05 September 2011

I can't leave it alone . . .

I'm always grumbling about things in the Wall Street Journal, usually (to be fair) items on the op-ed page. This time, it's a letter in Saturday's issue. And yes, I do feel like I belong in this XKCD cartoon.

The letter (in response to something about higher education that I don't remember) recounts the recent interaction of a college junior majoring in English with the old fart who wrote the letter. He said he was an English major 50 years ago, and his favorite author was Faulkner. "What did he write?" asked the college junior. The old fart was shocked, and did not ask who her favorite author might be.

The encounter was related, apparently, as an illustration of the Dire State of Kids These Days Higher Education.

Dude. She's a college junior. She's twenty, or thereabouts. How much of the whole of English and American literature had you read at 20?* Maybe she's heard of Faulkner but isn't quite sure she's not mixing him up with someone else and would rather ask than start talking about the possible mix-up. Some 20-year-olds don't like embarrassing themselves by getting something wrong. Maybe she's been studying British literature so far, and will get to American authors next year. Maybe if you actually talked to her about her favorites, and your favorites, you might discover a new-to-you author you might enjoy reading, and maybe you could even tell her what you like about Faulkner and get her interested enough to either take a class or read him on her own. But no, you have to get all huffy and write to the WSJ instead of thinking about the value of reading different things, and, you know, using your education to expand your mind and the minds of others.

*And if you try telling me you knew it all at 20, I am getting in my time machine and going back to quiz you about Piers Plowman.


Meansomething said...

Word. (Note to old farts: that's a recent, colloquial usage meaning "I warmly agree.") And oh, how I hope this post gets picked up by Inside Higher Ed!

Bardiac said...


(I know that's already outdated, and I've probably used it wrong, oh well.)

Besides, Faulkner's so yesterday! The students should all be reading Marie de France and Julian of Norwich, and not this new falutin' stuff! (Kidding!)

Clarissa said...

At 20, I thought that the only knowledge worth having was the kind that allowed you to make lots of money, exasperated my prof of Latin with eye-rolls and exclamations of "This is soooo stoooopid!", and told the prof of philosophy that philosophy was the most useless subject ever.

It's a good thing we do get a chance to change many times over since the time we are 20. :-) Now I can't even believe that was me. :-)