Thursday, June 11, 2009

My critique, of Kerouac's critique, of the Collegiate life

"-colleges being nothing but grooming schools for the middle-class non-identity which usually finds its perfect expression on the outskirts of the campus in rows of well-to-do houses with lawns and television sets in each living room with everybody looking at the same thing and thinking the same thing at the same time with the Japhies of the world go prowling in the wilderness to hear the voice crying in the wilderness, to find the ecstasy of the stars, to find the dark mysterious secret of the origin of faceless wonderless crapulous civilization"

-Jack Kerouac,  The Dharma Bums (39).

Kerouac is in one way, correct.  College education is locked in a traditional method of education; that one purchases and consumes textbooks, and regurgitate the materials at the behest of a professor, who assigns a grade based on the proficiency of said regurgitation.  It is rote education based on a model of information memorization and synthesis, in the form of seven page research papers and blue book exams.

But, Kerouac is wrong to blame America's conformist trends on the ubiquity of undergraduate education.  Kerouac, and many like him, are clearly looking for authentic and genuine experience through deep introspection and reflection of the world around them.  Such experiences are found in the real world though hard living, tough choices and dangerous situations; such authenticity cannot be found in a textbook or a lecture.  But the absence of authenticity from the experience college students learning experience is not a full impeachment of the collegiate model.  If everyone simply tramped around in along the mountain ranges of the American wilderness, nothing would get done; the discoveries of scientists, the works of artists, and the inventions of the entrepreneur are all a part of the luxurious lifestlye that allows young men and women to enroll in a university and care only about their intellectual and social development.   But in turn, if everyone spent every ounce of their energies simply trying to move, create, and invent, such an existence would be aimless. 

 There is room for both action and introspection-ideally both working together in a dynamic system.  

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