Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Under the Influence


George's discussion of his reading list, which I talk about below, led to an interesting discussion in the comments. An overall theme of "creating a course to teach theatre" arose, and I agree with Christopher Shinn, and few other commenters, who basically talked of passion being the supreme guide to decisions on subject and materials for the courses.

One commenter though, an experienced teacher, pointed out:


"Teaching what you love: Great, so long as what you love intersects with what students need to know. Typically, in any curriculum there are core courses and electives. Core courses used to include massive surveys taught by generalists or those who could fake it or those who were stuck with the assignment. Electives were where the people taught what they loved and what they loved only."

The joke from Good Will Hunting was quoted by Scott Walters:


"You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for a buck fifty in late charges at the public library."

People seemed to agree with the joke, though I remember finding the joke supremely unfunny in its context. (Perhaps it is because I live near Harvard Square, know many Harvard Grads and or students, and I have even taken courses through the Extension School there.)

You see, Will Hunting, the character in the movie, is speaking these lines to a very well-pedigreed looking man who is attending Harvard. Well, I doubt very much that this particular man will be lamenting his Harvard Education in 50 years, and with the opportunities and earning power that would come to this person, the $150,000.00 will probably seem like a bargain.

Of course, the real joke of the scene, (in the context of the film,) is on Will Hunting; if he continues going as he is, he will lament his frittering away of his life and wonder about his inability to deeply understand the value of all the information he has gathered. But this point is lost, as are so many good ideas in that movie; lost through the desire to make a cool scene. Style over substance, function following form.

We want to see Will sticking it to the Harvard guy. We need to see Will sticking it to somebody who is not "to the manor born," but rather somebody aspiring to a higher social class, but too blind to see that they are playing a lottery they might lose. Too painful would be the scene of Will throwing that statement at a student attending anything but an Ivy League school. But that scene would would contribute to the theme of the film, exploring its questions deeper.

My opinion about higher education in the Arts, this includes literature, is that it should teach you how to think, not what to think.

I am in the employment business and a headhunter as well. Many times I am asked, in either casual conversation or by freshly-graduated candidates, "what is the big deal about a college degree anyway?" The shortest answer I can give is this:


"Basically, to an employer a college education is the same thing as a standardized test is to a college. When an employer looks at the fact that you have a 4 year college degree, they can reasonably assume that for four continuous years you had to accomplish something. You had to work on deadline, write papers, recall knowledge, present your thoughts and hopefully work together with others. Many people do this while also working at least a part-time job. Even though there are millions of people out there who have attended college, always remember that there are far more that have not put themselves through
that. When an employer puts the requirement, "4 Year Degree"' on a low-level or entry level job it is the same as a college wanting you to have a high school diploma and to have taken the SAT's."

That is my exterior monologue to people. The interior one continues below:


If you approached college with the idea that it would help you get a job, well, this is what you paid for. That's it. Nothing more.

If that was your intent, I'm afraid that all you have to show for your money, (or your parent's money,) is the inch or two on your resume in which you put: BA, Some Subject, Any College.

You didn't make the Ivy League, what can I say? In the game you were playing, you lost big time. While you were working at JC Penney during junior year in high school, the winners were interning at the UN. But, actually, you probably lost in elemetary school.

If there was any doubt, you really should have known when the envelopes came with your SAT scores. The day you realized that you didn't get over 750 in Verbal and Math is also the day the odds changed. On that day, the price of college slipped from a sound investment to double down on the roulette wheel.

I know, I know. It is unfair.

You were playing the game, sent to left field in the dusky evening. The light faded to black and you didn't know that nine innings had expired, somebody took the ball home and you never got to bat.

What do you get for second place? Well, I am not so sure you are in second place. Really tough to tell. Yes...well...you see the game kind of...drops off after first place.

(Beat.)

Precipitously.

What?

Precipitously? Well, let's just say that it means that if there is a second place you are not in it.

That sounds harsh, I know.

Everybody else?

(Long Pause.)

Don't be angry. Remember, you chose the game. I'm sorry if nobody explained the rules, but...

What? How long does it retain its value? Tough to say. Some pessimists would tell you that it expires after your first interview. I am a little more cheerful. I place the mortality of your degree at about the moment you are first shown to your first cubicle.

Now, it may have a pulse in it which will allow it to gasp for breath from time to time; a supervisor may have attended your school, or the CEO might have a nephew going there. That is exciting, isn't it? I mean, such circumstances could land you with another project that you can't possibly juggle.

But in most situations you will feel the separation anxiety from the money you spent for college as soon as you are left alone in those those three-and one-half walls... those thin, ceilingless and doorless walls. You will then hear its fading death rattle rumble to a soft halt, overcome by the increasing hum of the other losers about you.

Oh, you're cry... Would you like a tissue? I'm really sorry. I wax poetic sometimes.

(Beat.)

I was an English major.

Hold on, I have to take this call...


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