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  • Lance Mannion
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I don't know if I can face reading it, but since you've recommended it...

stephen benson

on my rez in the 50s school was a pretty hit or miss affair. we relied on what ever white missionaries would come to brave the isolation and poverty for a year. most of the time we would have a male minister and his wife would take over our school. instead of grades (a pretty meaningless division when you're dealing with one room) we marked the progression by what ever sect the missionaries were representing. during Lutheran year (which would have corresponded with the fourth grade if we had grades) the teacher, a nice lady from the north woods named mrs. tondevold, organized a drive for book donations from Lutheran churches across the country. books started to pour in. of course, her husband the minister decided that all the books needed to be locked away in a storeroom so that he could go through them to protect our young impressionable minds from whatever.

mrs. tondevold grew tired of trying to teach a school without books and on the sly told my cousin and I which room all the books were locked up in.

we broke. we entered. we looted that room. I still own the full set of "the Harvard classics" I found in there. it was an incredible foundation for the humanities. plato, zenophon, Thucydides, all the greek playwrights, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Balzac, camus, Marlowe, Thomas mann, all in that six feet of literature.

I tell people "I stole my education from the white man." it isn't hyperbole. those books infected me with curiosity and a drive to examine questions of philosophy and history.

Bill Murray

It's interesting that as so many colleges and even countries try to get rid of or reduce the humanities, the National Academy of Engineers thinks that engineers need a considerable amount more than currently required. Of course all that will likely be added will be entrepreneurial in nature.


I love this:

"It was just something that made me me, the way their individual majors in theater, art, science, dance, business, education, math, music, and partying made my friends them."

and hope that we can remember that students pick majors (and minors -- I'll never forget a student I had my first year as a history TA who wanted to go to medical school but loved history, so was minoring in it) for all kinds of reasons, including just plain interest.

Theophrastus Bombastus von Hoenhenheim den Sidste

Chemistry was my gig, back in the mesolithic when I attended university. In my crowd, the degree was considered not an end in itself but a platform for comprehending the entire world. We all read history and literature and philosophy, and discussed it all with youthful passion.

You may remember the story in Player Piano where the guy is in the room getting the lecture about the promotion arc, when he sees the deer running free and he gets out while he has the chance. Well, I once sat in that room and got the lecture and went through with it because I thought it would lead to my dream job. In fact, it was every bit as soul crushing and degrading as Vonnegut tried to warn me; it was too bad I didn't listen.

But a least I got to hang out in the Stockade in downtown Schenectady, and to drink at the Van Dyke restaurant where Kurt is still remembered.

Rebecca Clayton

More from the "Going to Hell in a Handbasket News:"

"Math, Science Popular Until Students Realize They’re Hard"

In college, I got a second degree in English because I loved it, but took my English profs' advice and went to grad school in biology because the career prospects were better. They were mistaken about that, but that's another story.

Now I teach college students the basic math they didn't learn in high school, or forgot in the years they took off to raise their kids or make a living. The study described above confirms what I see in the classroom. Students don't know math, and they are shocked to find out how much work it is to learn math.

Most of these students are fluent readers and are able to handle freshman composition with passing grades, so I'm not as worried about the humanities as Klinkenborg is. I'm worried that so many people can't understand how their taxes, car payments, and payroll checks are calculated, can't understand what's going on with the federal, state and local budgets, can't manage their personal information on the many electronic devices they short, can't take care of themselves in the modern world, or participate sensibly in their government. They have the skills to learn about the humanities on their own, but there aren't many math autodidacts.

Lance Mannion

Theophrastus, I remember that scene. I remember the Van Dyke too. As you probably know, I grew up in Illium. Well, just outside it. My grandfather and Pop Mannion worked for General Forge and Foundry. Do you still live in the area?

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