The cheat sheet for the academic

Sometimes, when I am barraged by back-seat students at the end of the year, I put together a list of tips on how to sound academic. Does that not want to make you laugh? Among other things, I tell them that what I am looking for includes an exploration of defined concepts, which preferably uncover a level of complexity. "Things are not black and white," I say. I then ask which themes constitute the works of literature that have read in their sophomore and junior years - and ask whether the treatment of these themes reveals diversity: that love can come in different guises; honour can lead to difficulty; etc.
This is what I feel to be the goal of the undergraduate university education, though I am sure I could think of a better way of conveying this idea. I think that people who can respect complexity make for a good audience. We do not all have to think the same - for sameness breeds blindness. There needs to be a stand of some sort, and since we do not all begin in the same place, that is a good thing. As the Francis Bacon wrote: truth comes of error more than from confusion.
Similarly, today I was reading through this blog on figures of speech, and came across this statement: "The paradox and its Siamese-twin cousin, the oxymoron, show that the world is neither black-and-white nor gray. It’s black on white, a jumble of realities and beliefs. The ancient Greeks called these perceptions doxa, a term that survives in the Christian Doxology, a statement of belief. Some ages tolerate a riot of doxa. Other ages burn Korans and call political opponents traitors. Want to think like an Aristotle? Take everything you believe and construct a cogent argument against it," (emphasis added). 
There is a lot of name-calling happening in this age. Not so much intelligent argument. Of course, for the latter to happen, one must be informed, and by informed, I do not mean the daily wash of trivia. I mean brain activity. I tell my students that the brain is a muscle, and as is the case with keeping fit, if one takes a few weeks off from exercises, beginning them again will be hard, and one will have to re-build one's fitness level. I myself am guilty of this, as I see that I am going to have to go through a stack of literature I would really rather not read. But there are no short cuts in learning. One needs to take the time to get to know "the other side". 
Doesn't that sound like friendship? So, here we go again, back to this basic idea. The academic should be the best-suited to make friends, because the academic is supposed to know more. (Heh, but it rarely works out this way, so perhaps I am using the word academic in jest?) Our job is to get to know other people and listen without judging, because only then will we figure out the gem of truth that is on the other side. There will always be a good reason in the cloth that makes up someone else's stories. One does not have to agree, but by listening, one will be all the richer. Here's that 70's pan-humanism making its rerun in my thinking! I am a child of my age.
So, the cheat sheet is acknowledging difference without name-calling. The work begins in the "getting to know you" part. Which is to say, there is no cheat sheet - unless the cheating is getting someone to feel that the work can be fun and interesting.

Getting to know you,
Getting to know all about you.
Getting to like you,
Getting to hope you like me.

Getting to know you,
Getting to feel free and easy. 
When I am with you,
Getting to know what to say. 

No comments:

Post a Comment