Though I have never claimed otherwise, I want to point out that I’m an academic imposter. In a literary community dominated by people who have at least completed an undergrad degree, that contains more than a few post-grad students and holders of Masters degrees, and that features a number of PhDs and university professors, I definitely fall below the baseline in terms of formal education and academic street cred.
That lack of formal education has been more a matter of personal embarrassment than legitimate concern for me over the years. I’m reasonably well-read and can pick up most of what I need to know in conversation from context or simple research. I always figured I’d get back to school some day—I wanted the foundation knowledge inherent in a formal education (and maybe a legitimate academic credential).
But that was an eventual goal, not a screaming need—until I joined the ranks of the unemployed and now find that even after twenty-five years in industry, I am struggling to get a resume past HR gatekeepers and on to the hiring managers because I lack that basic qualification. So I called BYU Continuing Education and found out about their online General Studies degree.
Between core requirements changes, resolving transcripts from two colleges, and a somewhat checkered (and outdated) academic history I will need to complete a couple of Independent Study classes before I can even start the degree program. First class: Humanities 101.
I’m now three days into a self-directed class, and it’s been a bit of a surprise to have my chain yanked fairly hard on stuff I though would be fairly easy (I’ve been writing and criticizing texts for nearly twenty five years, after all). And it’s interesting how many of the basic Humanities 101 concepts and questions are still being actively discussed by this august body of people who mostly have university degrees already (with many having more than one).
Just in the first two lessons we’ve touched on the value of selecting new text to supplement or replace classic texts (Enduring to the End), love of learning (Faith and Imagination), and multidisciplinary approaches to presenting symbols (Words as Icons)—and even a form of the sophic/mantic debate (Halakha, Aggadah and Jesus)—in and amongst our textual analyses, good reports, and market commentary. It certainly lends credence to the idea that a liberal arts education suggest a complex reading and approach to any question.
But what’s really had my noodle baking is trying to decide whether the questions presented in the Exploration Exercises (free response micro-essays) are intentionally biased toward/against certain assumptions, or whether they’re designed to tweak the unwary reader into ranting on what the question might prod in the reader’s mind, but that was arguably not present in the question itself—a nice, subversive approach to spur both textual analysis and critical thinking.
Do you agree or disagree with Alston Chase’s comment: “Students, whose role models are baseball players or rock stars, are unlikely to cherish knowledge. Those reared in the culture of instant gratification have little patience for the often laborious tasks of learning. A land wedded to wealth and entertainment is infertile soil for the flowering of wisdom.”
The clever teenager in me wanted to answer with a simple “No” (the question is presented as a binary query on agreement, after all). The apple-polisher in me wanted to answer with a simple “Yes.” The aggrieved rock music fan in me wanted to answer “Mostly yes, but…”
But the earnest adult in me understood that the exercise was intended to spur critical thought, so I attempted to answer the question and support my reasoning. The problem is that I still wasn’t sure what question was being asked, so I set about the task of answering what I saw as the four major permutations of the question—as generational critique, as pedagogic goad/challenge, as charge against a specific segment (those whose role models are baseball players or rock stars) as opposed to the whole (darn that pesky comma), and as a general truism that points out how a minority of artists keeps those institutions alive despite the infertile (though not sterile) ground of broad interest and public support.
It was a fun exercise that required most of a page of text to respond to (15 pages so far to answer 11 questions over two lessons). Sadly, I still don’t know what question either Mr. Alston or the teacher were asking there, so I don’t know if any of those answers were responsive. Since it’s independent study and those questions are never graded (no one will ever see my long-winded answers but me), I have no hope of ever getting an answer (I think my answers to the first and last permutations were the best).
Ultimately, I suppose it doesn’t matter what the author intended; for me those questions have been fun and useful exercises in critical reading, textual analysis, and structured argument. Just as importantly, it’s been a nice reminder of some of the ideas we have discussed here recently about how both author and reader bring a tremendous amount of assumption into any text, and how those assumptions interact can lead to some very, very interesting conversations if only we will each both raise our own questions and share our answers.