In a few years my students take seats in auditoriums of varying degrees of prestige and grandeur filled with freshmen for [insert any topic] 101. Fresh Moleskines, iPads, and laptops fill desks and experts of varying degrees of prestige and accomplishment will “lecture” at varying degrees of engagement and interest about topics my students must comprehend and process for success. This terrifies me.
Today we dug deep into the skills that students need for success in these situations (without reducing our courses to daily lectures). We examined ways to hold students accountable for taking meaningful notes (and using them) from a lecture-style class and how to explicitly teach the skill of asking higher order thinking questions. I couldn’t help thinking that, in a way, we were helping students follow David Foster Wallace’s observation developed within the confines of an IRS office in Illinois:
The underlying bureaucratic key is the ability to deal with boredom. To function effectively in an environment that precludes everything vital and human. To breathe, so to speak, without air.
The key is the ability, whether innate or conditioned, to find the other side of the rote, the picayune, the meaningless, the repetitive, the pointlessly complex. To be, in a word, unborable.
It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.
Author’s Note: How terrible is that GQ webpage? That John Jeremiah Sullivan article hides behind eight (8!) clicks. This is the price we pay for expecting advertising to fund all of our interests.