Heather McDonald discusses the choices in job-rich (& self-reliant fly over) Idaho. My syllabus argues if students find themselves not doing the readings, they should probably rethink taking my class. Our lives are enriched by scholarship at certain ponts – at others, it can be a distraction from living. Perhaps lectures are difficult to follow, I observe, because of dehydration after a night in Northgate’s bars. But I’m serious, offering a couple of anecdotes – like a student whose 48 hours of F’s in their teens were followed by life; he came back in his forties, ending with a Ph.D. Unusual, but not all that rare. Neither those bars nor classes slept through are useful ways to spend years of intensity, energy, growth. And, even at our bargain prices, this wastes money.
A student this semester said that paragraph may have led to drops. Well, okay, the purpose is to wake them up – so they don’t drift through another class, getting an untransferable grade. I counseled too many students on their fourth semester of such work.
He laughed; with a full time job and what would seem a full-time disability, he did quite well; an A not as high, perhaps, as the women who had been in the service, had children, helped support husbands that sat beside him. Returning veterans are disproportionately A students (and interesting). Of course, life experience is garlic to the vampires of theory who have sucked the life out of the humanities. But they bring their own life to the works and help it breathe for themselves and their classmates.
Often, liberal arts education is criticized here. Perhaps rightly. Still a course of chronological readings, where the context is given in class after class and interpretations need to be put on paper and defended does offer a challenge. (Not that I would suggest debt is a good idea. My children, unsurprisingly, took the liberal arts route; but none left owing a cent. We make our choices – theirs were for state schools, work, and some AP and jc hours.)
When we asked students to read more, to master works that stretched them – we may have offered an alternative to the oil fields. Now, well, not so much. But if a flaw is the unserious way we treat education, the system’s virtue is its offer of second chances. Oil fields develop grit, the army develops grit, raising children does; when a 40 year old models the self-discipline they’ve learned through experience in a classroom they model grit.
This diversity – which truly enriches a class – is one that the New York Times seems to not even imagine, let alone encourage. (Though many of the commentors understand.)