Thursday, February 26, 2015

School days


     "Heavenish" is the awkward word that came to mind as I was strolling around the sun-kissed campus of Pomona College during Parents Weekend earlier this month. 
     And it took me a bit of trial and error to even get to that.
      "Heavenly" seemed wrong—an adjective better suited to cake. "Paradisaical" is not in the vernacular. I rolled "Edenlike" around in mind, but that implied a certain innocence belied by so many skateboards and smart phones at the California college, an hour east of Los Angles. 
    Perfect weather. Temperatures in the 70s, but dry. It took me days to find a cloud. A botanist's dream of palms and plants and unusual trees—at least unusual by my admittedly narrow Midwestern standards. 
     My kid wore shorts, oxford shirts and flip flops and padded here and there, never in a particular hurry. He seemed to have one class a day, James Joyce and French and economics and ... I kid you not ... bowling. A different parent might have blanched a bit at the thought of going to college to learn to bowl, but they make students take phys-ed at Pomona —mens sana in corpore sano*—and I can't say I disagree. You've got your body for your entire life; might as well learn to take care of it. 
      None of it seemed particularly difficult, but then my kid tells me that, after the gladiatorial blood academic sport that was high school, college is a breeze, so far. Not exactly preparing him for the tooth and claw of the business world, perhaps, but as he points out, there's law school for that, and law school is plenty hard, and no reason why he shouldn't ramp up slowly.
     Life serves up plenty of bad stuff; if it starts offering ambrosia, well, grab a spoon and enjoy. 
     After all, he is going to school, and if my pondering over which shade of the empyrean to cast Pomona is worth considering (and I'm not sure it is, but it's too late now. Every ... goddamn ... day) then it's worth pausing over the word "school."
     From the Greek, 'skholḗ," which means "leisure." And if you're wondering how a word that meant, in essence, "spare time," came to mean the place where exactly the opposite is true, for most, therein lies the tale. Because in ancient Greece, a child was either a slave or working a shop or picking the fields or, if you were very, very fortunate, and and if your pateras was rich, and you had a lot of skholḗ on your hands, you were expected to edify your mind, with lectures and readings and such (and your body, with running and wrestling and such, but no bowling). Eventually the place where those lectures absorbing the spare time of well-to-do kids took place became known as "schools" and you can figure out the rest from there.
View out my kid's dorm window
     Lucky boy. Life delivers a much harsher fate to most other 19 years olds, and I was gratify to see that he seems to realize it, at least vaguely. To be honest, I'm proud to be part of a society that sends young men and women, not just off to war, not just off to work, but off to school, to quiz professors and argue tiresomely with their friends and read Ulysses and arrive languorously at spa-like eating establishments and sigh over the spread of every good thing you could imagine and a few you couldn't, and wander through this very heavenish setting. There will be time for grinding over the briefs in windowless office towers in frigid climates in the years to come. 
     Meanwhile, the etymology of "school" is a reminder that leisure is for learning, in my view, and that a life well spent is a life of constant education. In the perpetual mourning over the decline of journalism, which spiked again this week with a dozen newspaper colleagues taking the buy-out and leaving, I have to remind myself, through gritted teeth, that it was still a good choice to go into a profession where, basically, you go to school full time, wandering about, poking your nose into unusual places, reading engaging stuff, and regularly exploring what you're interested in, and then trying to tell people about it. Or at least I do; I understand that I'm lucky too, in that regard, and some journalists are laying out the agate high school sports scores or working in the back of take-out restaurants. It took a lot of work to get here, and I'm inclined to stay until they pry my fingers off the doorjamb, which should be any minute now. Until then, this job is a good thing, and suited to my personality. Now if only the setting were warmer. And the business model a little more sure. And colleagues not departing at such a clip.


* "a sound mind in a sound body"

17 comments:

  1. I simultaneously enjoy your avoidance of too much snugly feel good posts, because I do believe there should be more alarms blaring, and find your posts about your sons charming. I didn't miss the rumination on the joys of college, but also appreciate it being grounded in details about your son's garb and schedule.

    Ellen

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  2. Oh my goodness. When my daughter who is an Engineering major at a similarly high caliber school tells me how much easier the liberal arts kids have it I didn't quite believe it. Now I do!! One class a day? My kid has at least 3 most days because all of her classes have lab sections. Moreover engineers on top of regular homework must use lab space late at night ( undergrads get the labs when the grad students have vacated them) so she often can't go back to her room til midnight or later. And it's not unusual for a test to have an average grade in the low 60s. It's very hard. The one plus she's been told by graduating kids is that the working world is a breeze in comparison.

