Why Leadings?

Not to lead, but to be led            -- by the Holy Spirit.

See Leader, Servant, or Slave? in the section below, "Walking the Walk".

Jack in Denali National Park, 2012.

God's Wrath

Why was Sodom destroyed? Ezekiel tells us in chapter 16, verse 49: "This was the sin of your sister, Sodom: Pride, full-ness of bread, and abundance of idleness. Neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy."

That's also why Jerusalem was destroyed.

And now, with greed as our national virtue, what hope is there for the United States of America? We are afflicted by imperialistic pride, obesity, and entertainment addiction, and we are all called to do our part to "strengthen the hand of the poor and needy".

"Strengthen the hand" is the King James wording. Modern translations say "help the poor and needy." And there's a world of difference between the two. Helping the poor = as little as throwing some cash in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas time. That's charity. It's doing for, not doing with.

My Grandmother was right about charity. On a below-zero day, she went out on the back porch with a skillet to throw hot grease on the back-yard snow. She shivered as she re-entered the kitchen and said, "Wooooh, colder than charity."

Strengthening the hand is much different. We get personally involved with another person who needs help, and we work with her or him to get the needed help. That's risky. You're vulnerable. It takes prayer, time and patience. You need knowledge and wisdom from the LORD. There are great rewards, however. You get a brother or sister.

Strengthening the hand is great work for our churches -- which we ignore far more often than we perform. Why? Because we're afflicted with the Ameri-can curse of individualism. Christians are to be a tribe -- a tribe that takes care of each other. In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls us "the Israel of God" -- the new 13th tribe.

Jesus said, "The poor you shall always have with you." He didn't mean that as a curse -- the notion that the poor are an inevi-table nuisance and expense, to be hidden in the slums. Rather, He was saying, "You shall always be among the poor."

When you strengthen hands, you fulfill Deuteronomy 15:4-5: "However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God . . ." It's a glorious responsibility and promise.

And how do prosperous Americans fulfill that promise? Generally, by making sure they have no contact with people who are poor -- and we have been that way from our beginnings in the 17th century. Early villages in Massachusetts solved the problem by out-lawing poor people. Today, we deal with the same problem by confining the poor in urban reservations, our slums.

As the Supreme Court Bailiff says at the beginning of each session, "God save the United States of America..." 

Tuesday
Sep242013

IS COLLEGE WORTH THE COST?

I have two Ivy League degrees – an A.B. from Dartmouth ’56 and a J.D. from Harvard Law ’63.  At Dartmouth I was a philosophy major, modified with sociology and psychology.  I recognize that some people would kill to get the advantages I’ve had.

Advantages?  I went to Dartmouth expecting that I was going to Plato’s Academy.  Not so.  Dartmouth students in the ‘50s were mostly intellectually apathetic.  Apparently for many Dartmouth alumni, the value of the school has been networking rather than learning.  Becoming a Dartmouth fraternity president is an excellent entre to Goldman Sachs.

Dartmouth was the wrong school for me, but unwisely I bought into the Ivy tradition of not transferring. I should have gone to Swarthmore for the Honors Program.  Or, better yet, I could have avoided college altogether – but that’s the subject of the next article.

I was accepted by Dartmouth, Princeton and Yale.  Being a naïve kid from Holland, Michigan, I didn’t realize there was an Ivy pecking order.  Savvy students would have picked Yale or Princeton over Dartmouth.

Why Dartmouth?

Why did I go to Dartmouth?  My mother enrolled me when I was three.  Later, I knew three alumni whom I admired.  But I really made my decision at a Yale alumni dinner.  I was seated with a Yale undergrad and his fiancée, who was a student at Mt. Holyoke.  At last, I thought, I can get an objective opinion.  So, I asked her quietly, “If a Mt. Holyoke student had a choice of a blind date at Dartmouth, Yale or Princeton, which would she pick?”  Her reply:  “Well, I’m prejudiced.  I’d pick Yale, of course.  But, I suppose most Holyoke women would pick Dartmouth.”  And that’s how I confirmed my choice.  Of course, if she’d been at Smith, I’d have gone to Yale, and if she’d been at Vassar, I’d have gone to Princeton.  But those are the stupid ways we make decisions at 18.

Sufficient here is raising the question:  Is college worth the cost in time and money?  Definitely, if you plan to become a doctor, dentist, engineer, etc.  Doubtful, if you plan to major in the liberal arts.  If you’re naturally an autodidact, there may be better possibilities than college – even if you plan to go to law school.

