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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Education and Social Commitment

I looked for cool pictures of books and the google image search
led me to this cool blog post on reading books by women writers.
I've been thinking about the point of education and academia. I love what I do, most of the time, and my goal is to teach other people to read and write and think. And I've come to feel that although literature and cultural studies are valuable in and of themselves, one of their most important functions in our increasingly connected global society is to teach people empathy. Being able to feel what those outside of our own circles of experience feel helps people think of people as fellow humans, rather than "others" who don't matter to us. This can also help us overcome careless generalizations. The very act of reading and trying to figure out what is happening in a story trains our brains to think empathetically That's what my MA thesis deals with, in a general sense: breaking the divide between normatively separate groups of people.

As a teenager, I thought that the only thing the Humanities (studying the artistic productions of humanity in context) were mainly good for ... not much, practically speaking. I loved reading and writing and music, but I didn't connect my personal interests with the study of the Humanities. With the Humanities, there's no specific career path. My point of view has evolved considerably since then, and I've learned to see the Humanities as part of what makes being human worthwhile. My friend Rebecca Brazzale has done some amazing work in the BYU Humanities Advisement Center to provide direction for undergraduate and graduate students. She created a site to help MA students find career paths beyond academia. And that is incredibly valuable. The Humanities teach people to think broadly, to look for multiple perspectives and empathize with those that don't share their personal points of view. What career wouldn't benefit from such an education?
Around my junior year in college, I declared a Spanish major with a Minor in Humanities. I had previously been Humanities major with a minor in Spanish, but decided at that point that I wanted to teach Hispanic literature specifically. And I've never wanted to teach anywhere but at a university. To do what I want to do, I need a PhD. At times, I have debated whether this career would really contribute positively to society. I believe it does.
The act of teaching people to read, write, and think, to look beyond themselves at the world, to consider multiple perspectives, and to make the world better by their presence is infinitely valuable. When I choose to write about the themes of monsters, others, frontiers, barriers, borders and border crossing in Science Fiction and Fantasy, what really interests me is the possibility of making connections between separate groups of people and ideas in real life. The importance of feminism, equality, ecological sustainability, and basic human kindness are inseparable from my studies. As I write about these themes, I believe I can contribute to a culture of change, a new way of thinking in and out of academia. I'm never going to not be in school, in one form or another. It's going to be a long journey, and it won't be easy. But it will be worth it.