Tuesday, May 12, 2009

thoughts on not actually finshing my MLIS

In direct contrast to the previous post where I happily proclaimed my completion of my MLIS degree I have discovered that there one class left to take. Thus I’m not done. This may seem at the first glance like a downer, which it was, however this instance has helped me realize something about my current relationship to higher education.[1] That realization being, that the structure of school and the current American educational process actually helps me function, at least mentally. There are a couple of reasons for this state of affairs. The first is that I have a continuous number of benchmarks to understand my ‘progress’ such as the syllabus, the required readings, the required postings for discussion or even the grades. These items give me something with which to gauge my understanding of a topic and my time with it. Last week when I thought I was done there was actually a feeling of let-down and searching lostness which was enjoyable for about two days. This is not to say that I don’t have a serious number of books to read or have other projects to work on it is that the removal of the time requirements of the pursuit of the master’s degree seem to remove from my mental state a barrier to gauge my time constraints against and allows my other creative efforts to dialectically spark off the required items. This has some relationship to, possibly, the way that education is pursued and may mean that I’ve completely missed the point of education in that I only understand my own education within a system beyond myself in which I must pay a rather large sum of money in order to stay within it instead of being disciplined enough to create my own structure. Since no one else is currently requiring anything of any additional reading or progress on these other projects outside of work I begin to drift. I wonder in some ways, strictly a priori having never enlisted, if I am treating the institution of higher education much like the military which I doubt is an original observation but struck me earliest this week so here we are. The military gives commands and serious amounts of structure, especially in basic training (based on anecdotal information from friends who have enlisted and various childhood library books), in order to ensure that when placed in a combat situations the soldiers either respond ‘instinctively’ or will obey orders. Thus refusal to obey orders in basic training is met with serious recriminations or even dismissal. Prompt, continual obedience combined with a certain ability to think about military ‘stuff’ in correct military ways enhances the possibility of promotion. If the individual distinguishes themselves, w/in approved military measures on the field of battle, promotion is often forthcoming.[2] So here comes higher education.[3] I am rewarded by doing well in a class with good grades and the thinking that I have a certain mastery of the subject. There is a lot of structure even in Master’s work as attending each class period, participating in the class discussion and correctly and excellently completing the required assignments. Here’s the part where this begins to break down for me and probably reveals some deep poverty of mental processes. I.e. On this blog I was working through Rob Bell’s book Jesus Wants to Save Christians and have not posted on it for several days now. (Admittedly part of this is because I haven’t really found anything else worth saying but the other larger part of this is that the point of doing it began to lose its flavor.) This is the crux of the issue for me, which is recognition. The process of grading recognizes the individual for either doing a good, mediocre or even a really bad job. The military rewards staying with them for long periods of time with colorful bands of thread which is interesting in and of itself. If I work though a book and write about it on my blog where’s my sense of recognition and accomplishment?[4] I find myself seeking a certain amount of praise for this ‘accomplishment’ and when none is forthcoming it directly saps the desire to continue. This is really problematic and I tend to assuage this tendency by deeply freaking out my wife by beginning to immediately talk about where I should like to go next to work on another degree. I’m now an addict of structured recognition. Admittedly publishing is a great way to keep one’s hand in and be recognized and is something I would like to do except 1) I network about as well as a half-dead goldfish and 2) as of yet have not yet figured out what I should write about.[5]
I started my, officially and completely, last class of my MLIS program today. I will start teaching my first undergrad class in the fall which may help w/ this sense of structurlessness as possibly the one thing I dread even more than being lost is not begin able to answer questions especially when in front of 20-25 freshmen. But I am excited about it and I think it will provoke good thinking and possibly something to write about.

[1] I’ve been listening to a lot of David Foster Wallace interviews, readings, discussion, etc. and currently I believe it’s mostly his voice that has substituted for my usual brain voice. This footnote to attempt to head off any DFW parallels or explain them is most likely only worsened by this footnote and its subsequent fellows. I’m also hoping that this well help exorcise some of that DFW-brain-voice.

[2]This based on loose reading/anecdotes from several years ago and I have no specific examples. I’m still pretty sure I’m right, though.

[3] This is why I think, at times, the military’s structure would actually have been good for me as much as I claim, in my own head, to be a free-thinking kind of person.

[4] This accomplishment becomes almost self-defeating because I semi-dread finishing a book as I know there’s a pile after them. There is something mildly therapeutic about the knowledge of a 1.5 foot stack of books continually awaiting my attention though it can also be fairly damaging to my psyche, as this bit seems to indicate.

[5] Part of this problem may indeed be related that I’m looking for an ‘e=mc2’ sort of idea which is very unlikely to occur at this juncture in my mental growth.

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