Higher education is the topic of this edition of North Dakota Quarterly, featuring the trends, idiosyncrasies, problems, joys, and goals of the college and the university examined in poetry, memoir, and prose that both engages and challenges, providing a wide variety of views on academia.
Thomas Van Nortwick considers the meaningful moment when a student suddenly grasps a long-coming concept and “the world is made anew again” through the personal academic relationship between student and teacher. Such a moment provides the “glowing ember,” the power that enables transmission of a new world, a new paradigm, which, he persuasively argues, can never be quantified via the business model of education.
In another essay, “On Becoming a Teacher,” Joan Rudel examines reasons her graduate students give for wanting to teach and finds that most of them view teachers as nurturing caregivers instead of as scholars. She suggests that “being able to read, analyze, and write coherently about the content of a passage” are necessary for those who would have a role in shaping the minds of students today.
Donald Gutierrez and Gaynell Gavin both view their lives as academics through memoir; Gutierrez concentrates on progression through his professional career and the differences between institutions; Gavin focuses on the personal life with lovely language, the value of relationships, and the prices we pay when we live far away from those we really care about.
How higher education has lost the moral high ground, inevitably selling its soul through acquiescence to the business model and overvaluing individual benefits as opposed to the public good is explored by Dan Rice in an essay that suggests ways to regain the soul of the university:
It occurred to me one day why the ‘customer’ metaphor for students was and is so inadequate. Have you heard of any customer who has established a trust so that when she dies her estate will go to Wal-Mart? Or any other business, for that matter? Why is that? I believe it is because we don’t expect business to change our lives.
Rice implies that changing inner lives is the very core of higher education and that when society looks only at the exchange of dollars, we cheat ourselves of what has been the fundamental core in higher education.
The edition also includes half a dozen poems. I end my review with a portion of one of them, by Carolyn Raphael: “But you and I, an owl and lark / in harmony but out of phase, / denied the comforts of the dark, / sing anthems in Apollo’s praise / before preparing to embark / upon our amorous matinees.”