“College’s Priceless Value,” by Frank Bruni, The New York Times, 2/11/15
A nimble, adaptable intellect may be the best tool for a changeable economy.
What’s the most transformative educational experience you’ve had?…
I saw a woman named Anne Hall swooning and swaying as she stood at the front of a classroom in Chapel Hill, N.C., and explained the rawness and majesty of emotion in “King Lear.”
I heard three words: “Stay a little.” They’re Lear’s plea to Cordelia, the truest of his three daughters, as she slips away. When Hall recited them aloud, it wasn’t just her voice that trembled. It was all of her.
She taught a course on Shakespeare’s tragedies…. It was by far my favorite class at the University of North Carolina…though I couldn’t and can’t think of any bluntly practical application for it, not unless you’re bound for a career on the stage or in academia.
I headed in neither direction. So I guess I was just wasting my time, at least according to a seemingly growing chorus of politicians and others whose metrics for higher education are skill acquisition and job placement….
But it’s impossible to put a dollar value on a nimble, adaptable intellect, which isn’t the fruit of any specific course of study and may be the best tool for an economy and a job market that change unpredictably.
And it’s dangerous to forget that in a democracy, college isn’t just about making better engineers but about making better citizens, ones whose eyes have been opened to the sweep of history and the spectrum of civilizations.
It’s also foolish to belittle what those of us in Hall’s class got from Shakespeare and from her illumination of his work.
“Stay a little.” She showed how that simple request harbored such grand anguish, capturing a fallen king’s hunger for connection and his tenuous hold on sanity and contentment. And thus she taught us how much weight a few syllables can carry, how powerful the muscle of language can be.
She demonstrated the rewards of close attention. And the way she did this — her eyes wild with fervor, her body aquiver with delight — was an encouragement of passion and a validation of the pleasure to be wrung from art. It informed all my reading from then on. It colored the way I listened to people and even watched TV.
It transformed me.
Was this a luxury? Sure. But it was also the steppingstone to a more aware, thoughtful existence….
Frank Bruni is a regular columnist for The New York Times.
See also in ClassWise: “‘Becoming’ Is More Important Than ‘Learning'”