We Don’t Need No Education

Argh. I’m late this week. Oh well. (If you hadn’t realized, I’m trying to blog every Tuesday and sometimes on Thursday or Saturday.) I don’t have a whole lot to say this week (well, I do, but it’s all still in the preparatory stage), so here’s a short reflection on teachers.

I’ve had good teachers and bad teachers in my, what, ten years of schooling. But I’ve had very few great teachers. The only ones I can think of are Fr. Gregory and Dr. Wegemer. This is somewhat strange, since they both teach literature, and I’m more of a mathematics guy by most measures, but there you have it.

Those of you I know in real life might know some of these people. Those of you who I don’t, just trust me. They’re awesome. They have radically different teaching styles, but they both 1) have an awe-inspiring understanding of their subject matter and 2) manage to explain it in a way that helps you understand it and previous criticism of it, while allowing you to actually draw some conclusions yourself. Understanding prior criticism of a work is vital. It’s pointless, I think, to approach a work as if you are the first to have read it, but this is what many teachers do.

Now, back to the fact that both of these teachers are teachers of literature. There’s a reason for this, I think. I’ve had good math teachers and bad math teachers, but no great or horrible ones. The reason, I think, is that mathematics and science and stuff like that are purely rational. You understand it, or you don’t. As long as you understand it, as I always have, it doesn’t matter so much who your teacher is. All he has to do is convey the information, and you can do the rest on your own.

With literature (and philosophy, and theology, and art, etc), this is simply not the case. Even those who are extraordinarily talented will never see all facets of a work of literature on their own. Reading prior criticism and analysis of the text and having a teacher with a great understanding of it will almost always help you to understand a work better, even if you understood much of it already on your own. This is both because great literature is so complex, and because every human approaches a work slightly different. This isn’t true for math.

Perhaps my opinion on this matter will change when I go to college and enter the more nebulous regions of post-calculus mathematics. But, from what I’ve seen of this math from my brother’s explanations, I think not. No matter how strange it is, its still based on reason, plain and simple logic. Literature, well, is not.

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