He Was Right

“Of course, there is a portion of reading quite indispensable to a wise man. History and exact science he must learn by laborious reading. Colleges, in the like manner, have their indispensable office,–to teach elements. But they can only higher serve us, when they aim not to drill, but to create; when they gather from far every ray of various genius to their hospitable halls, and, by the concentrated fires, set the hearts of their youth on flame. Thought and knowledge are natures in which apparatus and pretension avail nothing. Gowns, and pecuniary foundations, though of towns of gold, can never countervail the least sentence or syllable of wit. Forget this, and our American colleges will recede in their public importance, whilst they grow rich every year.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson, The American Scholar

I read this a couple of weeks ago and it has just stayed with me.  The words were first spoken by Emerson in 1837 during an address to the Phi Beta Kappa Society in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Now, I am not an expert when it comes to higher learning or the institutions of such, other than to say that I have a Bachelor’s Degree and aspire to even higher education.  Yet, when I think of my alma mater in terms of this quote, along with the incredible sense of urgency by politicians to get students enrolled into math and science programs with endless government subsidized loans, my eyes open and I see that few heed the warning Emerson gave nearly 200 years ago.

Consider also the meteoric rise of for-profit colleges and trade institutions and the point is even further illustrated.

Truth is that colleges and universities are becoming training centers rather than institutions of higher learning, and, as one that sees the importance of the arts and humanities, also math and the sciences, and how that combination gives a well-rounded education, that is troubling.

The traditional subjects, the arts, humanities, mathematics, and sciences teach one to probe more deeply, to ask questions and seek answers, to innovate in order to find solutions.  They promote thought beyond simple rote memorization, which is incredibly boring and less than stimulating to the mind.  There is always a question to be asked and answered, and there is always an answer seeking to be found.  To know the right question to ask is to take the first step in discovering what is being sought.  Other materials have failed to ask it and without the question, there can be no answer.  With answers still waiting for their questions to be asked, there is more knowledge to acquire, and with more knowledge to acquire, there is a continued need for education, rather than indoctrination or job training.  With more time spent indoctrinating students with “proven” techniques, models, and ideas, there is less time spent engaging creative areas and then a lack of true ingenuity creeps in and sets the ground for little to no innovation. With less encouragement for innovative thought or creativity, there is a loss of newly acquired knowledge, leaving education stale and, overall, unrewarding.

I was reading an article earlier today at Salon.com, the title of which is “Congratulations, Class of 2014:  You’re Totally Screwed.”  It states that the average student loan borrower that completes an undergraduate degree owes an average of $33,000 (I feel your pain. I still owe $23,000 on mine). Among other things, I highly recommend the piece and sharing it far and wide.  One sentence that stood out to me, “Actually, the opposite is closer to the truth:  college costs more and more even as it gets objectively worse and worse.”  I think there is probably some truth to that, in terms that previous generations’ educational experiences were a better bang for the buck. The article goes on to talk about the perils and troubles experienced by adjunct faculty that are hired by universities in order to cut costs for tenure-tracked positions.  Perhaps I am incredibly naive and maybe a bit utopian in my thoughts, but I believe education to be an endeavor that should not seek profit and growth for profit’s and growth’s sake, but to further the search for knowledge.  Not every worthwhile pursuit needs profit and infinite growth.  How large does a school need to be in order to maintain a healthy bottom-line which is being fed constantly by tuition costs that rise steadily and continuously?

Back to my alma-mater…

It is a public university, a part of the state university system.  I remember visiting the school and loving the campus. It was beautiful and not overly huge. If you humped it, you could get from one end to the other in about 15 minutes. Classes averaged about 20-25 students (my senior level classes and some of my junior level classes were less than 10) excluding freshman/general education courses and introductory classes, but even then I think my largest class was probably 100 students or so.

I’m not sure what the class size is now, but I know the school continues to grow. Every year that I lived in the area, about 15 years (I dropped out for a while and went to work.  I went back later once I got my shit together.), there was a construction project going on somewhere.  A new science building for the chemistry, physics and astronomy departments.  An addition to the old science building that houses the biology, geology, geography, and anthropology departments. A new dormitory or two or three.  A new cafeteria.  Two new parking decks on campus.  A new library (thank god.  The old one SUCKED). The renovation of the old library into a classroom building that contains the history and political science departments (where I was when I was not in the new library). A refurbished football stadium with expanded seating and press/spectator boxes. New athletic facilities for the baseball, basketball, softball, and tennis programs.  A new arena known as the Convocation Center. A new student recreation facility. And a revamped student union and student bookstore. When I left, the school was breaking ground on a new facility for the school of education. There are others, I am sure, but these stick out in my mind.

