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I just walked through Gdansk!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012



I'm not neglecting my virtual walk from Moscow to Lucca, Italy. I'm in Poland now! Walking through Russia took a full year. There's a nifty Spark Team where you can set up your own walk and cheer on that of others.

I am also very glad and grateful that Obama won!

I just read Andrew Delbanco's book on "College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be." He makes some great points about education: A well-educated person should have:

1) A skeptical discontent with the present, informed by a sense of the past
2) The ability to make connections among seemingly disparate phenomena.
3) Appreciation of the natural work, enhanced by knowledge of science and the arts.
4) A willingness to imagine experience from perspectives other than one's own.
5) A sense of ethical responsibility.

It strikes me that a person does not need a professor for most of this and could use good books to get a knowledge of science and the arts, although I think that a lot of knowledge of science might require true, hands-on lab work. I also do not know if a "discontent" with the present is required to be "educated". I would say that a sense of the past is essential, and to use that to gauge the present is more precise than being discontented. I also don't know if "skeptical" is precisely the correct word. Perhaps the idea of a lively mind willing to judge with discernment would be a better way of phrasing it?

Later on Delbanco talks about two young people who go to see a production of Shakespeare's King Lear together. One ends up thinking that "this guy had it coming; he's a real whiner" and the other is ineffably moved to think and to feel not only about King Lear but his own family, the obligation that people have towards their children and parents, etc. In shot "the world has been transformed for him while it remains utterly unchanged for his friend." I don't know if these human differences can be addressed simply by taking an English class or a class in gerontology or a class in "prehistoric history".

I'm a professor and I believe in what I teach but I no longer believe that I can make Shakespeare as compelling to students as the football game is. And much as I love literature, I wonder what it can offer to remediate the employment/debt problem here in the USA. The book should be a great affirmation of a liberal education but it just seems to me that it does nothing more than reinforce the ideals of the Ivy League without mentioning the price tag. I had an Ivy League education when the tuition was well under $2000. a year. That's a year! And sharing a big house with a bunch of other students would give me a rental payment of something like $37.25 a month. And books for an entire semester would not be much more than $50.00 total.

Why was that so affordable for a lower-middle-class student like me? Why is the same experience now at a price tag of something like $75,000 a year counting books, rent, food, etc.?

My experiences were well worth the $3000 maximum a year I paid. And as a percentage of my family income, it was about 10% (most of which I earned on my own). But as a percantage of family income today, you would need to have a $600,000 family income to correlate it. Bah, humbug!
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