Truth in Society

October 13, 1994

Prompt #24


In many ways, continuing may be the hardest thing you have to learn this year. A common objection to most university courses, and most academic pursuits, is that they go on too long, spend too much time on "the same thing." There are at least a couple of reasons for this.

One is that for many people it's hard to recognize two different approaches to the same thing, or two different ideas which use the same illustration, or two different narratives which happen to describe the same event, as different. One important thing the educational process does is to make it more likely that people will see such differences as important, and as interesting in themselves. Two different tellings of the same story tell us things about the tellers, about the story, about ourselves as listeners, and about the telling of stories. That's part of the reason that movies of novels are interesting but never replace the novels (or vice versa); it's the reason two different productions of the same play, or two different performances of the same piece of music, can be interesting.

Another reason is a more general one: it's just that people are habituated to change. We often don't like to stay thinking about one thing or working on one project for a long time: we tend to think of it as like working on the assembly line, tightening the same bolt over and over, for a long time, even when it's not that.. We often don't see the larger picture that might help us make sense of what we're doing, and show us why it's worth while keeping at it, and what's changing and developing while we do.

Perhaps a good way to sum this up is to say that when people are used to being outside of things they're not so likely to see differences, and thus to get bored. People who don't listen to country music much think it all sounds the same; similarly for people who don't listen to Bach.

All this is a way of saying that what we're working on right now is staying at it. We want to offer you as much support as we can in seeing how what you're doing fits with what others are doing, how it represents progress when it might seem like reading still another book on the same subject.

What we're going to do today is help you to decide what to do next (or to reflect on what you're doing next if you've already decided). We want to give everyone a chance to touch base with the rest of her focus group, compare what she's reading and what she's learned with what others have read and learned, and be prepared to move on.

At the first meeting, at 8:30, we want to take a few minutes to do a round on what you've learned, or what problems you've run into, or what questions you have, that might be of use to the members of all the groups. This includes things like library tips and problems, difficulties with, or strategies for, assessing books before deciding to read them, etc.

After this, we'll have three focus group meetings, but this time they won't be simultaneous; rather, they'll occur according to this schedule:

10:00 Salem Group with Russ and John
1:00 Scopes Group with Thom and John
3:00 Jonestown Group with Thom and Russ

For the focus group meetings, please bring what you're reading and be prepared to inkshed about that reading: particularly, this time, about what you're learning, what you've been struck by in the reading, what questions you have about it, or that have been triggered by it, etc.

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