I love my school. I loved attending it, and I love the area. I am convinced that there is not a better place on earth. It is heaven. There are things that put a damper on the experience, though, and every one is due to growth of the university. The endless construction projects create havoc on the campus and are unsightly, taking away from the beauty of everything else surround it.  With growth, there are more people. Holy crap, more people and traffic. The traffic. Oh god, the traffic. It used to be only on football Saturdays that one avoided getting in a car unless you absolutely had to. Now, it truly is every day, especially during the academic year. It’s awful and you can damn well count on having a stroke or a coronary everytime you get behind the wheel and on the road.

I don’t know the total cost for all of these projects and the others that have surely sprouted up since I left the area a few years ago, but I do know how much tuition increased from my inaugural semester until my final semester as a full-time student some years later.  Over 300% just for classes, not including any price hikes for campus room and board or books and materials for class.

I’m just spitballing here, but what if the school spent more time, money, and energy showing what the faculty actually do in their classrooms and laboratories rather than shaping up the buildings that house them, it would get a more effective and efficient use for every dollar spent.  If schools are seeking students whose wish is to attend a university with stellar athletic facilities and shiny new buildings without a thought or care about what they will actually be learning or doing, then institutions of higher learning are most definitely missing the point.

Emerson was right and we can’t even see it, and that saddens me.

A Principled Solution

Regardless of what I may think or say, I am not always right. I think those are some of the most difficult words to say. I’m usually right, anyway. Well…sometimes I’m right. My wife will give me that much.

And those times when I am right, I thoroughly enjoy. Being right is one of life’s great pleasures. It does not matter why I am right or what I am right about but just the fact that I am right brings loads of happiness and delight my way.

Sometimes I am wrong, but that’s done on purpose. It’s good to spread the right around from time to time. You know…just give ’em a taste, get ’em hooked, and they’ll come back wanting more.

Being right is addictive. It is to me anyway. I may have a problem, but that is for another post. I spend my life looking for the right answers, and it seems like a neverending quest. Searching, searching, searching everywhere. Looking for the elusive right answer that will solve a given problem. Looking for the solution that will come without a conflicting response or opinion. I look for these and when I cannot find them, I try desperately to develop them in my mind. When that does not work, I go to like-minded souls that will reassure me that the course I wish to take is the right one and will not faulter. I check my beliefs and my unshakable bedrock of principles against the issue that needs addressing. It is in those things, those places and recesses of my mind I find solace. I find comfort and reassurance. Yet, the issue remains unresolved.

People change.

Needs change.

Wants change.

Situations change.

Seasons change.

The weather changes.

Minds change.

With changes, questions change and answers change. As much as we would like to believe that the world is black and white and is set in stone; it surely is not. Rather the world is fluid. It is always changing and shifting, both figuratively and literally, and perhaps in the most minute ways. Those that wish to survive in it must learn to grow and adapt to the changes that are coming and that will come.

With the immense challenge that comes with keeping up with a changing world, there is a need to come to grips with the uncertainty that is sure to accompany those changes that will arise. More gray will be thrown into a world that is already muddled with many shades of gray between the already indistinguishable black and white. Undoubtedly, panic will ensue with some of the changes that perceivably threaten the status quo. People will not know what happens next, as much as we pride ourselves in believing we do know. Tempers will rise. Defensive mindsets will take over. Comfort will be sought within groups of like-minded people. Instead of built, bridges will be burned.

We see it all the time in politics and government, but this happens in the everyday as well. Bridges must be built and maintained between contesting ideas in order to promote meaningful solutions that each holder of a given idea believes to be correct. It is here, in these bridges, that the real work of problem solving is done. It takes hard work, a lot of communicating, and a little humility to find satisfying and agreeable solutions that will alleviate the problems that accompany a change that requires action or an obstacle to overcome.

However, we allow individual egos to get in the way (See the opening paragraph). Egos and the individual’s perception of need taints the process and clouds the issue that needs to be addressed. It is easy to see this everywhere. Just turn on the television. There are an endless number of voices and views which pander to individual wants, needs, and egos. They provide us a zone of comfort and an area of certainty within a truly uncertain world. Within them, we know our point of view is safe and right. It is easier to stay within those walls than it is to come out and experience another point of view, or at the very least, entertain one. Yet, in order to see the whole picture and find a solution to it, it is necessary to put egos on hold and allow “the better angels of our nature” to shine forth and show the way to meaningful solutions to issues that come with the changing world. Add to that time and patience and reflection, and we can accomplish anything.

