Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cartography

In my office hour today, a Southeast Asian student came in needing help on her compare/contrast paper. She wants to compare the cities of San Diego and her hometown. We talked about the differences in education, and she explained that, at home, a student's secondary/high school grades determine what they can study in college.

"If you have good marks," she said. "You can study medicine. If you don't, you study literature or geography."

So I guess anything less than science is left to the underachievers? How sad. And how misguided. I'll leave the "literature" sucker punch alone and instead ask, rhetorically, have you seen Google Earth? Holy cow. Underachievers the people behind this program are not.

2 comments:

John said...

I'd like to address the sucker punch. An old lit. prof. of mine said in an interview:

"Whatever you can cast as an empirical form of research increases, I think, the possibility of getting the kind of financial support that is common in the sciences. I'm generalizing very broadly here, but the final point is that it's extremely important for us, on the one hand, to acknowledge the speculative character of our discipline [literature], especially in our rhetoric, and, on the other hand, to emphasize that it loses nothing in value for being speculative. Human beings are, after all, ethical creatures, and they have to make decisions in this life, not the next. In many critical areas, we cannot wait for the results of empirical research."

If literature helps us to focus in on the ethical life and larger moral questions, I'm happy to underachieve.

Michelle Panik said...

The last two sentences of this quote are wonderful. I remember being in a workshop the day after 9/11. We all looked at each other and one student said something like, "Writing doesn't seem very important right now. But at the same time, it's the most important thing we've got."