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Category Archives: education

“…our education’s only loaned us so we can lend it to others.”

– Annie Nathan Meyer, Black Souls


“I came to see the streets and the schools as arms of the same beast. One enjoyed the official power of the State while the other enjoyed its implicit sanction. But fear and violence were the weaponry of both. Fail in the streets and the crews would catch you slipping and take your body. Fail in the schools and you would be suspended and sent back to those same streets, where they would take your body…. Those who failed in the schools justified their destruction in the streets. The society could say, ‘He should have stayed in school,’ and then wash its hands of him.

“It does not matter that the ‘intentions’ of individual educators were noble…. No one directly proclaimed that schools were designed to sanctify failure and destruction. But a great number of educators spoke of ‘personal responsibility’ in a country authored and sustained by a criminal irresponsibility. The pint of this language of ‘intention’ and ‘personal responsibility’ is broad exoneration. Mistakes were made. Bodies were broken. People were enslaved. We meant well. We tried our best. ‘Good intention’ is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.”

– Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

“Your professors will give you some fine books to read, and they’ll probably help you understand them. What they won’t do, for reasons that perplex me, is to ask you if the books contain truths you could live your lives by. When you read Plato, you’ll probably learn about his metaphysics and his politics and his way of conceiving the soul. But no one will ask you if his ideas are good enough to believe in… No one will suggest that you might use Plato as your bible for a week or a year or longer. No one, in short, will ask you to use Plato to help you change your life.

“That will be up to you. You must put the question of Plato to yourself…

“Society has a whole cornucopia of resources to encourage you in doing what society needs done but that you don’t much like doing and are not cut out to do. To ease your grief, society offers alcohol, television, drugs, divorce, and buying, buying, buying what you don’t need. But all those, too, have their cons.

“Education is about finding out what form of work for you in close to being play – work you do so easily that it restores you as you go…. Having found what’s best for you to do, you may be surprised how far you rise, how prosperous, even against your own projections, you become…

“These are the kinds of problems that are worth having and if you advance, as Thoreau said, in the general direction of your dreams, you may have them. If you advance in the direction of someone else’s dreams – if you want to live someone else’s life rather than yours – then get a TV for every room, buy yourself a lifetime supply of your favorite quaff, crank up the porn channel, and groove away. But when we expend our energies in rightful ways, Robert Frost observed, we stay whoel and vigorous and we don’t weary. ‘Strongly spent,’ the poet says, ‘is synonymous with kept.”

– Mark Edmunson, “Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here?”

“What colleges generally want are well-rounded students, civic leaders, people who know what the system demands, how to keep matters light, not push too hard for an education or anything else; people who get their credentials and leave the professors alone to do their brilliant work, so they may rise and enhance the rankings of the university. Such students leave and become donors and so, in their own turn, contribute immeasurably to the university’s standing. They’ve done a fine job skating on surfaces in high school – the best way to get to an across-the-board outstanding record – and now they’re on campus to cut a few more figure eights.

“In a culture where the major and determining values are monetary, what else could you do? How else would you live if not by getting all you can, succeeding all you can, making all you can?”

– Mark Edmunson, “Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here?”

“No one in this picture is evil; no one is criminally irresponsible. It’s just that smart people are prone to look into matters to see how they might go about buttering their toast. Then they butter their toast.”

– Mark Edmunson, “Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here?”

“We sit around and bitch about how TV has ruined the audience for reading – when really all it’s done is given us the really precious gift of making our job harder. The harder it is to make a reader feel like it’s worthwhile to read your stuff, the better a chance you’ve got of making real art. Because it’s only real art that does that.

“You teach the reader that he’s way smarter than he thought he was. I think one of the most insidious lessons about TV is the meta-lesson that you’re dumb. This is all you can do. This is easy, and you’re the sort of person who really just wants to sit in a chair and have it easy. When in fact there are parts of us that are a lot more ambitious than that. And what we need is seriously engaged art, that can teach again that we’re smart.

“Which is tricky, because you want to seduce the reader, but you don’t want to pander or manipulate them. A good book teaches the reader how to read it.”

– David Foster Wallace, Althought Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

“You can look to other people’s opinions to help you shape your thesis and to help you see other aspects of an idea you might not have considered. But whenever possible, you need to go to the primary source to make your decisions. Regardless of whether or not you’re a student, it is never enough to rely on other people’s ideas. You have to look at the thing itself and make up your own mind. That’s what it means to study and to learn. Some secondary sources proclaim their points of view so loudly and with such passion you might be tempted just to take their word for it. You might be tempted not to do work of checking for yourself. But there can be a fine line between obediance and laziness, and if you go through life dutifully taking other people’s word about what’s right, you are putting yourself in the position to be led down some very dark roads.”

