Monday, October 6th, 2003
I dont know if research papers matter but I do know that research does. Research is about discovery. Its that simple. Theres currently a lot of flap going on about college writing and reading and the nature of composition and literary studies in college and university curricula, but these subjects have always been part of the problem of the Liberal Arts from the Trivium to what we know as the Liberal Arts. What forms a good education will always be a question. Nevertheless, students fell asleep, cheated, and connived their way through class in the medieval university, too. But, for me, all of that is irrelevant to the individual and collective journey through life. I assume that college students take courses to learn things; thats my assumption (this is why paper mills are unethical, because they remove the project of discovery from the individual; if I purchase a paper on Virginia Woolf from collegesucks.com, then Im not discovering anything of worth. Yet, some may say, who needs to read Woolf? This question is irrelevant, because a student may indeed want to learn about Woolf just as they want to learn about atoms or economics. If a person wants to live their life without reading or studying Woolf, he or she wont die as a result).
If a person takes English Literature, I assume that he or she has come to learn about English Literature, same goes for a course on fiction. In reality, no one needs to take the course to survive. No one needs to take Calculus. People need water and food; they dont need Chaucer. College has become the place to go after high school as a matter of convention, but, in the long run, no one needs college.
Two ideas of synthesis are at issue as concerns my quickly rendered subject: research to add to the sum of human knowledge (which could happen anywhere) and research to add to an individuals store; they arent necessarily the same, but they can be. It may be true that the chemist loves her job; it may also be true that the chemist hates his job yet trudges through anyway, wishing he were writing poetry instead. If a student wants to know about the Protestant Reformation, then they have to read about it, find and consider the sources, weigh the data and the arguments. It isnt a requirement that students read journal articles on the Reformation, although the student has to know what it is theyre learning: are they reading the primaries or the secondaries? In a college course, the next step is to inform an audience about the results, perhaps on paper napkins, if thats all thats at hand: Id prefer a written report or a Power Point presentation because print on porous paper is hard to read. Outside of college, the student can keep the discoveries to him or herself. It may be true that a carpenter just has a hankering to learn about Luther: the result will be that the carpenter learns about Luther, but he wont have to deliver the results to an academic audience, but most likely shell want to tell somebody. I repeat: no one needs to go to college.
People may claim this irrelevant although true statement: Im not interested in Chaucer, therefore, why should I have to read and write about the Tales. My ready and best answer is this: you dont have to read or write about Chaucer. Another: why do I have to take composition and learn the academic forms and do what my teacher tells me to. My answer is the same: you dont have to. Heres another answer: Michael Dell wanted to make and sell computers: what did he have to learn to be successful at it? Of course, we could ask him or do a little research.
I claim that the person who wants nothing to do with Chaucer or Calculus should find another way of reaching their goal, whatever that goal may be. But, if a persons goal happens to put them in Chaucers, Barthelmes, or Dorothy Allisons path, then they should try and figure out why reading these authors will benefit them (or any other reasonable question). If not, then the next author should be Plato; the next read, the Crito. What Barthelme teaches, if he must teach anything, is that theres more than one way to dress a rabbit.
Ultimately, most fundamental research questions derive from this question: what is Pluto? And, does grass grow during the New England winter?