Week 10: On "The University" Respecting the Student (Pirsig 17-20)

Hi again, I have been struggling with what to write about last weeks journey. Reading the article of science and religion in a post-modern world presented some possible points of conversation, but none of them grabbed me completely. Floating in the back of my mind was a topic I was itching to get out and talk about but having trouble relating it to very much in Pirsig's book. Then things began to unfold. Pirsig in recounting Phaedrus' struggles with the second crystallization of quality reminded me of “respect.” How you might ask? Earlier in the book I saw Phaedrus respecting his students greatly when he asked them to define quality, to help him define it. In my mind I see him being very sincere, he really was asking their true opinion and would have welcomed it whole heartedly. He threw away barriers of age and education to meet them on a level ground, a ground of respect. When he is attempting to make a rigorous definition of Quality looks at Quality being an emotional response vs the sum of knowledge. He quickly pointed out that teachers (and in my mind all more educated people) would have greatly liked the concept of Quality as having to do with the sum of knowledge for it would place them in the seat to define Quality. This made Phaedrus uncomfortable because his students were aware of Quality and could accurately pick it out without have the sum-of-knowledge of the highly educated. This leads me into thoughts about respect, but not in the normally used direction of student respecting a teacher or elder, but of the teacher or elder respecting the student. It seems to me that the University, possibly both the ephemeral and the concrete components, have problems with sending the respect back down to the student. I see that the goal of the University is to prepare students for life, to educate them in what is need to live a happy and successful life. However, while this may be their professed goal or duty it seems that they fail in quite completely in at least one particular area. (One can kind of see what I am talking of in how Pirsig treats Chris and John and Sylvia.) I see the University in failing to treat the students as adults. How are students to become adults without practice in all the things of adulthood while remaining in the relative stability of the University. It is really quite odd, University students are treated as half-breeds or lower-class citizens by the heads (faculty, administration, etc) of the University (and beyond the University by other people with power). I have seen people with only a high-school education be treated with more respect than a University student who is still dedicating his life to the acquisition of knowledge. Why is this? Why are the minds the University is trying to raise are the very people who get the least respect? To me this is the biggest problem of the University and the most illogical. If the goal is to breed peons and slaves then perhaps its the right path to take, but if the goal is to instead breed confident individuals then the wrong path has been chosen. To foster confidence and respect the students must be treated with respect, their concerns must matter. If they question, with respect or at least without malice, the authorities or dogma or laws of physics or whatever, they are not to be slapped down or shoved aside. The University should tolerate these questions, better yet encourage them, because this is when the student really thinks. And while no one likes to be shown wrong, if they question what is easily proven, then the University should prove it respectfully and by doing this create individuals who think for themselves yet also respect the knowledge of others. Perhaps the simplest way to sum this up is that students are humans, and most by time they are in University are legal adults, they have rights and feelings and potent minds. The most beautiful pottery is molded by hand, lovingly crafted. The injection molded, machine trimmed is cold and stark, without feeling and without compassion. Perhaps there is little you can do about this, but at least it is in your mind friend. I thank you for your respect. Nathaniel