Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Back to School

There’s a lot to write about, but I’m too tired. The Packers beating the Chargers alone would be worth a few paragraphs. But I feel rather melancholy this evening. I’m really happy to go back to teaching. I’m TAing for Steve Hanson’s comparative class, which is really his POL S 101 class, the first class and professor I taught for here at the U. Marx and Weber. Plus, Steve says that my proposal is basically ready to be shipped off. He said he’s proud of me, which really means the world to me. I feel like I’m coming home in a way, for the last time before I leave. I’m grateful to get one last shot at this.

But this wonderful news has come along with some very sad news. One of my colleagues is leaving the program. When he told me today, I was quite distressed, as I don’t think he should go. I don’t know the whole story, but it’s terrible news. It’s a hard thing. Graduate school is hard hazing. It isn’t without purpose. It does allow one to arrive at the discipline needed to tame the imagination and make it genuinely productive. But they don’t tell you why they do what they do to you. Indeed, too often it has become savagery for the sake of savagery. Our faculty does not strive to give graduate students a reason to keep their faith. And there is too much personal savagery involved, too much vanity. There is no sense of the sacred in what too many of us are doing. Without recollection of the values of a liberal education, we are losing sight of our work. When good young men and women are leaving the field because of these stupid games, one can plainly see that we are losing our bearings.

All too often in my life I have been caught by unaware by the depth of my emotional commitments, by how deeply I am moved by the values I hold. I went to USAID to work in the Democracy Center, I thought that the worst that would happen was that my career would waste money. If I didn’t end up screwing people over the way I might have to at State, if the worst that happened was that I was a party to wasting money, I could be okay with that. And I was wrong. I never really got over the fact that we were wasting sums of money twenty times larger than my annual salary, that people had worked hard for this money. It may be that the average citizen could give a flying fuck about whether the world was democratic or not, but if Congress had elected to spend $4 million on democratization in the Middle East, the least that we could do was send the money somewhere it might have a prayer of having a positive impact. We owed it to those who had worked to create this wealth to do the best we could with it. When we flushed it down the toilet, I was bitter. My skin isn’t thick enough for politics.

I realize that if my professional life has any meaning at all, I would like it to be to keep the spirit of liberal education alive—to not have it die on my watch. I can’t change the academy, but I can give my students and colleagues the best that I have. I don’t know if it can be enough, if it’s anything other than sticking my thumb in the dike. But I know that in the face of the suffering of life, my education has been the only defense I have had to carve out a little island of sanity. The greatest mercies God has given me have been Craig and my education. I cannot pass on the spirit of romantic love to them. I am not a poet. But I can give help them find the spirit of a liberal education, to build their safe haven in the storm. It would mean a great deal to me if I could help others do that. Those who taught me how to do think have given me all that I have had to carry me through my darkest hours. I might be able to help a few others. That seems to me to be a good life.

And hey, today, four years ago, I met Craig Rock. Day after tomorrow, two years ago, we got married. A good life indeed.

1 comment:

Watsonne said...

Happy Anniversary! :-)

Sorry to hear the sad news, although I can't really say much as I am one of Those Who Left. Part of my graduate school experience was learning that I had to want the degrees and the career connections badly enough to sacrifice everything else that was important to me. I didn't want those things that badly, as it turns out. If this person is someone you consider a friend, try to at least maintain that relationship. In a lot of ways leaving can be more difficult than staying. I'm sorry you're having to deal with this. It's never happy news. Here's a virtual hug to cheer you up a little. And on that note, I must get some sleep. Keep a happy heart, Talal.