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    1. When I was in engineering school many of our classes had weekly quizes, or at least a handful of midterms. In contrast, many liberal arts classes had a midterm and a final, with a "reading week" to catch-up on everything they had blown off!

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    2. Oh yes ANON- not Anon. There is that too! There are several midterms ( which is linguistically ridiculous ) and weekly quizzes. Not to mention crazy hard lab reports.

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    3. Yup. Glenbrook North was excellent preparation for UIUC engineering. I had a few classmates who came from high schools that were less demanding, it was more of an adjustment for them. Naperville, Buffalo Grove, and Lane Tech grads hit the ground running.

      On the flip side, another four years or so of that workload led to jobs that only ran more than 40 hours a week if you wanted to put that time in, a living standard high enough to afford comfortable solo accomodations instead of hunting for roommates for slightly more expensive versions of student slum apartments, and flip-flops year-round if you're into that sort of thing. Much more time for skholḗ. :P

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  3. The only thing, with liberal arts, you wont find well paying jobs or jobs not as easy to find, but I know it's not one class a day for lib. arts.

    Mr. S. be sure the young man isn't spoiled, should be working part time in summer at least and tell him he can't stay in college for too many years or you aren't paying. Some time bucking snow just to get to class would build character.
    Some AP hs class transfers, summer courses and Clep (yes, some schools still have those) tests might help around the basic education and save some time, courses and money.

    On another note, some of us would love to hear your thoughts on the run-off for Rahm.

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    1. Those are coming tomorrow. I needed a day to process.

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  4. While I have no doubt Mr. Steinberg's son has the smarts to beat the odds, in general this is terrible advice. In 2014 the Atlantic Magazine reported that 180 of the top 200 law schools in the U.S. couldn't find legal jobs for 80% of their students!!! Most of the rest are stuck with six figure debt that can't ever be discharged. I'll bet many of them wish they had spent their college years at a frigid-winter school with a STEM major.

    I don't mean to completely slag on liberal arts programs - personal growth is a real thing, and one can gain some valuable skills (especially writing/communication) there. But the idea that it's ok to sit around in this "sharing economy" wolrd and enjoy debating the finer points of literature while biding time for grad school is perilous - unless you're very wealthy (in that sense, maybe we've come full circle to those Ancient Greeks Mr. Steinberg mentioned).

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    1. Here's a link to the article I mentioned: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/the-collapse-of-big-law-a-cautionary-tale-for-big-med/283736/

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    2. of course anon, only you know everything and have good advice

      can your head fit out of a doorway, you narcissist, know it all, you don't know as much as you think

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    3. Just curious, is there anything above (or in the linked article) you disagree with? Because I didn't think one needs to be a know-it-all to say banking on any profession with 80% unemployment for new graduates is perilous. Must be my narcissism! (I do admit to being a terrible speller, and I am equally deserving of Mr. Steinberg's recent retort to Clark Street, as I shared the latter's recollection that it was MLB that squahsed Minnie Minnoso's last at-bat decade).

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  5. For me high school was easy but college, at the U. of C., tough. Heavy reading load and a serious paper in every course. I started out one quarter with too many nights at Jimmy's (aka the Woodland Tap) and paid dearly.

    It's true there are too many lawyers, but study of the law can broaden the mind and make one more adaptable in ways that science and engineering, with today's super specialization, do not.

    Old academic joke. When someone says they were an English major, I'm always tempted to ask: "What regiment?"

    Tom Evans

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    1. When somebody told Daniel Webster that the law profession was over-crowded, he replied, "There's always room at the top." I believe you should do what you love, not conduct a poll.

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    2. Gotta remember that one!

      John

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  6. You are lucky, doing what you love, and they even pay you for it!
    On another note, I see that you contributed to the article on Jim Thompson in yesterday's paper, no doubt requiring you to hold down your bile at that stooge, who was chairman of the compensation committee overseeing Conrad Black's looting of the same paper. He saw nothing, heard nothing, did nothing, misconduct far worse than the kind he put many away for when he was US Atty.

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  7. I see, Mr. S, that some others are now writing obituaries for the well known, like that Maureen person. Don't you do those anymore?

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  8. Sometimes. A lot of famous people, and I don't always have one prepared. Ernie Banks, for instance.

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