I will be the first to admit that I am not the most patient person. I find it difficult to maintain a patient attitude, especially when there is a problem. Often, I will make my point of view known with little regard toward those who disagree with my position. Eventually, I will listen to an opposing idea, and after immediately dismissing it, I will take time to contemplate or even consider the prospect. It may not be right, but there is planted the seed of a possibility, the chance that an idea can be built which incorporates the better parts of competing views; and then, that idea, or multiple ideas, may be better on the whole than the original competing propositions.

It seems to me that this is the only way to bring about any meaningful change that has a chance of lasting. What most people are afraid of, I think, is the idea that they may come to empathize or sympathize with an idea or principle that is opposite to what they believe. They do not want to consider that, though their idea is right, there may be a better idea wandering in the fray. For many, to empathize, sympathize, or otherwise identify with a diametrically opposed position means to cast doubt on one’s own position or principles. If such is the case, then perhaps that position  or those principles require change, and there is nothing wrong with that.

It takes a strong character to be willing to look at one’s self, and what one believes, and see that a change is necessary. It happens to the best of us, even me, and will continue to happen. We learn new things through experience, and life is just that…a series of experiences. What we do with what we learn speaks volumes about the people we are and that which we want to be.

And maybe, just maybe, through learning by way of experience, we can adopt better principles upon which to lay stronger, more worthwhile, and sturdy foundations.

Hurry Along

I’ve had a difficult time getting the creative juices flowing this week, and my mind has been a bit more muddled than usual for some reason. So, I’m hoping this little free writing session will help me out a little.

It’s been a long week. Work is a little busier as the calendar lurches on toward the summer months, and the summer heat is coming right along with it. I am not ready for that! See…I’m one of those weird southerners that prefer  cooler weather. Spring time weather is about as warm as I want to feel. 65 to 75 degrees works just fine for me. Anything over 80 better have a stiff breeze coming with it, otherwise misery ensues. Why does summer have to hurry along so quickly?

Hey, there’s a topic. Hurrying. Let’s run with it and see where it takes us…

Do you ever just stop and think? And when you stop and think do you ever wonder why it is we are always in such a hurry? I say “we” as if you are in just as big a hurry as I am. Are you? I read a pithy meme on facebook sometime back that said something like “when did staying busy become such a glorified trait?”  I agree wholeheartedly with that statement.

But it isn’t just being busy, it’s being in a hurry. Everything is a hurry nowadays. I find it sad, ironic, and a bit humorous that everyone pines for days gone by when life was perceivably easier and things moved more slowly. Yet, the same people that wax philosophical about those long, lost days move nonstop from sunrise, or before, to sunset, or beyond, and rarely slow down long enough to see the world that is around them.

Admiittedly, I can be the world’s worst about being in a hurry. When something has to be done, I need it done immediately. If it does not get done, then I stew over it and stew over it until it gets done, so I prefer to get it done and out of the way. When I have to get somewhere, I am in a hurry to get there in order to keep from being late.  Lack of punctuality is probably my biggest pet peeve. I consider it incredibly rude to be tardy, me or anyone else.

But why?  What is the point?  What good does it do us, in the long run, to stay busy or in a hurry?

Personally, I feel much better when I am able to slow down and relax.  Sure, there is satisfaction after being busy and completing a task, but there is just something about being able to sit, take a deep breath, and just look around at the world in which I live. I feel calm and collected. Then at some point, it begins all over again.  A task presents itself and needs to be accomplished as quickly as possible, usually to be followed by another one. Instead of enjoying life, it becomes a contest.  Get the task done in the appropriate amount of time, and I win!

But…win what?

What is the prize?

I previously posted about a list of things that we are supposed to do as we develop and our minds and bodies mature, but it seems like I forgot to add one…

Apparently, we are supposed to stay busy.  I don’t know where that rule is written down, or any of the rules for that matter; but in order to be a good and decent person, we have to keep busy.  We always have to be doing something “productive.”

It does feel good and satisfying to complete a task.  The harder and more demanding the task, the better it feels when it comes to fruition.  However, that pleasure does not come until I take a moment to slow down and reflect on what I did and how I did it.  Why did I take on the task, though?  And beyond its completion, is the task or the results of the task going to give me satisfaction? And how long is that satisfaction going to last?

