From Kenya To Mt. Pleasant: Cogitations To Novice Teachers

1770 words - 8 pages

Commencement ceremonies are typically littered with congratulatory remarks, cries of
accomplishments, and parroting that oozes optimism, but in his “Kenyon Commencement
Speech,” David Foster Wallace takes a different approach. Instead of goading graduates to
change the world, he gives practical advice on changing themselves for the better by utilizing the
new abilities that result from a fulfilling liberal arts education. Wallace explains the importance
of employing one’s education in conscious thought to develop a genuine awareness of the world
around us. He argues that humans are naturally inclined to think of the world as if we are its
absolute center (201). He acknowledges that, in one sense, this way of thinking is correct,
because all experiences in which we take part must come through us personally as direct
intermediaries (201). However, Wallace elaborates that we must make conscious decisions to
change this self-centeredness in order to avoid a bleak life. Innate or otherwise, self-centered
behavior can cause competition that results in a them-versus-me mentality, which may cast the
world as the habitat of adversaries. Being able to shirk the natural proclivity to think solely of
ourselves as the subjects and objects of the world is what he considers the primary purpose of
true liberal arts education. In my own experience, I have come to understand what Wallace
means: we must make a conscious choice to embrace the world and all of its parts to move past
our hardwired egocentrism, which in turn, can make us happy. As a new teacher, this lesson
could have saved me much distress, and I urge my fellow novice educators to take it to heart.

Between 2010 and 2012, I lived on the outskirts of a military base in a coastal community
in North Carolina that boasts a population of merely 2,500 people. In this temperate maritime
climate, I found myself teaching high school English to students who ranged in interest from
totally indifferent to totally captivated by what I taught day after day. Similar to the mindset that
Wallace admonishes, I saw myself as the center of the classroom and the center of the world. To
me, every wayward glance from my lectern was an affront to my pride, and even a faint nuance
of ennui seemed to be directly intended to deliver me a blow of disrespect. I distinctly remember
a time in class when I was teaching grammar, and I was deeply amused by pairing silly
independent and dependent clauses. Although several of my students shared my amusement
while constructing phrases like “Because Johnny was chased by a bear, he dropped his jar of
honey,” many students were so bored by the mere mention of the word grammar that sleepy eyes
succumbed to slumber. Amusement led to bemusement, as I disheartened, because what I had
enjoyed so much was met with such utter indifference. In short, I was miserable, because I
showed little interest in anything besides my own scholarship, interests, and feelings. I...

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