September 23, 2010

Justice, Pencils, and Academic Influence

Just over twenty years ago, when I was a senior in high school, I somehow managed to get invited into this program in which I could take a college course or two. I remember the whole experience very clearly. I got out of school a couple of periods early all week so that on just two days I could walk down to the university and attend Classical Civilization 252b: Plato's Republic. (Why is it that I can remember that course number from twenty years ago, but I can't remember the numbers of the courses I'm in now when I get to the library reserve desk?)

As time has gone by, I have come to realize the intense and abiding influence this course had on me. That I should have been exposed to the middle Plato at age seventeen or eighteen set me up to be a philosophy student in undergraduate, and I thus acquired, quite providentially, the classic preparation for the theology I was called to study later on. For the first time in my life I was taught something like a coherent way to think about a spiritual reality, and so I can't deny that this course formed a significant part of my proximate preparation to assent to Catholic Christianity two years later. (Perhaps Clement of Alexandria and Justin Martyr would be proud.)

I reflect on all of this sometimes when I notice one of the practical ways in which I was influenced by the course. During one of our first classes, the professor threw this funny little rant about highlighters. They were undignified, he said, and it made him sad to see venerable texts from the great achievements of human civilization all marked up with bright yellow or hot pink. The lowly and understated pencil was the instrument appropriate to the humble student, he explained. Underlining with a check mark or occasional asterisk in the margin was all we should need.

I absorbed the plea completely, both in its tone and its practice. As I start my tenth year of formal schooling since Classical Civilization 252b, I have never marked up a text with anything but a pencil, and with only underlining, check marks, and the occasional asterisk.

6 comments:

Sara said...

I like that "Plundering the Egyptians" is a tag on this blog.

I remember borrowing a professor's book in college; it was full of notes scribbled in the margins and I was excited to read his thoughts about the book- almost as excited as I was to read the book. Then I saw that all of his notes were just passages from the text that he'd underlined and copied in the margins.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks for noticing. It's one of my favorite tag inventions.

Greg said...

Deprived of the joys of highlighting? — So sad. lol

The joy comes when one has limited time and cannot justify a full and leisurely re read, but one can read the highlights a second, third, and fourth time...

I even highlight my own writing!

GrandmaK said...

The highlighting cure came for me when I ruined the text because the highlighter bled through to the other page. IT was a mess! Notes in the margin do work better I guess! Cathy

Anonymous said...

If your going to put it up for a vote: I am going to give a NAY on the highlighters. I used them once, and instantly realized that I ruined a perfectly good book.Pencils are superior, marginalia is a memorable sign of class.Whoever picked up an old book, marred with dumb yellow stripes, and exclaimed Yippee!Even if they do glow under black lights.Per chance do you happen to remember exactly who that zither playing donkey preacher was?

Sharon said...

I loooove the yellow highlighter! Like Greg I go back to books and read the highlighted parts. I also make pencil notes in the margins and write definitions of words I have had to look up. I only use highlighters for paperback books; I just can't bring myself to highlight a hard bound book or a bible.

GrandmaK, if you find that a highlighter has bled through to the next page - flimsy paper - keep a stock of nearly run out highlighters for these books.