Wednesday, March 02, 2005

I got my pencil . . . give me something to write on. (Van Halen)

I think I want to go to grad school.

There. I said it. I have made a definite statement of desire about my future. Kind of. I guess that prefacing the statement with, "I think," sort of makes it a little less definite. Oh well, baby steps.

I think I want to go to grad school because I need to bee surrounded by people that care about the "why" of life again. I want to take apart the things I know so that I understand the underlying structures. Like one of those David Macaulay books that show cutaways of castles with detail down to the rotting, diseased cow that is dropped into the passageway that has been blocked by those evil-looking trellises that clunk into place once the drawbridge has been breached.

My bachelor's degree is in English with a focus on literature and after teaching literature (mostly American) for 5 years, I am overwhelmed at the things that I did not learn in school. I did not learn the underlying structure of things. I did not learn anything about plot structure past the terminology of rising action, climax and the pronunciation of denouement. The complex relationship between conflict and resolution was left unenlightened. I did not learn about the technical aspect of characterization, such as hearing what other characters have to say. I did learn that Mr. Jaggers in Great Expectations cleaned his fingernails with a knife all the time because he must have felt dirty because of his job, but that's pretty simplistic. I did not learn how to read and understand poetry by reading slowly and taking it apart like a jigsaw puzzle. The best advice I got for reading poetry was when Mrs. Grisanzio told us to read it out loud. Good, but not enough. Once I became a teacher myself, I had to figure these things out for myself before I could begin to teach them successfully. And I am fascinated by them.

Of course, I will include the possibility that I wasn't paying attention when these things were taught or that I wasn't in class that day. (I knew a lot of legal ways to skip class. I do distinctly remember being told that I had missed the lesson on poetry explication and that I would just have to figure it out for myself.) Also, it's possible that I wasn't ready to learn those things; that those are the type of things that most people can't learn from a teacher but must just figure out for themselves if they have the aptitude. In fact, although I now include those lessons in my curriculum, I think that last explanation is probably most true. Which is why I think I want to go to grad school. I want an opportunity to devote time to figure out some of these deeper analytical techniques for myself.

That being said, I don't want to study literature. Graduate programs in English have their own subculture that doesn't really have anything to do with what I want, as far as I understand it. I'd rather study history or social justice. I want to apply my knowledge of and ability to analyze underlying structures to something more practical and direct. I want to change the world and understanding literature is just a step in that.

I also want to go back to grad school because I want to be part of an academic community again. I loved college and the struggle to wrap my brain around things that were beyond me. I loved recognizing ideas and art that I had never experienced before. I loved being able to debate without animosity. I can't do that here on the island because most people that debate are stoned while doing so, which is ultimately unfulfilling. Also, it's not a setting that is dedicated to abstract discussion. Everyone has an agenda or needs to be right. Plus, lots of the people here have a different kind of smart than the one I have. I want to be among people like me again.

I know that grad school will not be the perfect opposite of what's missing in my life. It will be full of people and people are flawed. People will be stoned and will argue from ego. Professors will want me to learn what they have to teach and not what direction their lesson sent me off to. But, I want to give it a try.

I've learned that life is full of reversals. We must go back before we go forward. I think that before I teach again, I will need to be a student.

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