Liberal Arts Assessment

Here’s the assessment of my liberal arts degree from Dartmouth –

+  In four years, I read two books as assignments which I still treasure – Don Quixote and Dante’s Divine Comedy.  (That’s not a good return on an education which in today’s dollars costs $160,000.)

+  In a lecture later Robert Frost stated, “You’re not reading books here.  You’re skimming them.  And perhaps the best result of your education will be to discover two or three books you want to live with for the rest of your life.”

+  I took an excellent course in Proust’s seven-volume À la recherche du temps perdu – in English – but it’s not one of the books to which I return.  Among books I return to again and again and again are the Bible and Faulkner’s The Bear.   I discovered them after college.

+  I took my best college course during my senior year at Holland High School, Holland, Michigan.  It was a course in drama in which the assigned readings were Agamemnon, Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, She Stoops to Conquer and Death of a Salesman.  In addition, during ten days out of school with the flu I read 32 other plays and discovered Bernard Shaw.

+  I did receive an excellent and useful education at Dartmouth by working on The Dartmouth, the nation’s oldest college daily.  Ever since, I have made my career primarily working as a writer, but I could have received similar training by working on any good, small daily.

+  From my college learning, I value the example of a handful of professors, but I remember and use very little of what I learned from classes.  And today, I wouldn’t read philosophy on a salary.

+  In contrast, my years from 18 to 25 were times of reading voraciously– but I did so away from college. For example, I read Brothers Karamazov while working at a boat works in Holland, Crime and Punishment while suffering from poison ivy in Washington, D.C., Romeo and Juliet during lunch while selling ads for the Zeeland Record, and Henry V while riding in an Army truck.  This list could go on to fill a page.

+  Granted, in college I discovered the books I really wanted to read, but I could have done this free in other ways – such as talking with literate people or getting the Great Books list.

+  A college degree does have one advantage.  You know you've done it, so it provides a sense of security. If you don't have a degree, you remain unsure of what you've missed.  Simple example:  I don't have college training in playwriting, so I remain uncertain about play formating, stage directions, etc.

Wasted Time?

One afternoon in Cincinnati, I conversed with one of the major suburban developers.  I was surprised by his comment about college.  "Yes, I was a business major at Ohio University in Athens.  The best learning I got was from my housing.  Dad bought me a house and the summer before my freshman year, I built in 16 bunk beds -- including one for me.  I also hired a couple to manage the house.  The wife cooked our meals, and the husband on a part-time basis did the maintenance.  Income from the house paid my way through four years. By graduation, I sold the house and repaid my father.  But, other than that, my business school training was mostly a waste -- I lost four years of compounding."

When I heard his comments, I thought they were interesting, but overstated.  Since then, however, I've reflected that maybe my college education was mostly a waste as well.  In the years 18 to 22, any challenge which required problem-solving, research, writing and social skills might be better than college.  E.g. Peace Corps, archeology assistant or the wirters' group described in the next article, "Beating College Costs", which could also be described as "Getting a Better College Education."  

Ivy Disillusonment

I voiced my disillusionment with my Ivy League education while I was in law school.  I was dating a senior at Wellesley, and she invited me for Tuesday dinner where men were welcomed. (To understand this story, please bear in mind that the year was 1962.)

At the table were seven women -- two seniors and a junior, two freshwomen and two sophomores.  One of the women spoke slightingly of Boston University, and I replied, “You realize, they read the same books you do.” She responded, “Of course, but it’s not the same.”  And I retorted, “No it isn’t.  Women don’t go to BU to get Scarsdale husbands.”  The three upperclasswomen laughed heartily and the four underclasswomen glared.

More effectively, Matt Damon as Will Hunting summarized the situation when he confronted a Harvard Ph.D. candidate, “You’re spending $150,000 to read books that you could read for a $1.50 library fine.”

Of course, in addition to learning and networking, there are other reasons for going to college:

*  Lifelong friendships, but that didn’t happen for me.

*  Extra-curricular activities – sports, theater, campus politics, fraternities, etc.  As I’ve stated, being on The Dartmouth was the most useful part of my college education.

*  The prestige of the degree.  It did get me into Harvard Law, but it’s not been of significant value since because I’ve not pursued a conventional career.

Praise for Law School

In the midst of denigrating my college Ivy degree, I do want to praise my law school experience.

+  I remember a great deal from law school.  (See, for example, the three articles under the section on the right, “Chaos with an Index.”}

+  If a person wants to become a lawyer, you have to go to law school.  All states require a J.D. or LL.B to become a licensed attorney.   That’s fine, because law schools are excellent trade schools.

