I have been thinking about learning and my relationship to others. In the article above, Frank Bruni quotes Anne Hall, a teacher he had. She laments changes in the way the humanities is taught in US colleges now.
Then I had a conversation yesterday with a former teacher who surprised me when she said she had found another person’s feminism offputting.
A little probing (after confessing to her that I was more of a feminist than a believer in God) showed that she was talking about what Frank Bruni’s teacher had been commenting on, namely changes in academic curricula and the loss of fundamental learning.
With that I can agree.
This made me wonder about the pervasiveness of an absence of what Frank Bruni’s teacher called “the muscle of thoughtfulness.”
College’s mission… “is for developing the muscle of thoughtfulness, the use of which will be the greatest pleasure in life and will also show what it means to be fully human.” Anne Hall quoted in the Bruni article linked at the beginning of this blog.
I am wondering how this might all fit together in my own life. I have witnessed a shocking lack of simple empirical breadth and curiosity in many college trained people in the last thirty years. Living in Holland, I have sometimes come to the conclusion that it is me that is eccentric in being interested in learning and nailing down ideas not confined by an institution of any kind.
But maybe it’s also something else. We are so specialized in our training. With this specialization comes a loss of what a study of humanities is for: true pleasure in living and being fully human as Hall says.
So when I am surprised that people are not interested in books and music that seem to me to be the stuff of life, it may be that I am simply fortunate to have the curiosity and learning I have.
I need to hasten to add that I do not feel particularly well educated. And that though others appear to me to be narrow I know that this is not an accurate understanding of them. Rather there permeates in our society an ignorance that is subtle but has changed us as a country.
Ignorance is a harsher word than I want to use. It’s more like how can we expect people to use muscular thinking when they have skills and understanding, but it doesn’t extend as far as it could and probably should. It’s a kind of myopia or nearsightedness that misses more than it sees.
I have spent my life working on my own myopia. I continue to find diminishing my own ignorance very fulfilling. Plus there is so much of it. Heh.
But when I feel like people don’t see me clearly, sell me short especially professionally, it might help me to remember that while they are clearly skilled in one area, they might miss things that I think are clear and important simply because it doesn’t occur to them and their “muscle of thoughtfulness” works only in their chosen situation.
This could be a helpful insight for me.
There is a letter to the editor at the above link which changed my mind. Gaen Murphy who teachers in Vermont describes the surprise and horror of her tenth grade students when she explains what “lynching” is. Her foil for this is teaching To Kill a Mockingbird which was our “community read” last year which left me with an odd taste in my mouth. I saw the book as frustrating since the innocent black man ends basically killing himself in prison and the guilty white guy who killed the bad guy goes free. But Gaen Murphy helps me understand the value of the book again.
This is a brave and clear eyed announcement of his own impending death and how he intends to live towards it. He swims a mile a day at age 81. Sheesh.
This coalition of vastly different organizations sees itself as showing politicians how to work together. I certainly applaud that and justice reform.