– Ann Patchett, “The Right to Read”

“…being a witness at times demands action, and failing to witness in these situations is amoral or perhaps immoral. The communities where we immerse ourselves are generally far less able than we ourselves are to expose human rights violations, abuses of power, and repression. The choice is really not between ethnography and activism. Certain circumstances call for an ethnography that is aware of the broader social conditions in which ethnographer and subject find themselves.”

– Beatriz Manz, Paradise in Ashes

“Philosophers have long conceded that every man has two educations: that which is given to him, and the other that which he gives himself. Of the two kinds the latter is by far the more desirable. Indeed all that is most worthy in man he must work out and conquer for himself. It is that which constitutes our real and best nourishment. What we are merely taught seldom nourishes the mind like that which we teach ourselves.”

– Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro

“Gary Paul Nabhan writes about taking his children to the Grand Canyon, where he realized ‘how much time adults spend scanning the landscape for picturesque panoramas and scenic overlooks. While the kids were on their hands and knees, engaged with what was immediately before them, we adults traveled by abstraction.’

“There is no distance in childhood. Whatever is absent is impossible, irretrievable, unreachable. Their mental landscape is like that of medieval paintings: a foreground full of vivid things and then a wall. The blue of distance comes with time, with the discovery of melancholy, of loss, the texture of longing, of the complexity of the terrain we traverse, and with the years of travel. If sorrow and beauty are all tied up together, then perhaps maturity brings with it now what Nabhan calls abstraction, but an aesthetic sense that partially redeems the losses time brings and finds beauty in the faraway.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “The Blue of Distance,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“As far as the animals are concerned, the suburbs are an abandoned landscape, and so they roam with confidence. Children seldom roam, even in the safest places. Because of their parents’ fear of the monstrous things that might happen the wonderful things that happen as a matter of course are stripped away from them. For me, childhood roaming was what developed self-reliance, a sense of direction and adventure, imagination, a will to explore, to be able to get a little lost and then figure out the way back. I wonder what will come of placing this generation under house arrest.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “Open Door,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“I really didn’t have much to teach. I didn’t even believe in it. I felt so strongly that everybody had to find their own way. And nobody can teach you your own way. In terms of art, the only real answer that I know of is to do it. If you don’t do it, you don’t know what might happen.”

– Harry Callahan

“The rest of the day passed normally, with addiction counseling, unemployment sagas, eviction nightmares. These he was used to. He knew how to help people break such stories down into their composite elements and start to reconfigure them. He saw his job as gently prying their fingers from their own throats. A long time ago, as a young man, he had thought of himself as a savior… Now he believed in small, specific steps and broad -based statistical results. He wasn’t as enthused about his work as he once was, but he was more confident in his ability to execute, and he slept better at night.”

– Alix Ohlin, Inside

“Masters and mistresses are very necessary to compensate for want of inclintation and exertion: but whoever would arrive at excellence must be self-taught.”

Thomas Young

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”

– Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again)

“Of the million black youth, same were fitted to know and some to dig; some had the talent and capacity of university men, and some had the talent and capacity of blacksmiths; and true training meant neither that all should be college men nor all artisans. How foolish to ask what is the best education for one or seven or sixty million souls! Shall we teach them trades, or train them in liberal arts? Neither and both: teach the workers to work and the thinkers to think; make carpenters of carpenters, and philosophers of philosophers.”

– WEB Dubois

“Everybody who had finished Grade 8 in the country schools had to go into town to write those examinations. I loved that – the rustling sheets of foolscap, the important silence, the big stone high-school building. I wondered at it. And at myself, drawing maps with ease and solving problems, knowing quantities of answers. I thought I was so clever. But I wasn’t clever enough to understand the simplest thing. I didn’t even understand that examinations made no difference in my case. I wouldn’t be going to high school. That was before school buses; you had to board in town. My parents didn’t have the money. And they didn’t think of my life going in that direction, the high-school direction. They thought that I would stay at home and help my mother, maybe hire out to help women in the neighborhood who were sick or having a baby. Until such time as I got married. that was what they were waiting to tell me when I got the results of the examination.

You think my mother might have a different idea, since she had been a schoolteacher herself. But she said God didn’t care. God isn’t interested in what kind of job or what kind of education anybody has, she told me. He doesn’t care two hoots about that, and it’s what He cares about that matters.

This was the first time I understood how God could become a real opponent, not just some kind of nuisance or large decoration.”

– Alice Munro, “The Progress of Love”