Thursday, June 11, 2009

School is Wasted on the Young

Did you notice that the March 14th Alliance (formerly the March 16th Alliance but that's another story) was triumphant in Lebanon's elections this week? Their defeat of the Hezbollah/Iranian-funded-Shi'ia/(non-Maronite) Christian opposition party was a lovely coda to President Obama's Middle East visit.

TBG and I read about it in the Wall Street Journal and followed it on CNN and MSNBC and bored the Amster to tears discussing it. Two weeks ago we might have noticed it, but wouldn't have given it a second thought. Now, though, I'm thinking that a Hezbollah defeat in Lebanon might have repercussions in the West Bank, from whence Hezbollah wages war* against Israel. And that's a consideration I couldn't have made before CAU.

I did all the (excruciating) reading before we arrived on campus, and I read all the articles in the packet we received upon checking in. Every last word of every last page. Not all of it was fascinating but I read it and thought about it, and read some parts aloud to TBG and found myself asking penetrating questions of the cable news praters who managed to say nothing, although at great length. With just a little bit of knowledge I was armed for bear. I had done the reading.

I often remind people that even we perfect adults have checkered pasts. Academically, my claim to shame is the fact that, had we not closed school early in 1970 in response to the killings at Kent State, I would have been faced with the annoying little fact that I was 5000 pages behind in my reading for Anthropology 102. It just wasn't that interesting. Inuits, potshards, Margaret Mead...... there were frisbees to be thrown and wars to protest and the reading just didn't call to me.

This spring, though, I finished a novel which made its point in the first 15 pages and I plowed through essays written to justify one side of an argument I didn't know existed. There weren't going to be any repercussions if I didn't do the work. No tests, no papers, no pop quizzes - oral or otherwise. It was just the fact that the professor had gone to the trouble of assembling what he thought I ought to know and it seemed silly not to read it.

Obviously, the same argument could have/should have been made when I was 19. And, it probably was. I just wasn't in a place to hear it. I did most of the reading for most of my classes, and I never felt unprepared in any class where I might be called on, but I don't remember being as engaged with unfamiliar subject matter as I was last week. I wanted to understand the differences between the Sunni and the Shi'ia and the history of the regional conflicts over the generations, even if it meant that I really had to pay attention and take notes to remind myself of the pieces I couldn't hang onto otherwise. I've re-read those notes once or twice since we've been home, and we've stored the folders in a convenient spot on the bookshelves instead of filing them away in the CAU box on the top shelf in the closet, because we know that we'll be looking to them for answers again and again.

Perhaps the difference is that I've lived long enough so that what is history today was my life as I lived it. Current patterns are growing out of events which I remember first hand. At 19, I knew that I had everything to learn and that I had all the time in the world to learn it. Now, in older-adulthood, I know some things and can see by looking around me that my time on this earth is limited. So I am prodded to be frugal with new experiences - to get every last bit out of each and every one of them. In an age filled with chatter, the chance to dig deeply into a complex subject is a rare opportunity.

I'm glad I'm old enough to appreciate it.

*Yes, I am biased. But, it's my blog, so deal with it! It's one of the joys of unmediated media and I'm reveling in it right now.

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