All good questions I think, and I bet the answers are just as good. Of course, every task that I perform serves a very important purpose, brings immense satisfaction, and that satisfaction lasts ’til infinity and beyond.  It’s true.  Every bit of it.

Now my body is telling me that I better hurry up and get the coffee going so I can relax and enjoy it once it is done!

Have a great weekend!

 

Looking out the Window at Work…

It’s a slow day, so I thought, “why not write?”

Truth is, I am bored at work. I mean…really bored.  So this will end up being a bunch of rubbish from start to finish. Sometimes I just like the feeling of typing something out. Always have. I can remember when I was a kid and our old Tandy computer with no games on it. I would find my way to the word processor and just start typing. Nothing of any real consequence (like this), but just typing. Maybe not even real words, just jibberish like this…

ajkekmenjdn dikenyeooie ,fnliha wusndimfb vi fjknf fhjs nsl,fnlufhyrnosnuemdnaha.

I don’t know why. It is just something I would do when I was bored…kind of like now.

There is somethng that has me thinking this morning, but I’m not quite sure I am ready to tackle it just yet. I did leave a bit of a cliffhanger with one of my previous posts asking what do I want to see concerning being the change one wants to see in the world.

As I sit here at work, that comes across my mind as a pretty complex question, and one that I probably shouldn’t try to answer, but sometimes it’s good to go with your gut. So here goes…

What do I want to see?

I want to see a world without apathy. I want to see a world where people care about something beyond themselves and their wants. I want people to consider others when they make decisions. I want more empathy in the world. I want to see more people care for one another. I want a world without labels. I want a world that is inhabited by human beings. Not Europeans. Not Americans. Not Asians or Mexicans or Latinos or Hispanics or Whites or Blacks or Chinese or Japanese or Italians or Greeks or Germans or Turks or Iraqis or Iranians or Christians or Jews or Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus or Sikhs or Eskimos or Canadians (don’t ask me why Canadians came up last. I don’t know). I want to see people live according to their fullest potential and see them happy doing so.  I want to see myself living according to my fullest potential and be happy doing so. I want to see a world without regret. I want to see others living without regret. I want to see others and myself learning from those regrets and no longer regretting them. I want the poor to no longer be poor. I want the sick to be healthy. I want to see it snow. I want to see the sun shine. I want to see it rain. I want to see the wind blow. I want to see the sun rise and set. I want to see the moon.  I want to see the ocean and the tides.  I want to see a world where possibilities are realities everyday. And right now, at this very moment, I want to see food because I am starting to get hungry.

What do you want to see?

Currents of Change

Do  you ever get that urge to write and when you are finally able to sit down to put a thought together, nothing comes out?  How annoying is that!

It’s cloudy as I stare out the window.  Rain is probably on the way to give an oh so damp start to the Easter weekend.  I’m sure the birds singing outside are as excited about the rain as I am…

I’ve been reading an excellent book lately.  It is excellent because it forces me to sit back and look at myself and how I live my life. How often do we do that?  How often do we sit back, slow down and take a minute to look at ourselves?  I don’t do it nearly enough.  I tend to allow the grind of the everyday take over and allow the S.S. Routine to follow the current mindlessly.

I’ve been working on making it a point to make some changes.  A little bit at a time, mind you.  Too much change at once, and my head just might explode.

One big change that I have made is that I do not follow the news nearly as religiously as I have in the past.  It’s just too damn depressing, and often times incredibly negative.  There is good news out there, but it’s beneath the fold, if you know what I mean.  I still read an article or two, or maybe even three, that I might come across on facebook, but nothing like what I used to do.

With the change in my news consumption, I’ve been following less with politics.  Current politics, that is.  Now, that is some depressing shit.  Grown men and women acting like petulant children and they get paid for it…a lot!  I spend more energy and time reading about ideas.  Old ideas, new ideas, just ideas and ideologies to try to get a handle on the root of the problem that is the lack of civil debate and consensus in our politics.

Really what it is is that I am disgusted with it all.  I love politics and studying government, don’t get me wrong.  What I don’t like are the folks that are playing in the role of government at the current time.  Will it change?  Time will tell.  I hope it does, and sometime soon, but I’m going to do my best to not lose any sleep over it.

I posted something on my facebook page the other day, “Be the change you want to see.”  I think Gandhi said it.  It doesn’t really matter who said it.  Does such a phrase really need a great name to accompany it in order to give it merit?  I don’t think so.  I’m working on it, trying to find that extra spring for my step instead of mindlessly trudging along, finding how to be the change I want to see.

What do I want to see, you ask?  Maybe on the next post.