Letter to the Boeotians

From a Rutgers football board:

Booster #1:

And so, you find Dowling is relevant to this board? He's a " teacher " and even that I question. Give me those who teach something of substance. In a society which chooses to know very little about "English", it's [sic] origins, it's [sic] value or perhaps what meaningful purpose it serves in our everyday lives; it holds very little value to the vast majority of people.

Booster #2:

What an f-cking tool. He can take his "intellectualism" and shove it right up his starchy ass.


10 September 2004

To the Editor:

In thirty-five years of reading the Chronicle, I've never come across anything more depressing than William Coplin's "Lost in the Life of the Mind" (Sept. 3).

Coplin's message reduces to a stubborn philistinism that's been around since the earliest days of the American republic. The purpose of going to college is to get a good job. The task of education is to "give employers what they want." Liberal arts professors are valuable, if at all, as "skills teachers."

This is the distilled wisdom of a society driven by mindless consumerism. Coplin's real message to American students is this: your highest object in life is to make enough money to buy a closet full of electronic playthings, drive an SUV, and get yourself a flat-panel TV. From then on it's simple: you work, you get married and divorced, you watch NFL football on the weekends and reality TV in the evenings, and then you die.

Over a century ago, Theodore Parker said that the peculiar sickness of American society was that "money is counted as the end of life, not as the material basis to the higher forms thereof." This has always been the problem with the Coplins of our culture: they're simply unable to conceive of any higher mode of consciousness that might come along with knowing history and literature and languages, having friends who value wit and intelligence and real thinking, or finding a deeper source of enjoyment in reading Nabokov or looking at a Vermeer than in watching American Idol or The Survivor. So, like color-blind observers in a world filled with colors, they go around loudly proclaiming that no such thing as color exists.

I want, for all my students, work that both engages their intelligence and contributes to the common good. But with Mr. Coplin's permission, I intend to go on educating them for the life that begins when you're earning enough to live decently and can go home at the end of the day to read and think and spend your time with other people who do the same. Then, when their own children are old enough to show up in my classroom, I won't have to waste time explaining why reading Chaucer or Shakespeare is immensely more important to one's inward development than "giving employers the skills they want."

William C. Dowling
Rutgers University


 Professor "Bill" Coplin, Ph.D "Lost in the Life of the Mind"


From Randall Jarrell, Poetry and the Age

One of our universities recently made a survey of the reading habits of the American public; it decided that forty-eight per cent of all Americans read, during a year, no book at all.

I picture to myself that reader -- non-reader, rather: one person out of every two -- and I reflect, with chagrin, "Our books are too hard for him." But so, too, are Treasure Island, Peter Rabbit, pornographic novels -- any book whatsoever.

A sort of dream-situation often occurs to me in which I call to this imaginary figure, "Why don't you read books?" -- and he always answers, after looking at me steadily for a long time, "Huh?"