“There is then creative reading as well as creative writing. When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion. Every sentence is doubly significant, and the sense of our author is as broad as the world.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson, (sounding a lot like Roland Barthes in) “The American Scholar”
Not highbrow, not lowbrow, not even middlebrow - is American culture now dominated by the upper middle brow?
Elite Education: Thoughts?
So, a friend of mine, who is currently taking time off, decides to send out an article to all of us who had lived in the same entry freshman year. This article, basically talks about the benefits and downfalls of an “elite education.” Now, in my short years on this earth having worked my ass off at a public school to get into Williams, going through the fiasco both emotionally and academically that was freshman year, leaving for a year and a half and experiencing the real world both in living a 3rd world country and then supporting myself for a better half of that year and a half living on my own, all to decide to come back has definitely given me a different perspective. That being said, I think this article is spot on a lot of points, though wrong in others when looked at from a different perspective.
Needless to say, it’s definitely sparked up some interesting questions/conversations. Now I’m sitting here dissecting this thing like it’s a reading assignment for a class (<—nerd). Its lengthy, but definitely a very very worthy read.
Here is the link to the article: http://theamericanscholar.org/the-disadvantages-of-an-elite-education/.
The world—this shadow of the soul, or other me—lies wide around. Its attractions are the keys which unlock my thoughts and make me acquainted with myself. I run eagerly into this resounding tumult. I grasp the hands of those next me, and take my place in the ring to suffer and to work, taught by an instinct, that so shall the dumb abyss be vocal with speech. I pierce its order; I dissipate its fear; I dispose of it within the circuit of my expanding life. So much only of life as I know by experience, so much of the wilderness have I vanquished and planted, or so far have I extended my being, my dominion. I do not see how any man can afford, for the sake of his nerves and his knap, to spare any action in which he can partake. It is pearls and rubies to his discourse. Drudgery, calamity, exasperation, want, are instructors in eloquence and wisdom.
- The American Scholar (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
“Colleges, in like manner, have their indispensible office, - to teach elements. But they can only highly 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.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson, The American Scholar
“. . . It's no wonder that the few students who are passionate about ideas find themselves feeling isolated and confused. I was talking with one of them last year about his intrest in the German Romantic idea of bildung, the upbringing of the soul, But, he said - he was a senior at the time - it's hard to build your soul when everyone around you is trying to sell theirs." - William Deresiewicz ”—
The Disadvantages of an Elite Education (via Liberator Magazine)
“The human mind cannot be enshrined in a person, who shall set a barrier on any one side to this unbounded, unboundable empire. It is one central fire, which, flaming now out of the lips of Etna, lightens the capes of Sicily, and, now out of the throat of Vesuvius, illuminates the towers and vineyards of Naples. It is one light which beams out of a thousand stars. It is one soul which animates all men.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”
“One of the great errors of an elite education, then, is that it teaches you to think that measures of intelligence and academic achievement are measures of value in some moral or metaphysical sense. But they’re not. Graduates of elite schools are not more valuable than stupid people, or talentless people, or even lazy people. Their pain does not hurt more. Their souls do not weigh more.”—“The Disadvantages of an Elite Education”
Our Longreads Member Pick: Letter from Kufra, by Clare Morgana Gillis
This week’s Member Pick is “Letter from Kufra,” a story by Clare Morgana Gillis, first published in the summer 2012 issue of The American Scholar. Gillis, who was featured on Longreads for her report after being captured in Libya, explains:
I first arrived in Libya at the end of February 2011, less than ten days after the uprising began when peaceful protests were attacked by Col. Qaddafi’s forces. I spent a few months there on that trip and witnessed the beginnings of the armed conflict and the NATO intervention and, accidentally, the inside of the Libyan prison system. In September of 2011 I returned to report on the final phases of the war and the eventual execution of Qaddafi by rebel forces.
Like nearly every journalist who covered the conflict, and over 90% of the Libyan population, I had spent all my time in Libya on the Mediterranean coast. When I returned in February 2012 for the one-year anniversary of the uprising, I was determined to see more: the vast southern deserts had always fascinated me with their promise of oil-fields, tribal peoples, camels and oases. That month an age-old friction between the Tubu and Zwaya ethnic groups broke out into open battle in Kufra, some hundred miles north of the Chadian border. Despite claiming around 100 lives, it got almost no media attention, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to go south.
We—my Ukrainian colleague Vadim Naninets (whose photographs were in the piece), our driver and I—set out before the break of dawn to make the 620-mile drive south from Benghazi. Fully stocked with bread, cheese, dates, and many cigarettes and bottles of water for the trip, the only real concern we had was bandits on the road. Since fighting in the city had ended, and it was fully ‘liberated,’ under the control of anti-Qaddafi rebels, we didn’t worry about politics in town. That was our first mistake…
On arrival we were immediately taken to the military council headquarters, where the questioning started off fairly innocuously (‘where are you from,’ ‘what are you doing here?’). Within an hour or two we were being questioned separately, our answers transcribed. Local newspapers wrote of our detention, prompting anxious Facebook discussions and phone calls from the temporary consulate in Benghazi. Ten hours later we were released into the custody of the National Army, the Benghazi-based outfit which had come south to quell the battles.
I quickly understood that in the Sahelian region of Libya—where lighter-skinned Zwaya and darker-skinned Tubu live together—the revolution had a very different meaning from the straight politics of the coast. Pro- and anti-Qaddafi factions were largely based on ethnicity and the history of relations between each ethnic group and the onetime Leader.
The ride home was much swifter and livelier than the ride down: National Army gave us a night-time lift in a C-130. In flagrant violation of any extant aviation law, we rode in the cockpit (I took a turn in the pilot’s seat), each of the ten or so men in the flight crew chain-smoking and explaining what all the dials were for, and pointing to distant red flares burning in the darkness which marked locations of oil fields.
I was struck yet again by the unimaginable vastness of the deserts, and the sense that we can never fully know what goes on there.
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Photo via Wikimedia Commons
“Men such as they are, very naturally seek money or power; and power because, it is as good as money,--the "spoils," so called, "of office." And why not? for they aspire to the highest, and this, in their sleep-walking, they dream is highest. Wake them, and they shall quit the false good, and leap to the true, and leave government to clerks and desks. This revolution is to be wrought by the gradual domestication of the idea of Culture.”—
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”
This seemed rather appropriate for the times.
“Our anxiety is less the mind shielding itself from death than the spirit’s need to be. It is as if each of us were always hearing some strange, complicated music in the background of our lives, music which, so long as it remains in the background, is not simply distracting but manifestly unpleasant, because it demands the attention we are giving to other things. It is not hard to hear this music, but it is very difficult indeed to learn to hear it as music. [...] Anxiety comes from the self as ultimate concern, from the fact that the self cannot bear this ultimate concern: it buckles and wavers under the strain, and eventually, inevitably, it breaks.”—
Christian Wiman, “Hive of Nerves,” The American Scholar
I’m so excited to pick up this man from the airport.