+  My classmates were intellectually stimulating.  In law school I found the brilliant camaraderie that I had missed in college.  Sometimes I also found that camaraderie during my three years in the Army Security Agency, particularly in the year-long Russian language course in Monterey, CA.

+  My law professors were awesome.  Most were national authorities in their fields, and I still remember their wisdom and examples as great teachers.  (As I said, please see the Chaos section.)

Best Learning on Education

However, my best learning on education came a few weeks before I graduated from Harvard Law School. On a lovely spring day, I gave a friend a tour of Eero Sarrinen’s buildings at MIT – the theater and the chapel.  In the theater, we struck up a conversation with a graduating senior, who said, “I won’t take a job for less than $11,000.”

Today, corporations pay a part-time janitor $11,000 a year, but in 1963, Harvard Law Review alumni (the top students in the class) were receiving less than $8,000.  (In today’s money, $11,000 is $84,000.)  What warranted his earning $11,000 a year?  While at MIT he had published four articles in professional engineering journals.

Right then I realized how I had wasted seven years of Ivy League education.  I had written papers for grades. I should have been writing for publication – and utilizing my professors as both editors and agents. That would really have launched my career.

Courses That Worked

In seeming contrast to my rant above, I am not opposed to formal education and have taken two week-long courses which have been truly useful:

+  Intensive Interviewing.  This course teaches a technique by which you can get an unsuspecting person to spill his or her guts.  It is so effective that it is illegal for use by the police.  (You can see an example of its improper use in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.)  I took the course at General Electric’s Schenectady plant, and it was a revelation.  Here in one week, I discovered the manipulation I had hoped to learn in my psychology courses at Dartmouth.  (I don’t use the techniques any more, but at the time I thought they were marvelous.)

+  Grantsmanship.  Taught by the Grantsmanship Center of Los Angeles, this course covered the basics of getting foundation grants.  Without this course, I would probably have failed as director for Sign of the Cross Housing in Cincinnati during the 23 years from 1976 to 1999.  One week of Grantsmanship has been more valuable in my career than three years at Harvard Law.

The Foreman Example

As for graduate school in the humanities, I’ve had an even better counselor than Will Hunting -- Amanda Foreman.  She wrote the book, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.  The book was the basis for the move, The Duchess, staring Keira Knightley.  Both the book and the movie are glorious history and entertainment.

However, it is the introduction to the book that is valuable.  As I recall, Amanda Foreman began her PhD studies at Oxford writing her thesis on English attitudes towards slavery in the latter 1700’s.  This is a significant topic because these were the attitudes which confronted William Wilberforce and his backers during their 17-year anti-slavery campaign – when they invented public relations. During the 17 years, Wilberforce & Co. reversed public opinion and were thus able to get the legislation through Parliament which outlawed slavery in the British Empire.  It was a worthy topic for a PhD thesis – and it’s the dramatic plot of the movie, Amazing Grace.

The "It Girl"

During her research Ms. Foreman again and again ran across Georgiana, Dutchess of Devonshire.  She was the British “It Girl” during the reign of George III. As a teen bride, she married the richest man in England. While still in her teens, she became the British fashionista. She was the model for Lady Teazle in Sheridan’s School for Scandal.  As Sheridan said at a ball, “Every man in the room is in love with her – except her husband.” For 25 years she lived in a ménage à trois with her husband and best friend. Georgiana was also the first woman aristocrat to campaign publically in support of a parliamentary candidate – the Whig Charles Fox. 

As the Wikipedia article states, “At her death, she owed today's equivalent of £3,720,000 [in gambling and couture debts].  The Duchess was so petrified of her husband discovering the extent of her debts that she kept them secret.  The Duke only discovered the extent of her debts after her death and remarked, 'Is that all?'"

Ms. Foreman looked for a biography of Georgiana and found nothing contemporary.  She was wise enough to realize she had discovered the mother lode.  She met with her thesis advisors and received permission to scrap her partially completed thesis on slavery attitudes.  Instead, she wrote her thesis on Georgiana, replete with footnotes.  She graduated, spiced up her thesis and had it published to become a Times and New York Times bestseller.  The movie followed.

Now that’s how to do a PhD thesis.

Of course, if you have a book that needs writing, you don’t need to pay for the PhD.  As Nike says, “Just do it.”

And how to do it is the topic for the next article of Educational Subversion.

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Purpose of this blog is to compile books for my grandchildren to read in 15 years.

Copyright © 2013 by Jack Towe

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