I haven’t written for a while. I’m not doing St Stephen’s anymore, because I don’t believe that it’s a good program. And because I sent an angst-ridden letter to the director and professors expressing rather indelicately various ways in which I have found it to be a poor program. And got a fairly acid response. So I won’t be writing about it anymore.
I do have a blessing to consider why I have a tendency to participate in educational venues that I’m unlikely to like, and then freak out some when, in fact, I do not like them. And whether there’s something I ought to be learning from this. We did actually have a Groundhog Day themed sermon the other week, and it was sort on that (not necessarily on education, but things that just keep coming around again and again. And the movie). So I gave it some thought. Having been here before, I have plenty of thoughts. Steamers full of them. Sorting thoughts is more difficult than finding them in this case. They go off in rather different directions.
One thought was: it’s like I’m expecting a course to be sort of like a telescope. There’s True Stuff out there to look at, and a course might direct and amplify our vision so that we can see it — and see particular bits of it in some detail. One might imagine some lenses; the Program Structure lens focusing into the Books and Materials lens, toward the Great Books or Tradition lens, and the Big Questions lens, and finally toward the True, Good, or Beautiful that is being aimed at.
I’m thinking of a course like a telescope, I said, but perhaps the organizer is thinking of it as a goad, or a measuring stick. If I were a comic artist, this would present some amusing scenes: trying to look into the distance through a stick, and nearly poking my eye out. Wondering why the lenses of the measuring stick are so cloudy. I imagine the facilitator standing by watching, wondering how anyone can be so dull. Teacher trainers like to quote “if all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” (I don’t know who that’s ascribed to), and perhaps if all you want is to see, a lot of things might look like telescopes which aren’t, or are very poor ones.
Still, it seems rather thoughtless to make something that *looks* like it’s going to be for seeing, but which is not quite fit for seeing with, and then to poke or measure people with it. I imagine getting poked in the eye a number of times, and then squawking or sulking, as I have been known to do, as the victim of a rather poor joke.
So thought: you’re a rather clever girl. Surely you could figure this out after a couple of tries. One would think. Presumably after getting a packet of materials that says a lot about how to get a certificate, and nothing at all about how to assimilate knowledge into wisdom, you’d know it as being more of a measuring stick than a telescope, and only inadvertently a mirror. Or, after going to enough workshops that end up being very much about controlling people, and very little about the desirability of doing so, one would recognize a stick for prodding with. One might very well continue to dislike being prodded and measured, but surprise becomes increasingly implausible. What else is going on?
Not uncommonly, organizers have a couple of intentions, which may interact oddly. They may want to convince you that if you don’t repent you will burn in hell for all eternity — and also want you to have fun. It’s not necessary that the desire to inflict fun be any less sincere than the desire to inspire repentance. Making a small group of people miserable every day for months and years is not a desirable career for any sane person. And I suspect that many people, including educational professionals, secretly suspect that if they exclusively did what they mean to do — goad people into being more responsible teachers, for instance — then they and we would be rather miserable. We might even disagree on what we ought to be repenting of. It might become unpleasant. We might reach an impasse. So, whether by design or no, we whip up a kind of manipulation stew. Something that I find extraordinarily distasteful, because I cant’ tell what’s in it. Is the spoon full of aspartame hiding medicine, poison, or placebo? It’s a bit chancy.
I should note, before confusing myself and you with example soup, that not all of this applies equally to every situation. Just now I was mostly thinking about workshop facilitators who pour on the games, activities, and literal candy so thick that there’s very little room to consider what’s under the icing. And it’s not even good icing — it’s the kind you want to scrape off when it gets thicker than an eighth of an inch. This is far less true of St Stephen’s, where the appeal is actually in the the topic and the essays — so in that which the course actually consists of — only it’s rather poorly done. That may well have been a simple case of ignorantly poking myself with something I mistook for a telescope, but which was, in fact, a measuring stick, after trying very hard to look through it.
PS: With less psychological maneuvering one might say “it’s hard to admit that something I’ve hoped would be good and interesting if I just put enough or the right kind of effort and thought and consideration into it is probably just not very good, even if the experience of encountering it is, in other ways, good for me. So first I invest a lot of energy into making it work (and had to previously invest some money into it, making me want to quit even less), and get some good cognitive dissonance going on.