few people who have fallen multiple times doing their usual routines.

I’ve been talking to a number of freshmen. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to create a proper learning environment. We’re doing, as a university, a very poor job of explaining the basic significance of the texts we make them read. The more thoughtful, better readers can grasp the peculiarities. A very good student picked up on how Dante is changing all throughout Inferno. He’s being made harder, moving from some sort of sentimentality into an awareness of the larger problems. But I can safely tell you that observation will be for naught if we don’t discuss things like the historical significance of Dante. For example, we could say he looks back to the classical world in order to bring some notion of politics into a time which has virtually no concern for such a thing. We could say a bit more about the significant number of people who took serious risks merely writing to bring about the world we have today, for better and for worse.

Quite a few are doing the work and they want to know the relevance of what they’re doing. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to stop making them think school is merely jumping through hoops and instead give them a bit more of a narrative they can use to teach each other. I realize now I’ve made this critique before: Why the Liberal Arts? I’m making it a bit more urgently now that I’m seeing good students burning out because of work I myself would not do.

I’m also wondering how hard it would be to create a more active sort of career services. One that worked to sell our undergraduates’ merits to employers, as opposed to placing emphasis on the undergraduate doing everything. I’m not blaming any school in particular for this. It’s just strange to me that all our rhetoric about the future doesn’t result in any real recruitment, any attempt to create opportunities for others. Rather, we’re all in a sort of defensive mode, worried about the fact there are other people, worried about the fact they might want something. Our educational crisis is ultimately a political crisis. We can’t explain the significance of the liberal arts because everything has to be personal. That people fought and died for ideas, for causes, is beyond our ken, even as the books are staring us in the face.

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