Thursday, May 8, 2008


Taking well-being as the final end of education, its ultimate purpose, I need to examine everything I do in my academic profession from this perspective to ensure its contribution to that goal.

In every course I teach next semester—Shakespeare, Great Verse, and Personal Writing—I should be able to articulate to my students how what we study serves their and the world’s better being; how it is not an idle, incidental or trifling pastime but a worthwhile, life-enhancing enterprise, as I believe it ought to be, since that aim defines it as part of their liberal (or liberating) education. Let me look at each course, one by one, as if you were to take them.

Shakespeare. Of all English authors, Shakespeare, by historical acclaim, would seem the most defensible subject of study; yet how does such study serve your well-being? Most basically, to gain the ability to comprehend and appreciate his artistic use of the English language, long acknowledged as exquisite, can develop your own linguistic perceptiveness and facility. Since language is the principal way by which we interpret the world and exercise our intellects (which enhances the quality of our lives), to master the modes of our premiere poet and playwright betters us. But then, Shakespeare’s fathoming of human character and human conditions and his representations in fiction of the human perplex seem to us timeless and essential. He holds a mirror up to nature and shows us, for better and for worse, who we are as human beings in all the challenges we face. The wisdom of his vision can clarify our own—the better for our well-being.

Great Verse. Much the same argument can be made for this collective subject as for its superstar: the Bard of Avon. But to study more explicitly and closely the verse medium of such poetry, to comprehend the great variety of expressive styles encompassed in verse, and even to participate in the process of versecrafting is to extend the range of your appreciation and ability. Poetic verse is an enhanced and elevated mode of linguistic expression incorporating musical elements of rhythm and concord. To grow sensitive to this mode of language and more capable of employing its techniques, even in prose, enlarges and refines who you are, thereby amplifying your well-being.

Personal Writing. Possibly the most immediate and effective contribution to your well-being will derive from your regular and frequent practice of written composition, both informal and formal, both private and public. I hold that language is our main medium of thought, and that spontaneous oral expression is cruder and more inchoate than written composition can be when well learned through study and practice. Reflective writing adds a new dimension to your existence, and personal writing facilitates the development of your personhood as you articulate and capture more aspects of your varied potential intelligences, both rational and emotional.

And so goes my defense of three courses I teach according to how they can improve you in ways essential to your well-being—in the course of your becoming a better human being. Or what’s an education for?