No, Seriously…

This is a post about picking up dropped threads and tying together loose ends. First, thanks to those of you who have commented on or emailed concerning the You Oughta Know series last week. After writing such a theory-heavy piece, I feel the need to answer two practical questions 1) Why go to graduate school if you’ve already learned all of the grad-level skills in undergraduate? and 2) In what ways have you used these skills/ disciples used in the MAPH program in the first two weeks.

1) There are many reasons one goes to graduate school–some of which are more or less justified in my opinion–but I assume that the real thrust of this question is something like “Aren’t you expecting a bit much from a four year college education?” I suppose–depending on one’s needs–it is possible to argue that these skills are not the sort of things that a bachelor’s degree should teach. I am a bit incredulous of that argument–as I believe these skills to be “humanizing”–but I will accept the possibility that a pharmacist or vocal performance major might not need these skills. However, keep in mind that the target audience of this blog– and that series–is people who are considering graduate school or are currently in graduate school. Yet, what really seems to be behind this question is the idea that if one has already acquired the skills of a graduate school education, why pay for the privilege of going through a MA or PhD program–beyond the obvious need for the sheepskin?

That argument seems to betray a certain pragmatic utilitarianism that I would argue is unbecoming of a potential academic–as though the point of a graduate level education is simply to acquire the skills of a scholar in the same way a linesman acquires the skills of an electrician. While graduate programs exist to teach these a) interpretive skills, they also exist to teach b) a body of knowledge, and to inculcate a larger body of c) unwritten responsibilities and expectations specific to a discipline.  Further–ignoring (b) and (c)–while it is possible to be aware of these approaches from very early in one’s education, they are lifetime disciples more than simple skills–a point that should have been better communicated in my original series. Put briefly, a solid undergraduate program should position a student to recognize the distinctive scholarly approaches, reading for argument and for intention, employing both a generous reading and a hermeneutic of suspicion, and being aware of conversations–both how they affect the interpretation of original texts and how they impact the reception of one’s own work. Yet, there is a difference between knowing what one should do with a text or should expect with regard to academic life and actually being able to discipline oneself to do and be those things.

2) The MAPH program’s one and only CORE course is called “An Introduction to Interpretive Theory” and begins two weeks before the rest of the graduate students arrive on campus. Developing and using these skills/disciples is all that a MAPH student does in the first two weeks of this colloquy period. As this colloquium period is often characterized as “getting MA students up to speed with the University of Chicago’s academic expectations” and PhD candidates are not forced to take a similar pre-term orientation, I take the colloquium period to be remedial instruction for masters students who should already have developed these disciplines in their undergrad work. Whether reading Freud’s Three Essays on Sexual Theory, Plato’s Symposium, or Dante’s Vita Nouva the goal throughout colloquium has been to create “analytic expositions”–that is, to be able to summarize the rhetorical and argumentative moves within a text so as to explain its internal architecture and better understand the author’s intentions. Our first exercise in this analytic vein was due just three days into the program and our first paper after seven, so clearly MAPH students are meant to already have some familiarity with these disciplines coming into the program.

So, today ends the colloquium period and starts a fresh new one with two more classes added to the roster and–presumably–a higher level of intellectual rigor.


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