I know this, but what good does it do me to know?

I realized that this post needed a picture so I took a picture of a book in protest

[assay!]

Now that I am teaching again, I find that I have the most trouble answering questions related to motivation, usually some variation of “Why do we need to study this?” And as awful as this might sound, I truly don’t know how to satisfy that question. I do try — depending on the student, so far I’ve replied:

  • “Maybe if you study it more, you will learn that you do like it. I used to hate algebra but look!, I’m teaching it to you now. 
  • “Oh, you want to make video games? Well, you’ll need this math when you start programming classes…”
  • “Yeah, I don’t know why the Ottoman Empire is a state standard either, but you need to study a wide breadth of subjects because you never know where those connections will come in handy.”

Of course, every discipline will have their own specific answers. A US Government teacher will discuss the importance of civic education for a functioning democracy. Or a geologist might just say “‘cause rocks are cool” and that’s a fine and dandy reason. At the very least, I hope I’ve done better than a coworker who told a student that if he hated social studies, “Just wait ‘till you’ll have to take economics. Economics is the worst.” Yeah, sure, that’s a great way to prime students with a good attitude for their required courses in an already maligned field

I think though, I struggle to answer because I never considered the question important. When I went to school, I studied because I felt that I had no other choice. Then, by the time I reached college, I had developed strong enough interests that I no longer needed to put effort into the choice anyway — I would have pursued the topics that I enjoyed regardless of the opportunity to do so at a university (and as I continue to do now in a hobbyist capacity here).

So, with the students, I’m dodging the question. I give two vague hypotheticals (“Maybe…” “You never know…”) and a cutesy if cynical appeal to self-interest (“You want to make video games?”) but ignore the more fundamental problem of education:

What good does knowledge do me?

Continue reading “I know this, but what good does it do me to know?”

A quick note on Montaigne on nostalgia

Alas, Janus, you creepy double-dude
Source: Wikimedia Commons

[not a scholar, just a casual reader who read that, and wrote this, still half-asleep]

After my post last week about time and nostalgia in the anime short Daicon IV, I was glad to come across this passage about the topic while trying to put myself to sleep with Montaigne’s Essays. Via the Screech translation of Book 3, Essay 5, “On some lines of Virgil”:

I turn very gently aside and make my eyes steal away from such stormy, cloud-wracked skies as lie before me: which, thanks be to God, I can contemplate without terror but not without strain and effort; and I find myself spending my time recalling periods of my past youth:

[Quoted from Petronius’s Satyricon:] “My mind prefers what it has lost and gives itself entirely over to by-gone memories”

Let babes look ahead, old age behind: is that not what was meant by the double face of Janus? The years can drag me along if they will, but they will have to drag me along facing backwards. While my eyes can still make reconnaissance into that beautiful season now expired, I will occasionally look back upon it. Although it has gone from my blood and veins at least I have no wish to tear the thought of it from my memory by the roots.

[Quoted from Martial’s Epigrams:] “To be able to enjoy your former life again is to live twice”

I understand the sentiment, but I do not feel it myself. Like I said in the previous post, I don’t enjoy nostalgia. Maybe I’m still just too young to relate to an “old” like Montaigne. But I think it goes a little beyond that. Plenty of young people feel the creeping appeal of nostalgia and crave some idealized past (hello, HD remastered re-releases of every classic video game ever). Instead, the difference might not be one of age, but rather wealth.

Continue reading “A quick note on Montaigne on nostalgia”

Michel de Montaigne is serious litera– Ha! Farts!

Fart War
Out of place and out of time, but I imagine farting is about as universal to human experience as anything can be. (Waseda University Library)

I’ve been busy with work travel this week and I haven’t had much time to write. However, I want to keep up the habit of this weekly media diary, so I thought I’d share a funny quote from the Screech translation of The Complete Essays of Michel de Montaigne (a work of serious literature and philosophy):

“To show the limitless authority of our wills, Saint Augustine cites the example of a man who could make his behind produce farts whenever he would: Vives in his glosses goes one better with a contemporary example of a man who could arrange to fart in tune with verses recited to him; but that does not prove the pure obedience of that member, since it is normally most indiscreet and disorderly. In addition I know one Behind so stormy and churlish that it has obliged its master to fart forth wind constantly and unremittingly for forty years and is thus bringing him to his death.”

Yay! Serious literature and philosophy! He cites Augustine, after all!

For context, in this chapter Montaigne presents his understanding of the placebo effect. He describes how the “will” can overpower the body and make it act against its nature. He spends most of the chapter exploring erectile dysfunction (seriously serious literature!) with stories about how most men suffer from it as a simple matter of self-confidence. He even recounts how he once helped a friend who struggled to consummate his marriage by giving him a magical medallion that worked like medieval Viagra. Of course, Montaigne confides in the reader that it was all a ruse: the medallion was a “piece of lunacy” with no real power beyond ~imagination~. Montaigne makes a show of regretting the deceit, but hey, results is results.

In the fart passage, Montaigne is defending “disobedient” body parts (Screech gives the helpful euphemism “that sphincter” for butts) that act against the will, with a sort of humanistic “don’t judge” message. He is also describing how some rare few people can control their farts ~with their minds~.

… yeah, that’s it. Lovely book by the way. Churlish is a fun word.