The Blessed State of “Doneness”

This will not be my–admittedly poor–attempt at a deep philosophical analysis, a preparatory advice column, or a scathing rant on the topic of turning in the very last assignment of my University of Chicago MAPH career.  Instead I mean this post in the spirit of Bugs Bunny’s impromptu song in “Bugs Bunny’s Bustin’ Out All Over” (1980), when the titular character bursts from his hole to sing the joys of “no more classes, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks!”

Now, one of the many mixed blessings of UChicago’s decision to demand that every graduating student have every grade for every class–including the classes that won’t end for another week–submitted to the administration by June 1st is that the last week of class is spent without any looming projects, papers, or presentations to get in the way of enjoying the final set of lectures.  Now, the obvious downside is that all those projects, papers, and presentations’ due dates are crammed into the last two or three weeks in May.  However, once one has successfully cranked them out they are left to float in the euphoria of a Blessed State of Doneness.

As long time readers of the blog will likely recall, my arrival in the MAPH program was immediately preceded by three years at a small private liberal arts school in the Midwest earning my BA with a double major of theology and philosophy.  In order to fulfill the requirements of those two majors without the luxury of previous credit hours transferring in, I took an average of 21 to 24 hours a semester and filled my first and second summers with nine hours from a community college in the former and nine hours of courses at Oxford in the latter.  In the week after my BA graduation I immediately started on the readings for the MAPH Core Course–some of which were later changed, D’oh!–in preparation for my time at Chicago.   My secondary education, then, might best be characterized by the phrase “Zero to Master in Four” so the prospect of actually being done with school for a while comes like a cool breeze after four years in a convection oven.

Now, the unintended consequence of the sudden turn from the “pragmatic triage” approach to learning toward the “learning for the simple joy of learning” model occasioned by UChicago’s convocation policy is that I am forced to recognize what my carefully honed triage approach has cost me: the simple joy of intellectual curiosity.  That is, over the last four years every book I’ve read and every lecture I’ve sat through has been processed according to its potential contributions to some future seminar paper or some imagined question on an semester final.  The idea of just reading a paper because it contains some intriguing premise or listening to a lecture without trying to discover some tidbit it might contribute to my projects is a foreign concept.  I’m excited to play with some big ideas without trying to justify the time I spend with a pragmatic excuse.

Now, because of my “sprint to the finish” approach to secondary education, my tendency toward pragmatic triage is at the extreme end of the spectrum, but I’m guessing that I won’t be the only MAPH student suddenly confronted by the realization that they have been filtering their classes through the functional requirements mandated by their theses, seminar papers, and class presentations and discarding many exciting ideas worthy of further consideration.  So, here’s to the last week of classes!  A time to bask in a blessed state of doneness that allows us to rediscover why we undertook this educational project in the first place.

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