10.0834 times & standards

WILLARD MCCARTY (willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Mon, 7 Apr 1997 22:06:55 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 834.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

Subject: Re: 10.0828 times & standards

[2] From: Wendell Piez <piez@rci.rutgers.edu> (53)
Subject: Re: 10.0828 times & standards

Date: Thu, 03 Apr 1997 16:08:43 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Re: 10.0828 times & standards

Cheers for Mark Gardner; he's exactly right about short attention spans, TV,
group work etc. as dumbing down the secondary school curriculum, at least in
the U.S. (I'm a college teacher, but my wife teaches in what's still Jr High,
but may shortly be dumbed down to Middle School. The result of this will be
that students will be even less prepared for High School, which will have to be
dumbed down accordingly, and then for college, which is rapidly being dumbed
down, as I can attest.)

What he left out are the projects designed to give the appearance of reform,
while really just intended to disguise the decline by falsifying the evidence
(and meanwhile making some money). The local example is something called ATLAS
(though I expect the classical reference is lost on its supporters, who think
it is a notion invented by Rand-McNally).... I could go on, but better stop
before I get apocalyptic (according to ATLAS, a dance craze...).

Hoke Robinson, Memphis (hrobinsn@msuvx1.memphis.edu)

Date: Thu, 3 Apr 1997 13:10:02 -0500 (EST)
From: Wendell Piez <piez@rci.rutgers.edu>
Subject: Re: 10.0828 times & standards

Sorry to inflict this on readers of HUMANIST, but Mark Gardner pushed a

> It took all of us many tedious hours of what we believed to be
> meaningless toil before we realized that "knowledge for knowledge sake"
> was a worthy end unto itself, and then began to *really* learn things
> not because we had to but because we wanted to.

It did? My humanist credentials are as good as most, but I never
responded to meaningless toil. I learned because I was fundamentally
curious, and was too stubborn to be saddled with subjects where the toil
was meaningless to me (and too well cared for: I had options). Expecting,
when I entered college, to make myself a scientist, I was dismayed by a
Chemistry lecture delivered to 300, but turned on by my course in Ancient
Greek -- and ended up majoring in the latter. Because I was interested.
When that toil started feeling meaningless, I switched again, this time to
poetry, poetics, literary and aesthetic theory in the English tradition.
When my English professors warned me that all this time fooling with
computers was better spent delivering conference papers (meaningless toil
to me) I shrugged them off: by that time I recognized these voices
sinister, having heard them before. ("Labor is virtuous! You must
sacrifice what you love!") Now I find my expertise in electronic text
encoding and computer-mediated communications is making me -- well,
ironically more marketable (*shudder*) than the average English Ph.D., but
what really matters, ever more interested in my work and more engaged than
ever with the world at large.

No one, however young, has any trouble understanding that "knowledge for
knowledge sake" [sic] is in itself a good thing, when it is knowledge that
brings them closer to something they are passionate about -- be that
dinosaurs, rocks, medieval manuscripts or basketball. I am wearied by the
"blame the students" mentality of many who notice the failures in our
current ways of educating, even when it's disguised within the "students
are victims: blame the system" topos (blame who?). We do not have to
mutilate ourselves to be whole. Especially if we've been mutilated in the

If we try to use computers and e-text technologies as sugar tablets to
sweeten the tedium of dull studies, we will fail. If we teach how to use
them as instruments of expression and communication about things that
already matter to us and our students, we will succeed. Passion responds
to passion: and so Professor Bear is encouraged to see how many really are
interested in Spenser. When a student actually wants to get from one page
to another (or create navigable pages), learning the conventions of
hypertext linking, or even bibliographic reference, is a snap.

But this is not really about the technology. When is it ever? I want
to affirm Francois' suggestion that it helps to work among learners at
different levels (coupled with the implicit observation that large groups
isolate us), and in an environment where mistakes and failures are valued
for the experience they bring. Our intelligence is quickened by rubbing up
against the world. Students only need some confidence and perspective to
go with the desire they already have. But isn't it sad when we Humanists
forget about Eros?

Wendell Piez
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities