Hello from my kitchen,
The weekend has been rather non-stop, and as I sit at my kitchen table eating a salad, I find myself pondering the state of all kinds of things, from food to fantasy (and I mean more like contrary to reality), from education to economics (see Lydia, you still have power), and from vernal to viejo (yes, I changed the language to manage the alliteration). This past Friday, the first third of yet another semester is complete. There are moments I am still struggling to remember my schedule, but the weeks are not slowing down. The Father’s prophecy seems true yet again. He noted that the days to years, and now I am thinking decades, are not seeming to slow down. In not much over 3 years it will be 50 years ago I graduated from high school. It makes that Spanish noun used in this paragraph seem more apropos by the day.
And yet, I wonder how or when it will be reasonable to slow down? I am not a person to sit still for very long, but there are moments I find myself more worn out than I used to be. I find days or periods of the day where focus is much less possible than I remember. And as I write this about 36 hours later, I somehow managed to end up with an ambulance ride to Geisinger/Bloomsburg Hospital yesterday after having some serious symptoms. While it seems all the tests indicate nothing abnormal, the things that happened seem to contradict that. So off to some more specialists I will go next Tuesday. There are a couple of things I have pondered as of late, considering a change and how it might help me; seems I might need to do more than ponder. As I am sitting and typing away, I am always astounded by all the things we take for granted as we mosey along each day. I sometimes wonder how the things that happened to me in those first two years of my life have affected me long-term. There is the beginning of being barely over a pound and then only 26 weeks, but there are the things which I really have no idea that they happened. I know, unfortunately, in general terms that my biological parent’s child-caring skills were a bit remiss. I am pretty sure that nutrition was a problem. How does this fit in terms of my thinking question? Well, it seems to me that if you are going to be a parent, even if you did not plan it all out, you would rethink how what you do affects the lives of the little humans you are entrusted to care for. Perhaps that is mere idealism on my part, but are there no parenting instincts from carrying or watching the development of a child? I think of how carefully one of my former students is now as she is about to deliver her second child, and how in our conversations everything she says, does, imagines is affected by the fact that she will be delivering another human. She and her husband work so incredibly hard to raise their daughter and the imminent arrival of their son will be a wonder and joy to behold. I have noted her before and their little family causes me to think, but also gives me hope. There are still those moments when I wonder what it would have been like to be a parent from birth until today. Anton has given me an understanding of parenting like nothing I have every experienced, but he has taught me so much. I believe I am more patient and willing to listen because of him. It has affected how I work with others, how I listen to my students, and what I believe I can do to make other’s lives better. That has always been at the core of who I am. What can I do or how can I understand and think about what matters in the larger picture.
As I listen to my students, read their papers, and think with them, they always inspire me. Sometimes, as anyone who is in a classroom can attest, there are trying moments, but seldom is the student a bad person. Sometimes it is helping them learn how to think more critically. One of my colleagues noted today that our “government [is] based on anti-intellectualism . . .” and then goes on to say right now. I will agree with him, and I will agree with the right now aspect, but I think he is more optimistic than I am. I believe we have a government and an economic system that has worked on this premise for probably the last two or three generations (and perhaps before), but I am not educated enough in my own understanding before that time. However, it seems that the Alphabet Agencies and many of the policies put in place during FDR were much more about society than the rich. Certainly, the one percent does not want our system to change. If everyone would think carefully about how things are stacked up, one would hope they might ponder how it is more and more people are working one, two, or three jobs, but not getting beyond that infamous station in life, and perhaps too many are going in reverse. While certainly more and more are working, the wages they are bringing home do not manage the necessities as those wages once did. We can consider the market, but figure show that too many people in the country are not in the market or do not have retirement plans, so the market does not really assist them in a substantive way. As a check on this: the global markets have lost 6 trillion dollars in 6 days (Fitzgerald, 28Feb20). More specifically, 4 trillion of that is in the United States. I can write that number, but I have no concept of that figure. I can think my to the point my brain might explode, but all those commas and zeros will not become clear to me. While I am very fortunate, I am still a little NW Iowa boy. As someone in his mid-60s, however, I am afraid to look at my retirement in light of the past week. (Adding: we have now had the first confirmed death of COVID19 in the states and the weekend has been more about who is doing what than just doing it. Again, step back and think everyone).
Thinking is fundamental to who we are as humans, however. I think that once again, I am pushed back to my Dana education. The most important thing I learned to do there was make connections. That is what those humanities courses did. There was no silo-ing of concepts; there was no possibility of being able to ignore how it all fit together. I remember one unit question in particular. It is indicative of the thinking we were required to do if we hoped to achieve something close to a 30 on that essay. The statement was something like [e]xplain how the architecture of the Renaissance and the cathedrals of Europe reflected the politics and religion of the time. In this question was the ultimate synthesis of what was happening in Europe. Even now, I can see the connections and how the need to reach out to God in a sort of Tower of Babel manner was evident in the incredible structures that reached to the heavens. The need of people to think and connect has perhaps never been more important. I can also imagine that such an argument has been made in every generation, but what is different now? First, while my students write more than any previous generation, they also read less. This is what studies show, but at whose peril? Their own I would argue and for the generations beyond. Yet, it is not all their fault. They are the products of what we have done.Our own consumerism and the belief that we can continually kick difficult things down the road is a basic lesson in accountability. Heaven knows I do not like accountability anymore than the next person, but it is time we re-think that. Our belief that bigger is better, that more is a good thing, that we deserve all we have regardless the consequence for the other has be observed by our children and grandchildren. The adage my parents often preached, “Do as I say and not as I do.” while true to some extent, is not what we as humans are prone to do. We parrot the behavior we observe more times than not. I saw this in church when I was a pastor. Ask yourself this: why do you do some of the things you do in church or other places? The most common answer is because we have always done it that way. Another thing I realize I learned at Dana was simple. Learn from the past to inform the future, not to control the future or relive the past. I learned to question things. I think I had some of that in me before Dana, but my time on the hill certainly sharpened that skill. More importantly, it made it a central part of who I am and how I live my life. One of the things I think my students are better at than we were, and it is somewhat reminiscent of the late 1960s, it to speak out when something is illogical or simply garbage. They might not demonstrate and be as vociferous as their 1960s counterparts, but they are as wise and willing to question the status quo. The book title picture that I use was part of my comprehensive exam reading. What is truth is a common question. What is a lie should also be asked.
If you are to question the status quo, it is necessary to think. While I am not sure they articulate their concerns as well as we might wish, they are thinking. I do believe in part that is what I am called to do as a professor. It is not my job to tell them what to think, and I work hard to make sure I am not doing that. It is, however, imperative that they do think. It is vital that they question why the world is as it is. It is what professors with names of Nielsen, Jorgensen, Bansen, Hernes, or Stone expected of us and helped us do. I remember Dr. Brandes astounding me more than once with conversations that were far from his musical talents. I loved his probing looks and insightful questions that expected more than a cursory answer. One of the students I appreciate the most has a very different political stand than I do, but I know why she believes as she does, and I respect her position. She knows why I believe as I do and she also respects mine. This little interaction is how it should be. It requires thinking and pondering and understanding more than merely what is said. It is the rhetorical foundation that I use in all of my classes. Students say regularly, I was never taught to think about audience and purpose so succinctly, so purposefully. Yet, when we do that, we speak differently; we listen differently; we interact differently. In spite of some of the things that saturate our news outlets, our Twitter feeds, or our Instagram posts, I do believe there is a lot of thinking going on. As much as I want or wish? Perhaps not, but I am not sure we can ever cooperatively think too much. Just my thinking on all of it.
Thanks for reading as always,