Wednesday, January 5, 2011

First emotions

Anger. Inexplicably, as my outdoor experience teacher was describing effective learning, all I felt was a rising displeasure. The man was dead-on in what he was describing. "Learning is meaningful if there is personal risk involved which puts us outside of our comfort zone, breaks down some of the lesser things about us, and allows us to rebuild ourselves in a better way." My professor was echoing a sentiment I've held for a long time - learning is repentance. Incidentally, I saw a video clip in a class the following day in which Hugh Nibley says almost exactly the same thing: to learn is to repent over and over again. I wasn't angry about someone sharing my opinion, or apparently having claimed it first.

The smile slid from my face, my posture straightened, and my brow went taut. Real education is repentance, that is true; but why was my professor claiming that as a goal of the course? Or as a particular insight of writing or outdoor survival?

True, writing and outdoor activities both push one outside of their comfort zone; true, both activities encourage an individual to reflect on their experiences and come to greater internal understanding. But repentance is between man and God; except in cases of specific need, no other individual should be involved. The effects of repentance ripple outward through social networks, but there is a reason prayer is usually private. Even in cases of excommunication, members of the Church are not required to describe their expulsion in gratuitous detail; an adulterer simply explains that he committed adultery, gives details necessary to gain help in the repentance process, and moves onward. The repentant sinner does not write a romance novel about their affair.

Again, back to my anger. Repentance certainly ought to be a goal of the course; it should be the goal of every teacher and student, in everything they learn and teach. But I do not trust my professor to provide me a repentance-environment, or to grade the risks I take in my writing. Creating a repentance environment sounds, to me, sadistic: mortality is our risk environment, and the only reason it works is that God is perfectly loving and does not inflict an iota upon us more than we have to go through or than we are able to bear. My professors are not as capable. Will I earn a better grade if I risk a limb? Or my life? Or my sanity?

Similarly, in writing: a professor may grade my ability to communicate, but not the degree to which I am willing to take risks. Whatever "risks" I take that are, truly, risks are the ones that either bring me closer to God or take me away from Him. The bleeding edge of my character construction ought to be revealed to God alone. Why should a professor expect to see my heart? Or, on the negative side: Why should a professor expect me to confess to him my sins? Anything less is not really a risk; rehashing principles already learned and appropriated hardly shakes my perspective.

Perhaps this is hypocritical of me - I certainly have shared attempts at repentance on this blog, along with some rather personal insights. I have used writing as a means to come to terms with some of the personal demons I face. I have been criticized, in the past, for sharing too much with my digital audience. The difference, however, lies in the fact that I have chosen what to share, without penalty. Sometimes, I have chosen to reveal myself for the benefit of my audience. Other times, I have not. As I understand this course, now I will be pressured, through grades, to do so regardless of my feelings on the matter.

I felt similarly pressured in my South Africa Prep course; written "sensitivity training" is just as abusive and loathsome as that practiced by fraternities. I do not care to what institution someone belongs: if they attempt to coerce me to divulge the things of my soul, I will respond to their assault on my individuality with every means at my disposal. In practice, my deepest loathings - which have required the most difficult repentance -have been reserved for people and organizations that make the attempt. I cannot imagine a more effective means of earning my steadfast enmity.

So of course I was angry. My professor described an institutionalized attempt to gain access to my sanctum sanctorum without earning the right to be there.

I could simply leave the class. But I agree that learning requires risk, so here is the risk I am going to take: I will send this post to my professor. I will challenge the notion that degree of risk-taking in writing, that repentance in writing, is something that ought to be graded. I will give the professor the opportunity to respond. There is little risk to my character; I risk only my participation in the class. As a result, I learn only a few things about myself- namely, that I won't stand for this kind of nonsense again. But I will learn, and give the professor the opportunity to learn, how he will respond to my concerns.

A note of caution - I had to leave the essay writing half of the class a few minutes early, and perhaps I have misunderstood the purpose of the course. Perhaps risk taking in writing is only encouraged, not required. If so, then I will again look forward to the experience. This class is one of the first two I picked out of the catalog when I came to BYU; the course description influenced my decision to join the Honors program, and I've been working for three years to get into it. Even so, my privacy is worth more than my pleasure. If I have to drop the class...
So be it.


  1. I'm intrigued by your stance on the subject. I never would have interpreted your professor's remarks that way. I do see the connection between learning and repentance, but I suppose I always thought of repentance as learning, while some learning can be done without repenting. Granted, that all depends on our personal definitions of what those words mean to us, which therefore explains why I'm intrigued.

  2. erm...i don't see how learning is repentance at all
    wouldn't that imply original sin?
    we are all sinners because we are born committing a sin of omission by not knowing absolutely everything?
    i mean, i don't think you think this is a religious issue at all
    but then, erm, well how can there be an anything of omission in this case?
    i think this is complete and utter tripe
    learning is not at all about repentance
    perhaps it is some other word, but you are completely off base in describing it as repentance
    and i don't see how comfort zones are involved
    some things put us outside our comfort zone, but that sort of implies, well
    i don't know, it has too strong an attachment to the idea of "putting yourself out there"
    while yes, i have to put work out for your average math class
    it isn't so much straining myself as it is just reading the chapter and doing some practice problems
    i don't think work is really going outside your comfort zone
    writing is different because it is so private
    well, i guess you just sound crazy to me
    i can't imagine what would posses you to compare "repenting" of bad grammar/style
    to repenting of adultery
    the sadistic thing is how you think about this
    if you want to beat yourself up over learning
    that's fine
    but this is not anywhere near a universal experience