Bologna and Blogs: A Student's Journey Towards Actualizing The
Purpose of His Higher Education
Written by Andrew Erlandson
Many students look forward to that magical graduation date when
they will suddenly be equipped "to do something to make the world
more sensible or more peaceful or more civil or more intelligent,"
as the late Dr. Marshall Gregory says in his forthcoming book,
Good Teaching and Educational Vision: Not the Same Thing as
Disciplinary Expertise. These students misunderstand the key
to this challenging quote. When Gregory urges us "to do something"
beneficial to the people around us, he doesn't exhort students to
wait four years to start. That would be silly. As Boris Pasternak
wrote in his novel Dr. Zhivago: "Man is born to live, not
to prepare for life." The
community of the Liberal Arts and Sciences encourages its students
to actively pursue rationality, civility, and peace in the present
moment through integrity of thought and action.
Our educational system's logic proceeds as follows: perform well in
middle school in order to get into high school honors classes.
Achieve excellence in high school in order to be accepted to a
renowned university. Excel in college in order to get a good job.
Get a good job in order to retire early, so that you can putter
around for a few years before dying. Right? The Liberal Arts and
Sciences has broken me out of this rut by removing the phrase "in
order to," freeing me to concentrate on the world I live in, not
the world I plan on occupying. Otherwise we end up following
someone else's orders until we go tumbling off a cliff like
When I enrolled in EN 455: Writing In Schools, I wasn't
aware I would drive to Shortridge High School twice a week to make
sandwiches. That's right, bologna sandwiches with that rubbery
cheese. Unlike other collegiate classes, this one wasn't an
opportunity to learn so much as an opportunity to act in the world.
The focus was on helping the Shortridge students, not our grades.
Utilizing our experience studying creative writing, we mentored the
students in writing poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. We fed the
students to ward off distraction, joked around with them like
peers, gave them writing exercises, and supported them in any way
we knew how. My proudest moment was watching the shy eighth grader
I had worked with stand up in front of the whole class and present
her poem about how irritating it can be dealing with annoying
people. It was a special moment for all of us.
As a student of literature, I must ask myself how time spent
analyzing The Divine Comedies or The Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn prepares me to make the world "more congenial
to human flourishing," as Dr. Gregory put it. My answer came in
November of 2012. A professor in the College of Liberal Arts and
Sciences came under attack by a student for the wording of her
syllabus. Although the article was not hateful in and of itself, a
number of thoughtless, hateful, and bigoted messages were sent to
the professor as a result.
I wrote two articles in response to the event that I posted on
my blog. Taking as measured and rational approach as possible, I
examined first the student's argument and granted that there may be
class curriculums that treat certain genders, ethnicities, or
sexualities less favorably than others. Then I looked at the
language used in his article, which claimed that the professor was
asking the class to "disavow" their identities. The actual wording
asked for students not to take any single type of identity "as the
norm." My training taught me how
to challenge the blatant misuse of logic and rhetoric, especially
because of the harm it was causing to another person. I challenged
that the twisted wording undermined the credibility of the author's
Within hours I was the new target of vitriol from online users
that underscored the importance of Dr. Gregory's call to civility
My faith in the importance of the Liberal Arts and Sciences
community came later that week when an open forum was held to
address the situation. This conversation embodied the spirit of the
Liberal Arts and Sciences. The word "conversation" originates from
Latin "com-" meaning with and "vertere," meaning to turn. A true conversation involves two or
more people "turning together" through thought. In this way the
community navigated through this trying situation. For example,
many attendees of the forum instinctively wanted to cast aspersions
at the student author. The community guided each other away from
such sentiments, because they lacked integrity, respect, or
It was important that the open forum was separated from the
virtual realm. With online comments, a person can carry their
extreme opinions, express them, and never worry over who they hurt
or what reaction they provoke. The online community is a collection
of disparate, anonymous, and isolated speakers who aren't required
to listen or engage in conversation with the rest of the community.
The open forum resisted this phenomenon by fostering rationality,
civility, peace, intelligence, and the growth of those speaking and
listening. Everyone brought their opinions, but had to engage with
others and acknowledge, if not agree with, the their thoughts. It
was the catharsis necessary to ease everyone's frustration and
extinguish the fire that had raged on Facebook and Twitter for
Marshall Gregory's words embody the spirit of the Liberal Arts,
and express how my studies have been more than educational. They
have given me the drive to actively participate in the world, the
opportunity to defend against dishonest discourse, and the clarity
to live a deliberate life.
 Pasternak, Boris. Doctor
Zhivago. Trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York:
Vintage, 2010. Print.
 Lovelace, Ryan. "Students
Told to Disavow 'American-ness, Maleness, Whiteness,
Heterosexuality'" The College Fix. N.p., 27 Nov. 2012. Web. 31 Jan.