A few days back, sitting outside the Motley with this mocha whose temperature had just dropped below searing pain, I was reading a
particular writer who had been dancing around a thesis for pages, then, out of
left field, tossed out a huge question from an unnamed and un-cited poet: “Who would’ve thought we get one life over
none, or over many?”
This quote set off a series of questions with no answers,
most important of which being, “Why would she use that particular quote and not cite
it?” My hand moved unconsciously toward the mug.
Besides this line, her writing and editing were characteristically hyper-diligent. It was as if she was looking into her past
and drawing up something she both knew was and wasn’t her own. An old journal, childhood song, or eloquent
graffiti written on a church wall, above the dumpsters?
(Question: Do you know why we cite sources in undergrad
Whatever the source, she knew that this particular idea and
quote from her own experience had value. It affected the way she constructed
her ideas, even within so called ‘formal-academic’ writing.
It also raised the millennia-old question: How does your personal experience affect your education?
The question ricocheted and echoed internally. Do the places
I’ve been, the schools I’ve attended, the spaces I’ve called ‘home’ or the people who have gone from stranger, to friends, to family, matter?
It seems those remembrances and moments communicate with the
new concepts you encounter every day. They dictate the classes we are inspired
to take, the way we understand metaphors in foreign languages and the personal
insights we make in a seminar. We are quick to forget that our experiences
influence what we learn before, after and during our so-called ‘education.’
Experience is always
education and vice versa. In more than one sense, we should never be the
same person after a profound experience or a true education.
There is talk of critical skills and the
value of education all over the place nowadays (see: William Deresiewicz). And
largely these debates begin and end with the idea of STEM. But the real tragedy
is in the humanities—where a good paper is based on its ability to be
impartial. Isn’t it? It is to remove your personal bias so thoroughly so as to
illuminate the thesis in its Platonic essence. Academic criticism is no longer
about active questioning but rather, stale dissection of an already dead idea.
“There is no such thing as educational value in the
abstract.” There is no ultimate, graspable entity of true knowledge. It is all a give
and take based on our own experiences.
The most successful students in academia are of a ‘pure
rationality,’ removed completely so as to be only external hard drives for a
professor’s research. This isn’t entirely problematic, but it seems in the
process we are removing the heart of our education.
Nonetheless, I know there are students here at the 5Cs who
see their education a bit differently. They are the ones who ask ‘weird’ questions in class, who apply theory to everyday life, who stop, look around and see their experience here, as a
whole, infecting the subjects they are learning.
In this state of mind, philosophers don’t just philosophize,
and researchers don’t just research; we all take part in a diaspora of intersecting disciplines and studies. Picking out patterns. Diving deep into
intricacies. Finding a passion for the nuts and bolts of what makes us really,
really human. And our experience facilitates this understanding. It doesn’t
govern it but it surely provides that soundtrack.
(Question: What would Indiana Jones be without John
Let’s swing back to the first question. The first question before
all those ‘Experience’ shenanigans, before my un-cited John Dewey quote, before
the imposition of my thoughts onto your life (see paragraph 8), right up there, 51st word to the 63rd: “Who would’ve thought we get one life over
none, or over many?”
(Question: Do you live like you only have one life?)
This isn’t YOLO, or carpe diem, or “live in the moment” or
any of those other bullshit truisms you’ve heard repeated ad absurdum in the
last eight years. This is one of those simple, looking-in-the-mirror-while-brushing-your-teeth kind of questions. It is the kind of question that doesn’t have
any nice concrete solution or proof. All it requires is a moment of
acknowledgment: to recognize your life as your own experience and to endeavor
to live wholly in that experience.
Conner Roberts PO ’16 is a philosophy and religion major from a few places scattered around the world.