Tuesday, August 28, 2007

And we keep swerving in and out of life

I'm feeling more or less crap like, or maybe it's just the time of the day or the thoughts that just seem to keep coming.
Blah, blah, blah
So anyhow:
Here's something old for now, an essay I wrote a while back that's pretty nice, if inteneded for an odd purpose

The purpose of schooling is to prepare people for life. This means teaching skills, concepts, methods and ways of thinking. It also means teaching how a person should live their life. This is a core value of the liberal arts education, one Cicero explained more than two thousand years ago when defending his teacher Archias. There are many ways to approach this goal, a teacher could explain the different doctrines of philosophy, great figures of the past and present can be presented as examples of different ways of living, and great books can be used to mentally and emotionally connect students to the great questions of life. In most schools, the last approach is used, usually in English or literature classes. This was the case in my school, and in my classes I was exposed to books containing scores of different answers of how to live one?s life. One book that particularly affected me was The Great Gatsby and its philosophy helped me through a very difficult time in my life.
During my high school years, I suffered from manic-depression and this disease often reduced me to thoughts of suicide. To defend myself against such thoughts it was necessary for me to construct a philosophy which would justify my life. To construct this philosophy I drew upon my religion, family, friends, experiences, achievements, failures and books. The Great Gatsby was one of the books which helped me to create that philosophy.
The Great Gatsby talked about the American dream, about the glorious potential of the human spirit and this helped me appreciate my own potential and worthiness to live. The story was of a man who had a dream and strove to completely redefine himself. The fact that his dream was flawed and that he was ultimately unsuccessful was not important, the man became something glorious in the effort. At least, that is my interpretation of the story. But that interpretation was very moving to me, it gave me hope that even if I had problems that made my life difficult, if I pursued my dreams I did not have to succeed to be a success.
However, the effect the book had on me would not be nearly as potent was it not for the in-depth analysis that accompanied it in my junior year American Literature class. My junior year reading of The Great Gatsby was actually the second time I read the book, I had read it a year or two before and found it a very good but not a great book. However, the analysis of the book that was done in my class showed me that not only was the book great, but it was inspiring. In this class, Gatsby?s American Dream was placed into the context of American literature and compared to Benjamin Franklin?s Autobiography. The characters other than Gatsby were also analyzed in ways that contrasted and complemented Gatsby?s role in the book. The language and era and events were examined and explicated. With the help of my able American Literature teacher Mr. Sullivan, and a class with healthy peer discussions, I was able to understand the book and take in its themes, ideas, and feel. I took this understanding of the book and drew from it an idea of glory, which I then incorporated into my life philosophy and that philosophy became my best defense against thoughts of suicide and self-hate.
Through my American Literature class I was exposed to the Great Gatsby and it was then analyzed in a way that enhanced the reading process and left me with ideas that helped me battle personal demons. My story shows the potential of a good literature class. It can shape an individual by exposing him to ideas and philosophies, both new and old, expressed in an excellent manner. Plato found danger in exposing people to philosophy at a young age, since young people are prone to radicalism and the reckless wholesale rejection of tradition. In my mind, this is a very real threat, but my experience has taught me that not teaching young people philosophy is an even greater threat. As a person turns into an adult he must decide how to direct his life, and without an idea of why this life is good or this life is bad, people become mentally and spiritually lost. If I was lost when I was in high school, I would lack the will to resist my disease and would likely be dead. That is why my English and literature classes were so important to me and are important to every student. The road of life is often dark, and books, when understood, can be valuable street lamps.

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