Looking for a Spark Inside

At some point a student must realize they should be going to college for themselves, not their parents.

We can all celebrate the virtues of listening to others. It’s usually a winning trait for all of us in the business of communicating.  But like every communication virtue, it can have a dark corner.  Even an attentive person can be adrift. Conforming to expectations can substitute for acquiring enough self-knowledge to know what we need for ourselves.

This challenge comes up periodically as I meet young adults who are planning their college careers. They are wary and often a bit confused. In addition, most are young enough to have not put much effort into figuring out what matters. So many are intent on passing on the task of planning their future to their parents.  That includes what they will do in college.  When asking about their interests, I tend to get restatements of what passes for parental wisdom about not “wasting their time” with “useless” subjects. Thirty years ago it would have been unusual to hear a student tell a faculty advisor what their parents want them to study.  Now it happens a lot.

So in my own field of Communication Studies, nearly all parents on a campus visit expect a tour of our television studio, even though a lot modern film and video production occurs out in the world.  I think the studio is reassuring because it reminds them of a workplace.  But they are several decades behind the times in terms of where the real action is in shooting video.

We all know parents.  They are mostly good people and are used to being in charge.  A common scenario has their young adult children skipping over the possibility of considering their own passions while uncritically accepting advice from a  generation’s experiences from the dark ages. In most cases they  would be better advised to follow their own star.  Like Benjamin in the film classic, The Graduate, these young people are often on the verge of being locked into a narrative that is not their own.

the graduate one word plastics

Uploaded by wsinful on 2015-09-30.

So, of course, I have an answer for them.  Sure, respect your parents’ experiences.  But at some point, a student needs to realize they are going to college for themselves, not their relatives. Set aside news coverage of pathetic helicopter parents trying to buy their child’s “prestigious” education with flat-out deception. More common is the number of students in undergraduate institutions who like the aura of a college degree, but lack the self-knowledge to know what it ought to be. A course in Medieval Art?  The predictable advice  from anxious parents is that they are wasting their time. Many wrongly assume their son or daughter has enrolled in a kind of trade school that will yield one particular job, not a liberal arts education.  Many are also unaware of fields of study and occupations that have sprung up since they graduated.

I sometimes see a student who has no interest in my field.   But they are ready to take bad advice and labor on.  In other cases I see students in supposedly “safe” business majors who have not noticed their own talents lie in other areas.  I’ve got good news:  businesses of all types are full of people without business degrees.

My hope for these students is that they will choose a course of study that excites them.  If it’s Medieval art, go for it.  Right now medievalists are on the world’s front pages reminding readers about the stunning arts that made Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris possible. Life has a way of opening up opportunities that we might never expect.

Malapropisms

Some thoughts inevitably wander off course.  A person’s consciousness may have a clear fix on an idea, but the neural pathways that produce speech have to be able to deliver it.

A friend recently emailed a couple who had sold a property they owned in Florida after many attempts, noting that they must be glad to finally “be rid of their condom.”  I’m sure they eventually figured out what she meant. If all else fails, blame the autocorrect function on the computer. I similarly recall an errant explanation to students describing the risks to American troops stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq.  I noted that soldiers were constant targets for “exploding IUDs.”  It’s an example of a wrong turn on the highway to fluency that my colleagues won’t let me forget.

A malaprop is a near miss: the wrong word or phrase used in discourse that was striving for an idea that sounds similar.  When President Trump recently talked about the “oranges” of the Mueller investigation, we can figure out that he probably meant “origins.” It’s the same process that showed up in his press conference with the chairman of Apple, known to the rest of us as Tim Cook. The orange President repeatedly referred to him as “Tim Apple.”  Clearly, older minds are not as nimble as younger ones.

                  Norm Crosby

Malaprops were a source of a lot of American humor in the last century.  Performed routines featuring mangled English were often a staple of earlier radio and television comedy.  Think of Gracie Allen, Mel Blank or Norm Crosby. As Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe recalls, audiences loved Crosby’s references to “human beans,” “trousers that need an altercation,” a sports idol who is “an insulation to young players,” and human bodies that can be “subject to so many melodies.”

Back then there was more laughing and less mocking. After all, like puns, malaprops that we notice require a degree of literacy; the fun is in recognizing the violated grammatical or lexical rules.

Mastering the burdens of language is a lifetime process. 

In recent years politicians have supplied all the miscues we need to keep us in grinning.  Without doubt, George W. Bush remains our single best source of a public figure whose thoughts have wandered into the wilderness.  He seemed to know what he wanted to say, but sometimes lacked the verbal skills to actually deliver it.

Best of the Bushisms

American Morning takes a look at the best of so-called “Bushisms.” Videos put together by CNN of stupid quotes Bush had said for 8 years. OBAMA 2008, and again for 2012! ☻/ /▌ /

Of course the problem turns more serious when the speaker or writer is not aware that they have used the wrong words.  The joke is then on them, feeding the impression that they are perhaps not as swift as we might have thought.  Such is the power of literacy signifiers. Mastering the burdens of language is a lifetime process.