I’ve spent many months (literally) trying to figure out how to say what I’m about to say in a tactful and polite manner. After those many months, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no polite way to say this, so I’m simply going to say with without trying to get overly enraged. (My keyboard doesn’t like it when I write angry.) I also want to preface this post with a disclaimer that this is not a display of ageism. For those of you who aren’t Sociology majors or who have never heard of the term “Ageism,” it generally refers to a prejudice against the elderly in one form or another. Let it be said that I do not have a prejudice against professors who are old in the sense of being elder, what I do have a prejudice against is an old and outdated way of thinking. Now that I’ve cleared that up I shall begin to rage now.
Commence Raging Now
The catalyst for me writing this post came as a result of a short conversation I had with a regular at my coffee shop earlier this week. This particular gentleman is a retired college professor who taught subjects in the Liberal Arts. He comes in quite frequently and we’ve had many a conversation on Linguistics, Classical Mythology, and Literature in general. When he came in this week he saw me scribbling notes for the book I’m writing and, like most people, asked what I was studying.
The first thing anyone asks after you tell them you’re in the process of writing a book is what it’s about. I’m always somewhat hesitant to tell older people that I’m writing a book about zombies because zombies aren’t exactly something that older people take seriously. I mean, I can understand that for the most part. I was even more hesitant to tell this man about the zombie thing because I figured that he would take it even less seriously, but I told him anyways.
You see, generally people at least attempt to be polite and encouraging about your project, even if they don’t take it seriously. This was the response I was expecting to get from the Professor. Oh how mistaken was I. What he said (while scoffing) instead was thus, and I quote:
“Oh *scoff* I don’t think that will go anywhere.”
He then proceeded to smile and go get his coffee leaving me completely astonished and more than a little upset.
All of you fellow writers out there understand that we get more than our fair share of criticism and denial in our careers. It’s just part of the game. But rarely have I ever experienced such blatant questioning of skill or creative capacity at the hands of someone I would consider to be friendly with, if not friends of a sorts. I got to thinking about it, slightly upset at myself for being so shocked at being affronted in such a manner and realized it wasn’t so much a hit on my abilities as a writer as much as it was on the subject I chose to write on.
Thus we get to the topic of old-minded professors. Old minded professors, in my opinion are those who do not consider a single line of poetry or prose outside the traditional literary canon to be “true literature worth reading or discussion.” Zombies doesn’t tend to make many appearances within the literary canon so his disdain can be somewhat understandable in some sense. However, I cannot express how incredibly limiting this mindset can be to the self, the students of literature now and future, and to the realm of literature itself.
Another easy example of old-minded professors would be a particular English Professor who I am taking classes from this quarter and next over at Eastern Washington University. This particular professor happens to be of significant age and I only mention that because it makes him a product of the school of literary thinking in which he was educated. Professors of his age, and those who educated them, generally approached literature as a puzzle to be pieced together. And, like a puzzle, there is one solution to make all the pieces come together and make the picture clear. This idea of a single solution approach to literature has quickly become vastly outdated. Paul Lindholdt, a full professor of English at EWU, despises this way of thinking reminding us on a weekly basis that there is never one theme or one way of interpreting a piece of literature.
I can’t remember where it was I heard this, but I will always remember this explanation as to why the study of literature is immortal:
The reason that people can still make a living studying and teaching literature rests on the single idea that a single literary work will have as many different interpretations as there are people who read it. The fact that we can take a story or poem written in the 16th century and find ways of adapting it to life in the 21st proves the immortality of literature and the need to study it.
When professors refuse to re-evaluate their interpretation of literature, or cannot bring themselves to consider something new as true literature the contribute to the attempted murder of the art. As drastic as that sounds, it is the reality that their mentality creates. This is why I say old-minded professors merely need to leave the classroom and go home so that the students in those desks to not suffer from their shortsightedness.