Saturday, July 12, 2008

What if you were Gerald McGrew?

So, I saw this on anotherpanacea first, and therefore can't take credit for what a great idea it is...

You may remember the story by Dr. Seuss (né, Theodore Seuss Geisel) from 1950 entitled If I Ran the Zoo, in which the pint-sized protagonist, Gerald McGrew, speculates upon the amazing creation he could bring about if he were allowed to run the zoo. If I Ran the Zoo is not only a great story about the never-before-seen exotic animals that would populate "the new zoo, McGrew Zoo," but it also just so happens to contain the first ever documented use of the word "nerd." (All you nerds should be sure to rush out and buy the book immediately, and then show it off to your nerd friends right after wowing them with that little factoid in from the "Nerd History" file.) McGrew's first words in the story are: "It's a pretty good zoo, and the fellow who runs it seems proud of it, too." But "pretty good" can always be better, and McGrew thinks he's just the one to bring "better" about.

Anyway, the National Association of Scholars has asked its readers to indulge in their own little McGrew-ish imaginings of what could be. They want to know what you would do if you ran our particular zoo, that is, American higher education. In the words of NAS: "we have asked contributors to forebear dwelling on what is wrong with the current zoo and instead to tell us in positive terms what they would do to improve it." In the spirit of Dr. Seuss, the NAS places no restrictions on your Academy Zoo proposals-- which should make us all pause to consider that the unrestricted nature of imaginative thought might very well be what is most missing from higher education policy.

I'm putting the same question to readers of this blog who, as far as I can tell, have never wanted for imagination. The Academy is a pretty good zoo-- and the fellows who run it seem proud of it, too--but I think we all know it could be better. What would you do?

NOTE TO READERS: Since some of the comments to this post are formulated in "Seussian," you should click on the title of this post and then scroll down, in order to read them in their proper format.


DOCTOR J said...

Extra points if you can formulate your suggestions in Seuss-ese.

anotherpanacea said...

Dr. J,

NAS has approached me looking for a contribution to their website: if you come up with anything you'd like to submit, I can put you in touch with their editor there.

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

Let's start with students. They're
just too many
Of 'em lurking around. How can any
work get done, 'midst the lecturing
Office hours, re-writes, flirting and
And some things there are that have
to get done.
The work that we do is not just for
Like Doctor Agatha McDoozledorts
Chief Deconstructor of weather

Apologies for the appearance of the lines.

More to come as my rhyming skills allow.

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

Not to mention the work of J.G. Pont-Saninita
Who writes on the word "the" in the novel Lolita.
Such work really matters!
It matters a lot!
And that's why some of our kids have just got
to leave the Ivory Tower, to the Real World bound!
They won't hardly miss us,
And we'll soon have found
That with so much more time on our hands for our thinking,
we can get our thinking done and have time let for drinking.
And while drinking at the famous Van Blunderbuss Tavern,
which is prized for its fabulous floorspace, a real cavern
With space for professors and students, many now ex.
And the rules are much laxer on ex-student sex.

But how to decide which kids have got to go?
It isn't that hard.
As you and I both know
The grade curve is up!
A veritable bubble.
In a bubble such as this there shouldn't be trouble
in keeping a 4.0. If you can't then goodbye.
We're sorry if you object.
But please tell us why
We should give a second-chance to a kid like Scott Zenny,
For whom a second chance is two chances too many.

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

P.S. Sorry for all the comments, but I went upstairs and checked our extensive Seuss library and discovered I was being too strict with meter. Which is good because it's hard to fit Seussian names into just five iambs.

DOCTOR J said...

Ideas Man: This is quite good. Keep it coming!

anotherpanacea: I thought NAS was a kind of "conservative" organization... is that wrong? I admit, I hadn't heard of NAS before seeing it on your blog, but when I looked on their website under the "Who We Are" tag, I noticed that they begin their autobiegraphy with reference to Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind. Oh yeah, and then there was this:
"...We uphold the principle of individual merit and oppose racial, gender, and other group preferences. And we regard the Western intellectual heritage as the indispensable foundation of American higher education."

DOCTOR J said...

If I were McGrew, the first thing I’d do,
is line up all the zookeepers, two by two.
I’d march them to corners where they hide the zoo’s poo,
and point out the truth of what poo-shovels do.

“Keepers!” I’d say, “the problem with hiding this mess
is that each one, all of us, works under duress,
while perfectly fine shovels never get put to the test,
because you keepers are too busy testing the rest!”

Then the bird-keepers squawked about the state of their cages,
The big-cat-keepers roared out in analogous rages,
The fish-keepers insisted on the priority of tanks,
But all of the keepers kept ignoring the stank.

“Can’t you smell that?” I’d ask, while holding my nose,
“Can’t you feel something squishy between all your toes?
That’s the left-over muck of a thousand missed ways
To solve a thousand old problems, put off a thousand more days!”

Then I’d sigh, like a captain, facing the main,
and I’d wonder what use it is to complain,
when the keepers won’t unite under a banner as plain
As “Pick up your shovels! Lay down your chains!”

Sue Who said...

"That was brilliant", I say, and now must admit,
I've been lurking for ages and not proud of it;
I come here for reading and thinking and such;
I'm not in academics or philosphy much.
But this zookeeper business! And the eloquent rhymes!
Strike a chord in these murky, unaccountable times.

Now I drift off to sleep, but with one final thought:
Next time I'll comment like a good lurker ought.

(but not in Seussian meter, it's simply too exhausting.)

Nice work.

DOCTOR J said...

Good to have you, Sue!

anotherpanacea said...

Yes, they are conservative. But this is one of those things where normal partisan rules need not apply. Just because I do theory and they think theory is part of the problem doesn't mean that we can't all put aside that dispute and agree that there are broader problems with the American academy tied to political economy, institutional design, and resource allocation.

Besides, building universities in the sky is fun!

Ideas Man, PhD: That's great stuff!

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

Thanks for the kind words guys.
I had so much fun working on this last night that I got a little carried away. The final result is probably a little long for a comment so I've posted it over on my own blog:

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

is the full link, sorry

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

Dr. J.,

If the organization really is conservative then surely they'll appreciate your Marxo-Seussian call at the end.

But I'm a little confused: is the dung in the zoo the problem or the solution?

Or is it paradoxically both?

DOCTOR J said...

Ideas Man (and this will be my last pathetic attempt at Seussian):

"Poison or cure?" I can't help but yawn
At your shameless attempt to make me say "pharmakon."
What I meant to point out about the problems abiding
Is that it's not just the dung, it's all of the hiding!

When we keep poo in corners, a-stinking and piling,
while suits sit in meetings, pinched-nosed but smiling,
then we never can move from an "is" to an "ought."
The mess that you know is better than the one you do not.

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

ach, so.

Well, you'll get no argument from me there.

But I'll get you to use the word "pharmakon" yet.

Incidentally, I once wrote another piece called "Plato's Online Viagra Store Offer" for Collegium a few years back.

Fortunately, the footage of my drunken delivery of the speech was (and I'm not making this up) --- stolen by gypsies.

DOCTOR J said...

Plato? Viagra? And gypsies!!?

Now THAT's a story I want to see on your blog!