Thursday, September 2, 2010


Initially, I was interested by Mark Edmunson's position on the state of the American university. However, he began to ramble on and I noticed the frustrated man between the lines of the text who had been glossed over as "pretty cool" and no more by the majority of his students. The mentor desperate to change lives within him screams out in indignation because his flock of proteges consists solely of the one guy whose shoulder he put his hand on during one of his "Life Talks" in class. But it's not your fault, Mark. Don't worry about it, it's just our the way of our generation. And now that I have returned the ad hominem argument against my generation, I will move on to a serious commentary.

I think Edmundson makes some very valid points in Why Read?. His attack on the consumerist agenda of the university really did make me think about how I view the classes that I take. Do I enroll in the name of self-improvement or because this is the expectation for someone of my age? The university appeals heavily to the student as it would a potential customer. This is a fact that seems hard to miss, considering that ICES forms hold legitimate sway in the academic world. I believe this to be a perversion of the democratic ideal. It is necessary that students should give feedback but when I am asked "if the work load was too much or too little" I wonder why this was not addressed sooner in the semester, perhaps by the professor and not a Scantron form. The analogy that springs to mind is limiting the country's presidential voting pool to only those people who planned to leave the country immediately upon their vote being cast. I have watched people bubble a line straight down the sheet and walk out almost immediately. Certain components of the system seem to cater to those who would prefer not to question their education and ignore the individuals who are in fact asking for change. It is a system that seeks only to improve itself, and not those who make its inner workings. More five-bubbles does not mean greater satisfaction, it only means less disapproval.

Edmundson talks of the power and danger of influence and this is where he starts to lose me. He speaks many times throughout the book of his love of influence. "To me, there are few pleasures greater than being influenced: learning something I need to know from another."(100) However, I believe that the source of influence within a literature class should not be the professor, but in fact, the literature at hand. Edmundson continues on to cite his generalized theory of why professors do not like to ask their students "real questions."(101) To summarize, the professors who are fearful of their influence are those that are most dismissive and reductive in regards to their students' capabilities. I believe that this is not the case. Given my opinion that the source of influence should in fact be the works being studied, I believe it is Edmundson who is most critical of his students' abilities to deduce meaning from a great work. He believes they cannot truly "learn" unless he steps in and shows the way. Positive influence at the college level, either subliminal or overt, is something that requires a student's voluntary acceptance. Within the confines of a classroom, it is not possible to force a change in someone's life views. Edmundson's hypocritical argument against professors choosing to be un-influential stems from his inability to believe that students do not require his guidance to change their Final Narratives.

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