Apr 29, 2010

Young Americans in Florence

A journalist of Corriere della Sera reconstructed the business of organized pubs tour in Florence. The main point of the article, if I got it right, was not alcohol consumption, but the systematic business developed around American students in Florence (around 8.000 students per year is a big business). The article raised a huge debate in town. Directors of American colleges reacted to such a depiction of American students. Local authorities said they will monitor the situation. Believe me, the debate is huge. I will not enter into this debate. I will, in the future, try to write a book about the cultural experience of American Youngsters Abroad. In the meantime, I would like to share with you some passages upon youth, written by giants. I believe Newton was right: “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”. And before him John of Salisbury, in Metalogicon, wrote: “Bernard of Chartres used to say that we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size”. The astounding thing is that commentators (journalists or whoever has the power to speak in the public opinion), never stand on the shoulders of giants. Do they think “I am a Giant”? Is it a matter of narcissism? Or — a simple thought is starting to run in my head — is it just because they are not aware, they did not read the giants? Who knows…

Jung, C.G. (1933) The stages of life, in Modern Man in Search of a Soul. New York: Harvest.
“The biblical fall of man presents the dawn of consciousness as a curse. And as a matter of fact it is in this light that we first look upon every problem that forces us to greater consciousness and separates us even further from the paradise of unconscious childhood. Every one of us gladly turns away from his problems; if possible they must not be mentioned, or better still, their existence is denied. We wish to make our lives simple, certain and smooth — and for that reason problems are tabu. We choose to have certainties and no doubts — results and no experiments — without even seeing that certainties can arise only through doubt, and results through experiment. The artful denial of a problem will not produce conviction; on the contrary, a wider and higher consciousness is called for to give us the certainty and clarity we need” (96-97).
“Whoever protects himself against what is new and strange and thereby regresses to the past, falls into the same neurotic condition as the man who identifies himself with the new and runs away from the past” (102).
“Whoever carries over into the afternoon the law of the morning must pay for so doing with damage to his soul just as surely as growing youth who tries to salvage his childish egoism must pay for this mistake with social failure” (109).

Joseph Conrad (1917) The Shadow Line: A Confession. New York: Doubleday (incipit, first 6 lines of the book).
“Only the young have such moments. I don’t mean the very young. No. The very young have, properly speaking, have no moments. It is the privilege of early youth to live in advance of its days in all the beautiful continuity of hope which knows no pauses and no introspection. One closes behind the little gate of mere boyishness — and enters an enchanted garden. Its very shades glow with promise. Every turn of the path has its seduction. And it isn’t because it is an undiscovered country. One knows well enough that all mankind had streamed that way. It is the charm of universal experience from which one expects an uncommon or personal sensation — a bit of one’s own. One goes on recognizing the landmarks of the predecessors, excited, amused, taking the hard luck and the good luck together — the kicks and the halfpence, as the saying is — the picturesque common lot that holds so many possibilities for the deserving or perhaps for the lucky. Yes. One goes on. And the time, too, goes on — till one perceives ahead a shadow-line warning one that the region of early youth, too, must be left behind".
If you want to understand better (everything needs to be interpreted, and it takes time!), you shall read the books. These are just cut flowers:“Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants” (John W. Gardner).

Apr 9, 2010

The Hero of Our Time!

What gives meaning to the work of a professor are students. Each year a new class starts and each student that I meet enriches my life. It’s always a wonderful journey of knowledge. And some students surprise me for their thoughtful and visionary capacity to understand the social world. Let’s thank Chris for this precious gift to the world of knowledge: he discovered The Hero of Our Time! Sympathy, humor, irony and smiles are vital features for teaching and learning!