Monday, February 4, 2013


There were two fish.  It was morning and they were swimming along.  From the other side of the lake comes an older fish.  He nods to the youngsters.  Asks, “How’s the water?” and swims away before either of them can answer.
One of the young fish turns to the other and asks, “Who was that?” 
The other young fish says, “I don’t know.  And what’s water?”

This is the parable of education.  It’s like being able to drive to a location without being able to give accurate directions on how to get there.  Education is being made aware of things that were there all along.  And being aware of things isn’t going to hurt.  Instruction, on the other hand, is when someone shows how something is done.  The young fish swimming already swim.  They don’t need instruction on that.  Maybe their form could benefit from some coaching.  I don’t know.  But either way, I do like education.  Formal helps.

In the snobbish snobbery of literary academe, some writers are lifted up, while others are sniffed upon.  Case in point, Jack London; he was a cool writer who knew how to tell stories.  Yet, he was self-taught (sniff, downward glance along the nostril plain).  London was no James Joyce, they say.  How about this:  No duh!  James Joyce was James Joyce and it would be weird if Jack London were also James Joyce; different fish, same water dip-wad!  I’m waiting for Stephen King to make it in the Literahuture Anthologies.
Then there’s this jibe:  those who can, do and those who can’t teach.  There is some truth to that.  It probably depends on the area.  Math teachers…  they can do math, and howdy.  But history teachers?  How, exactly, does one do history?  I like history more than math.  I know more history than math and yet the math is more doable.  History has been done and even re-enactors are making new history.   Strange, huh?
Getting back to writing… amongst my esteemed peers in the English Department, there are a number who venture seldom from the email / Facebook / twitter realms of putting their thoughts into a document.  Yet, they teach writing.  When was the last time you wrote a research paper with sources cited and a bibliography?  Uh, like freakin’ never ago?!
Sometimes these professors get all snotty with their students and run ‘em down for being’ eegnert and stuff.  That’s a lack of empathy is what that is.
What follows is my own horn.  I will now toot it.  Every semester I write one of the assignments with the classes.  This semester I’m going to write a paper with my Composition 1 students and another with my Composition 2 students.  It gives me cred and great examples to show on the projector.  Plus, I learn stuff.  As they struggle, I struggle.  We hold hands and sing ‘Michael Row Your Boat Ashore,’ when finished.  The horn is being put away now.
Let’s say a person wants to be a writer.  The challenge is this:
A) Go into six figures of debt and get one of them there MFAs with an emphasis on Creative Writing, or
B) Lock yourself in a room for three years and write for three hours, every day
Which person will know more about how to write and which person will know the nomenclature of how to talk about writing?  Who will have written more?  The room-locker-inner will write circles around the stolid scribe with the letters after the name.   But, <nose sniffing> we’re talking quality versus quantity.
Hey – how about this literature boy – how about writing stuff people want to read as opposed to writing stuff people are forced to read to get the three credit hours?  If the hidden classics didn’t suck so bad they wouldn’t be hidden, now would they?
There’s this kid in one of my classes.  He says he wants to be a game designer.  So I ask him, “What kind of games are you designing now?”  He looks at me like my left ear just fell off and landed in his cookie-jar sized Mountain Dew coolie cup with a sickening green-ear splash.  I know, right?  And I’m like, “No, really, what are you doing now to design games?”  And he’s all like, “I, uh… <breathes through mouth> uh… I’m going to school.”
And therein lay the lie.  Since when does a person need a couple of letters after his name before he can try something he says he wants to do?
How about this – instead of wearing a two-hundred dollar pair of athletic shoes that are never used for athletics (trust me on this one), and instead of having the latest version of the latest iteration of the next generation cellphone, and instead of plopping down sixty-dollars on the next cool video game every two weeks for your bleeding-edge system with the ear phones and micro-plug-in with your buds until four o’clock in the morning three times a week (all on mommy’s dime anyway), why not get yourself one of them there integrated development environments and learn how to use it?  Go design a video game, dude!  Don’t need a diploma for that.  Don’t need it!  AND (the earth might crack open on this one) – it is possible to work on developing skills and go to college at the same time!  Save me the little boy talk about devoting yourself to your studies.  Pu-FREAKING-leeeeeze…
First time out of the box, said young fella might not create a very decent game.  But he will have created one and learned scads and scads so that, as his academic career evolves, he’ll be in a better position to continue.
About a hundred years ago I was responsible for hiring and firing people.  I met many people who had the diploma but who didn’t know how to do anything but talk about their diploma.
If you want to swim, swim.  Don't need to know water is comprised of two hydrogen molecules bound via polar covalent to one oxygen molecule.  I mean, on Jeopardy that might be handy or it might be something you are interested in.  That's cool.  But for swimming, a person doesn't need to know that.

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