This I Believe

Marylouise - State College, Pennsylvania
Entered on January 21, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65

I woke up this morning with student commentaries in my head.

They were the typical recurring litany of dissatisfaction with the amount of reading involved in the course.

Humanities 371. Humanistic Values in a Technological World.

“I hate the humanities. I am a mathematician.”

What of the beautiful mathematics of a pointillist masterpiece, or the geometry of a cubist painting, or the balanced rhythm of a beautifully constructed poem?

“The material is boring.”

Camus. Freud. Hedges. Bono. Bradbury. Jon Stewart.

Technology. Democracy. Censorship. Disease. War.

Connect the dots.

Only boring people are bored.

“I’m not interested in literature. I plan to be a scientist.”

An unfortunate disconnect, to be sure.

What of the poetry, the rhythm, the humanity of a scientific treatise?

The human impact of a technological innovation?

The technological implications for human productivity or human misery?

“This has nothing to do with my life.”

The perennial need for relevance.

Find it in thousands of years of human history and creativity. Pull at threads that connect us all. Politics, religion, philosophy, art and culture.

“I read everything and I deserve a better grade.”

The classic entitlement argument.

No comment required.

“I’ve paid my tuition and I deserve to pass.”

The new “student as customer” paradigm.

An unfortunate model eliminating the dynamic of personal responsibility.

Education as pure commodity.

I listen to “Car Talk.” The Tappit brothers artistically dissect an automotive problem, in classic essay form — the question, the analysis, the conclusion…. And the humor and the psychology, and the artful use of language.

Click. Tom. Latin in H.S. MIT. Physics. Army Vet. Teacher.

Clack. Ray. MIT. Humanities and Science. Vista volunteer. Loved to “take things apart.” Radio talk-show host.

I watch an electrician wire a new home, or fix a problem in an existing space.

The question, the analysis, the conclusion. The anatomy of the human nervous system.

A plumber dislodges a clogged drain, locating the source of the problem.

Not unlike the human cardiovascular system. The physics of blood flow.

A cholesterol problem, with a little mechanical assistance.

The house comes alive and triggers the imagination to write an illustrated children’s anatomy book. The art of the architecture. The science of the “innards.”

There is no disconnect between the arts and the sciences.

My family physician asks about life, about the kids, and then about the symptoms. The wheels turn. A diagnosis is made, factoring in the emotional, the economic, the psychological, the sociological, the political and the science that is medicine, to be sure. Connecting the dots, always connecting the dots.

The art on Dr. Taylor’s walls is soothing and whimsical. My blood pressure self corrects. What is the connection between the brain and the body? A perfect symbiosis of art and science.

A Hollywood film writer explains the creative “process.” It is not dissimilar to the construction of a beautiful thesis or dissertation, pulling at creative threads from multiple disciplines and mixing the logical information of the research assistant with the artistic genius of the special effects person and the poetic imagination of the writer.

Why should I read?

A mother engages her child in creative play, painting flower pots, while simultaneously teaching her the interplay of color and light, the parts of a flower, and the elegance of botany.

Jamie Lee Curtis writes a children’s book titled “Is There Really a Human Race,” utilizing the metaphor of runners and marathons to explain complex issues of race and class and gender and difference to small children.

At a recent children’s concert, songwriter and performer Tom Chapin teaches children about the psychology of family, respect for the environment, the fun of travel, and concepts of difference and conflict while humorously playing varied musical instruments from acoustic guitars to dulcimers to diggerydoos. “What does a diggerydoo, do?”

Why read?

I revel in Nora Ephron

One quote inspires me beyond all others. It is this:

“Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.”(Nora Ephron, in “I Feel Bad About My Neck,” page 52.)

As a teacher, a writer, a wife, a mother, and a historian who sometimes has trouble with math, I can find no better response to the question.

This I believe.