Tuesday means one class and lots of time to catch up. I was really excited last night thinking about how I was going to have so much time when I remembered I still had CCA. Last night, the historian James McPherson spoke on Lincoln and it was really great. I sat with Sarah and Ben, who fortunately saved me a seat because it was absolutely packed and I was working sign-in.
I'm debating between two topics for my Mencken paper: Mencken's view on government or Mencken as a book reviewer. I think the former would be the most interesting to research but I'm leaning towards the latter.
In my journalism class today, the topic of one's "betters" came up and my teacher asked if A) we thought there were people better than us and B) if that was something we felt uncomfortable with, to which people mostly sat there saying nothing as one member of my class said that it tends to sound elitist. My teacher of course expounded on his own view and I did not feel that it was necessary to further bully the point, but it made me think of what my father told me/ all his children. Dad always told us not to compare ourselves to others because we all have our talents and struggles; there will always be people smarter than us and people not as intelligent.
I particularly struggle with this, but I'm sure my siblings do as well; it's a bitter pride pill to swallow. We've been raised to be intelligent, rational creatures. Both my parents are professionals, but their their intellects are very different, with Mom in medicine and Dad in law. Mom can break down some of the hardest and most complex medical whatevers (that's the technical term now haha) and break it down into layman language. She just had another article published in a journal. She is not, however, a big reader or good with languages like Dad, who taught us German and French as kids, cultivated a love of reading in each of us and loves getting us really intellectually engaged and fired up. Fine, so we were a little percocious. But we were also always treated like adults, especially in respect to our minds. We discussed things on an equal playing field, with our ideas taken seriously, and I think that's really shaped me as a person and a student.
My father is a very strong believer is constant education and whatever we did in school was/ is never enough. This means extra reading, summer workbooks, long discussions and debates with Dad constantly challenging us to think for ourselves and a demand for our own excellence. In grade school, we weren't the popular kids, but we were well-liked (which is what kids need anyways, that whole having friends thing) and were known as the smart kids. I started the trend, Katie perpetuated it, Michael beleagured it, Marianne proved it still held true even though she's further down the assembly line and John, who is in the 6th grade this year, is absolutely brillant and I'm sure will cause more waves. Megan's getting high scores on her 5th grade quizzes lately (or so I hear through the grapevine), so I guess the baby is holding up her Robisonness standards too.
I apologize if this comes off as gloating. I don't mean it to. I share this information about my family more as a way of giving insight to how I was raised, a brief look at my education and self-education. My next article for the Forum is going to be on the American education system, particularly the public, so I've been thinking about my own education a lot lately.
When my teacher said are there "betters" today, all I could think about was intellect and jobs and ethics. I would never say that just because someone is not paid as much as another that they are not as intelligent, but if someone is in a more intellectually challenging field, they should not be punished financially for making more money than someone who is not. And what of not only being intelligent, but working hard as a means to achieve an elevated job status? I suppose especially after hearing about my Dad's rise from growing up on a farm, paying and working his way through college, law school and his Master's and now seeing how he left the firms and owns his own successful business, I have a hard time seeing the justification of taxing small businesses exponentially. This shows it's not just intellect--it's work ethic. Dad makes a lot of money because he has a lot of kids; he needs to pay for his own family first, the dues to his government second because Heaven knows they didn't earn it. I see it in my Dad's office, with clients who think Dad should work for free or less than his fee, or a few of his employees who think they should be paid for just being their, irregardless of their effectiveness. I saw it in DC, and working for the Times. Interns would blow off their job or just not do much because, you know, whatever, it's just an internship. No. It's a job and it's experience and, at the very least, it should be character building. Mom and Dad say that when you don't work at work, it's like you're stealing money from your employer. My editor loved how efficient and effective I was, but truthfully, I don't know any other way how to work. My parents gave me that.
Yesterday, my Founding of the American Republic class discussed the res publica, loosely translated as the public good itself or the commonwealth, as well as the difference between the common good and the greater good. The common good, the one the Founders wanted for the country, is the best good. It has an organic interest in the spirit or ethos of the community. The greater good, on the other hand, is more utiliatarian, concerned with the materialistic needs of the community (the greatest good for the greatest number, per se). I think this is one thing the country is struggling with right now. Man has lost the virtue of self-mastery, so he is seeking to control other aspects of man. It was John Locke's belief, however, that whenever a government levers more power to protect one group over another, then the government is corrupt. I think there are clear examples of that today, whether it be in the auto industry or banking.
Real power, thought the Founders, comes from education. This country is about the soul of a people, not necessarily the body. Society betters itself through virtue. Maybe that's what the country is missing too? An emphasis on things like duty, virtue, honor? Where do people get this if not from their parents? Are people relying too heavily on the education system to provide ethics? I watched the townhall with Secretary of the Treasury Geithner and he was saying how the government failed by not protecting the people when the financial sector ripped them off. My immediate response was, that is NOT the job of the government. My second thought is the lack of ethics in the country. They have classes on ethics now; I'm not sure if you can teach ethics. I feel like it's distilled in you at an early age, knowing what is right and what is wrong. I'm not saying one can't grow, but I feel like people's character and personalities are pretty fixed earlier rather than later in life. Madoff, for example, was obviously missing that lesson in his life.
I'm monologing, but if you're still reading, that's always a good sign. I love feedback, so please give it if you have any thoughts or see hole in my argument(s). I need to go now, pursue other intellectual venues and modes of productivity.
Rach--I just got an e-mail from the CN and there's a conference in DC sponsered by the Insititue of Political Journalism for college journalists. I think I'm going to go, so we'll have to meet up for a little bit :) and p.s., the new member update is 12!
Enjoy the September sunshine, my friends!