Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More thoughts on Deresiewicz

It occurred to me why academia is not as sex-crazed these days as it is in Roth and Bellow novels, and in movies. Academia may once have been a world of affair-having eccentrics, but today's incoming classes of graduate students all went through the college process. We wouldn't have gotten as far as our selective colleges had we not proven ourselves to be efficient, balanced, even athletic individuals. Even grad students in the most obscure fields, looking to research this one Persian vase they find especially fascinating, would not be there if they hadn't proven themselves in the same meritocracy-ish system as have future investment bankers. Which leads to my point, which is that grad students these days probably treat grad school as something pragmatic and professional. Even in the humanities, networking has replaced seducing. And this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The movies are just lagging behind, holding on to an obsolete phenomenon for its obviously superior entertainment value.


Miss Self-Important said...

What about the second part of the article, which is ostensibly his main point? Students might network with each other, but unless you're exchanging business cards at office hours, networking isn't the full picture of what goes on between students and professors.

Deresiewicz is making a pretty unusual point in arguing that students, or good students at least, are studying not primarily in order to get good grades or even to satisfy their innate passions for the specific knowledge a course might offer, but because they love their professors and want to please them. Moreover, that inner drive for knowledge doesn't start in a vacuum (one day, you wake up and decide, "All I want in life is to study this Persian vase!"), but rather is nurtured by your admiration for someone else that has such a drive. Is that true of universities today, or is Deresiewicz just overrating his own talent as a teacher?

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

His learning-for-learning's-sake argument is... idealist at best. Any realistic undergrad knows that grades do matter--they mattered to get to college in the first place, and continue to do so if you want to go to any kind of grad program. It's a rare student--although there are plenty at Chicago of course--who finds every subject interesting.

Then there's the difference between grad and undergrad--at a liberal arts college, there's the sense that almost none of your classes will directly prepare you for what you do later, so professors, aside from the final grades they give, seem quite cut off from your professional future. Graduate school is professional school to all but the massively independently wealthy. My sense is that the admiration my classmates and I have for our professors is more like what my friends with interesting jobs feel for their superiors than some kind of mysterious but non-prosecutable Eros.

Btw I also have a response in mind to the second part of his article, but my innate need to study for my MA exam means I have to ration these posts for breaks...