The Student

He acts it as life before he apprehends it as truth. RALPH WALDO EMERSON Entering an unfamiliar classroom for the first time, met by a cacophony of greetings, shuffles, and the flutter of unsettled nerves, a student experiences a particular strain of vertigo — a a kind of thrownness. Unbalanced, she glances about, wondering if her fresh peers are already friends, if they know or care more about the subject than she does, if the professor will command attention or beg for it. She wonders also about the subject — how it will stretch or resist or entice her; and what personal qualities, as well as intellectual qualities, she ought to bring to her studenthood. She must wait for an internal order to develop, and for the nerves to slow gently into a new rhythm. The experience catapults her from the grooves of ordinary life. She has the sensation of a swift transit.  That is what learning is meant to do. The developments that will occur in that homely but exotic room over those few months ought to confuse, not confirm, her. Each time she enters the classroom she must again try to recapture the vertigo and recover the instability — to distance herself from herself. She cannot learn, or learn well, if she conceives of that place and those hours as a sphere in which to calcify who she already is. Alienation is essential to study. The classroom is a community of the alienated. Genuine learning demands courage and adventure. The room must be a realm apart, a space with a strange energy and a different gravity — a foreign country, populated by real and imagined strangers. Discomfort is its air. The comfort of one’s own couch, then, is a bad place to set up school. And so the

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