For many years, I was often speechless in the shadow of the pragmatists, the aimless dreamer in the midst of Useful People studying Useful Things. Why did I study the Arts?
It must be because you’re idealistic. Oh, came the awkward quip, at least you’re doing what you love. As if doing what you love was meant to be an unattainable target.
Why should the past matter? Why should memories matter? Why should literature matter? I had no pragmatic answers. I just liked listening to stories. Of asking, “then what happened next?”
At a glacial speed, the answers have trickled in over the years, but with just as much immensity of significance.
As I grow older, and the colours leaven, and the experiences marinate, I see now that the Humanities teaches you the Other Things. The things you can’t always capture in a NAPLAN, or an OLNA, or even an ATAR. It teaches you complexity, and diversity, and how to wrestle with fifty shades of grey. It teaches you to think, critically. It teaches you subjectivity, and how to be proud of it, because that’s all we have, most of the time.
Yes, you will struggle through the words. You won’t know what you’re doing/writing/reading half the time. Yes, there won’t be model essays to emulate and ejaculate. Yes, you will have to figure what questions you want to ask, long after you’ve found the answers. You will have to deal with uncertainty, unpredictability.
And/but so it is with life.
Isn’t it also pragmatic, to learn how to speak, how to write yourself, and not just to memorize? Isn’t it also worth some thought, to wonder how others feel? Is it not meaningful as well, to realize that there may not even be answers sometimes?
And is it not worthwhile too, to learn to deal with the inevitable uncertainties, and tragedies, and victories, of this one wild and precious life?
I too, wish to be pragmatic. I too, wish to dream.
Dedicated to the many generations of speechless students I’ve taught, wherever you are, who have struggled to explain why they studied and study subjects they won’t score in.