We are not victims, we are creators. Maybe some great teacher will come along who will reveal to us our own power. The teacher would tell us we must detach ourselves from our reliance on the values and opinions of our culture. We must become independent. We must become self-reliant. If we would trust ourselves, we would find our powers multiplied. We have come to put the world right, and should be embarrassed by the sympathy of others. The moment you take genuine self-sourced and original action, nobody will pity you. They will admire and emulate you, now and in generations to come.
Sure, this quashes the shallow pretense of expecting undergraduates to engage in thoughtful analysis, but they have already proven that they will go to any lengths to avoid doing this. Call me a defeatist, but honestly I’d be happy if a plurality of American college students could discern even the skeletal plot of anything they were assigned. With more exams and no papers, they’ll at least have a shot at retaining, just for a short while, the basic facts of some of the greatest stories ever recorded. In that short while, they may even develop the tiniest inkling of what Martha Nussbaum calls “sympathetic imagination”—the cultivation of our own humanity, and something that unfolds when we’re touched by stories of people who are very much unlike us. And that, frankly, is more than any essay will ever do for them.