Professor Anderson’s Goals

Copied from my Introduction to Literature syllabus.
Kafka at the age of five

Kafka at the age of five (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I want to make you miserable.

I’m sort of exaggerating about that, but not really. If the humanities, particularly literature, are to claim any purpose in college, part of that purpose must be to unsettle you, and this requires a bit of misery. Fortunately then, we have Kafka to start us off this semester.

Anyone attending college today has probably been victimized by a happy lie. The lie suggests that you students are powerful beings who only need the magical institutional credential of the college diploma to take the world by storm. In this environment, the courses you take are procedural rungs on the triumphant ladder of progress and achievement. You believe you can fly and we can provide the jetpack. Just Do It, and we’ll give you a fancy piece of paper that proves you did (frame not included).

Even in this course. The objectives outlined above are very good. They give us specific skills to focus on and those skills will unquestionably help you in your economic, post-college lives. And they will help me to assign a grade to your efforts. This, along with some elaborate fonts, boosts the credibility of the wall decoration you get for your four years of effort.

The problem is that none of this really has much to do with education.

Education is not a product you purchase and consume. You are not a blank slate waiting for me to write something marketable on you.

On the contrary, Education is something that consumes you.

Education is growth, and like all growth (think of your shins at night when you were a teenager) it is painful and requires struggle. At its most basic level, education is the twofold act of acknowledging a shortcoming in one’s self and working to improve in that area. This is simple, but, if taken seriously, brutal.

This course on twentieth-century and contemporary literature is an opportunity then. Think of it as a speed bump in the soul-killing progressive-triumphalist superhighway (you may not be able to exit – we’ll read Sartre at the end of the semester – but you might be able to slow down sometimes). Here is a too-rare chance for us (and I purposefully include myself here) to unsettle things that are settled and stale. This literature will not be easy to face because it very often undermines our heroic views of ourselves and our society. This brutality is exactly its value.

I do not wish to change your mind or your worldview. And I certainly don’t want to empower you. I hope to challenge you to confront your mind and your worldview in an effort to perfect them.

This is a burden I look forward to helping you with, but, like all real education, it is ultimately yours alone.

My office hours are listed above.

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13 thoughts on “Professor Anderson’s Goals

      • I think there may be a few who are having those moments with the reading, too, but may not always know how, or be willing to express their thoughts and reactions in the classroom.

        I was like that with some books, and with others I half-read, due to my work load and maybe a lack of interest. There were some good works that I watched kind of float by, and others I really engaged with and moved me deeply.

  1. Terrific, really. Especially this:

    “Education is not a product you purchase and consume. You are not a blank slate waiting for me to write something marketable on you.
    On the contrary, Education is something that consumes you.”

    Good luck–to you and to your students!

  2. Todd says:

    Love it Danny. One thing that I bet you flesh out, but would be interesting to have you muse a bit on, is your sentence near the end “And I certainly don’t want to empower you.” No doubt this flies in the face of much current edupropaganda… could you say more on that point?

    • Thanks Todd, and yes. That is a little shot aimed at the TED Talk guru-type. One of the paradoxes of education is, to my mind, the notion that the more one learns, the more one realizes one’s own inadequacies. To me education is an ethical act; one that positions the learner within a larger conversation in order to contribute to it. The discourse of empowerment (which I think relies far too heavily on consumptive consumerism) flies in the face of this ethical vision of education, which, by its nature, is a humbling one.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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