Sunday, October 2, 2011

Writing, Handwriting, Essays

Here a maddening—but also enlightening—fruit of experience. Mine. If I research a subject and then struggle to write my findings down well enough to make them understandable to the public in general, I will remember the basic facts and relationships for a long, long time. I will remember—but the reader might not. I know that also—from experience. Time and time again I remember reading about something complicated; I will have a vague sensation of understanding it; but when push comes to shove, I can’t reproduce that understanding properly.

My education in the United States began as a junior in high school. Until then I had been required to write essays—not after my Father enrolled me in school here. We learned recently that the teaching of cursive writing has been abandoned; children are taught to write, but not to “flow,” if I make myself clear. Demands to reproduce knowledge in writing had already begun to yield the field to questionnaires in my time (early 1950s). In college we were still expected to write answers to tests in little blue books; that was, in my case, at a Jesuit college, and I’m not sure how widespread that sort of testing was—or whether it still survives.

In the world of work—certainly at research institutes—writing was required to report results. My own interesting personal experience was that our Masters and PhD’s often lacked this skill so tangibly that I spent substantial parts of my time rewriting other people’s incoherent reports at the behest of my frustrated Director. I knew how. Time and time again, I was forced, eventually, to absorb the basic research, interview the researchers, and then do the work all over again—frequently changing the very conclusions—the thinking behind the authors’ conclusions having been too shoddy.

And that was then.

When we seek the causes of decadence, they are not hard to find. They hide in such details. Knowledge thins, understanding follows, and Emotion comes to rule. What is Counselor Deana Troi’s favorite question? “Yes. But how do you feel about it?” What is true at the level of knowledge is also true at the level of ethics. And then we throw up our hands at “the times.”

3 comments:

  1. When we seek the causes of decadence, they are not hard to find. They hide in such details. Knowledge thins, understanding follows, and Emotion comes to rule.

    These two sentences are golden.

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  2. Although I apparently need to learn to count to three.

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  3. Thanks, Brandon. My next one will cover innumeracy...

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