Perspective and Learning.
I teach ENG101 at a local university, composition for academic study, how to write a research paper. I enjoy it. I like to see the kind of leaping progress young minds can make when solid connections are made in the classroom.
I can teach any kind of English class, actually: grammar, vocabulary building, English as a second language, poetry, even philosophy. But the class I care least to teach is Victorian literature. Don’t get me wrong: lovely writers, great stories, but also a couple of generations lost to third-person-omniscient perspective. Not that it’s a poor perspective, but to be limited to it? No, no. There’s so much more. The great triumph of modernism and post-modernism has been casting off third-person omniscience.
I notice every semester in ENG101 that at least one student (but it seems like an increasing number) refuses to submit to my instruction. As if they had learned, by 19, everything they were ever going to need to know to write. As if their perspective was third-person omniscient, and anybody could see my instruction was faulty. As if they could learn from someone else, just not me.
Oh, dear friends, there are faulty things in this world! Fingism dwells among the faulty, the adverse, the asymmetrical, the unexpected. I know I’m not perfect, and some people will never ask themselves the hard questions because they need the easy answers. I don’t begrudge them that. But what glories they’re missing!
It’s like those who fixate on Victorian lit, who wonder why anyone would diverge from a perspective that allows the author to see and know all. If everything is there, it must be the best way. And it’s like a student who refuses to submit to instruction because it comes by way of wit rather than judgment. This is losing the forest for the trees. There’s more than one way to see the world.
The great challenge of writing and reading is to offer up, and to be willing to see from, a new perspective. The great challenge of learning is to recognize new perspectives and not recoil from them, but to incorporate them into your own. And the way we do this is by socializing our ideas.
The classroom, or the text, is the place where we socialize, where we're allowed to shake off our preconceived notions, the place to put our beliefs in context with others. We gain knowledge when we accept and apply new ideas to our lives. We gain power by gaining knowledge.
Or haven’t you heard that?
When we limit ourselves, when we say, “That person can’t teach me anything I don’t know,” when we place our trust in one perspective, we tend to forget about the flaws in that perspective, the kinds of manipulations an author makes to adopt third-person omniscience, for example, or the cruelty of a loving God. We neglect that other people have come up with different ways to answer life’s questions. And they’ve done well by it.
Fingism says it’s right to make a habit of facing the fear of ignorance. Soon there is little ignorance and less fear. It’s okay to read a book you don’t understand. It’s proper to think of learning as a lifelong process, that any time of day, any place on earth, you can be learning something, you are learning something. Going beyond the boundaries of limited perspective becomes the way to utilize the power to improve your own life.
Reading, writing, and studying are acts of communication. We disrespect those acts when we limit our minds to the perspectives we prefer or are comfortable with. And would you want somebody to say that's what you're like?
Y.S. Fing has followed in his father's (D.Selby Fing's) footsteps and is a writer and teacher who seeks to make sense of the nonsense of life, with a philosophy based on irony with love.