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March 4th, 2003

A Mind is a Laudable Thing to Mail

"What is correspondence study? Basically, it is individual instruction by mail"--Marcie Kisner Thorson, MA.

One of my reading hobbies for some years has been perusing books on getting education by distance learning. I am eager to see a world in which we do not depend on traditional institutions for credentials and degrees, in which the cost of education is drastically reduced, and in which we all use education in what I'll call a more "modular" way, taking from it what we need, feeling free not to take what we do not wish to have.

So far, the distance learning field remains in its infancy, although arguably, the baby grows rapidly.
Numerous programs permit one to get a Master's in Business Administration either entirely or nearly entirely by distance learning. A larger number permit one to complete an accredited bachelor's degree entirely non-traditionally. Numerous vocational training progams exist of some merit. Of course, hundreds of meritless unaccredited "degree mills" also exist. But thus far, only a few permit one to get an accredited liberal arts advanced degree at reasonable cost, in an interesting format.

Universities have become aware of how people will pay enhanced tuition for the privilege of not attending class. But my own fantasy would be to found a university based on teaching nothing vocational, charging as near to nothing as possible for instruction, devoted to graduate degrees in things as nearly useless as possible, and based on computer-based modules designed to be as much fun as possible.
It would have to be accredited, perhaps by the distance learning accreditation people, but it would be as resolutely useless otherwise as possible.

The school could offer M.A.s in
Science Fiction, Mail Art, Music with Home-made Instruments, Home-spun Theology, and Television Studies. A thesis would be required--how else could the school publish the campus 'zine? I can just imagine now showing up at the local community college, so that a kind volunteer can proctor one's exam on "Dialectics of Sesame Street and Captain Kangaroo" and "The Die Hard Films--Mythos of the American Landscape".

As with anything else I love, I'm sure the school would soon attract criticisms from writers in Salon.com, academics at universities that are cold all winter, and film critics who are often quoted in ads in USA Today saying "Pia Zadora is back and she's Brilliant!". But I think that education matters. I wonder what it would take to get an institution legally chartered and accredited.

misused spell

Everything burns her.
Hot wax dripping from some
ritual candle
she lost track of while chanting,
creates a sensation, caustic on her hand,
not quite pain, not quite oblivion.

She dreamt a burning fever-dream,
part illness, part mystery;
visions lit with dim lamps,
gods in which she disbelieves,
smiling faces portending horror.

Why is everything an unfathomable spell,
an dark incantation, a mist?
She deals herself the wrong cards,
which leer at her skeletally.

Everything burns her.
Caustic words spill out of the
dark cauldrons of her thoughts--
burning her, burning everything.
Everything she sought to escape
returns to her sevenfold.
Some simple formula
turns against her,
repaying her, with acid, within.

still sea

"Now it seems to be so strange here
Now it's so blue
The still sea is darker than before."--Brian Eno

Today the last vestiges of my sore throat from last week dissolved away, leaving me with the mild euphoria which ensues when nothing is physically wrong. The workday flowed, as if mimicking the time my wife and I rented a canoe on a creek near Whistler, and paddled quietly on calm waters through narrow water lanes amid tall weeds. The temperature climbed above sixty degrees today, so that when I left my office, I could see a warm shimmering sunset off in the distance. I remember days when the water is so calm that above the water is a mirror, and below it's a windowglass. I've ridden the glass bottom boat near Catalina, where the tall forests of kelp send their branches far up through the surface, and through the glass, one can see the unalloyed gold of garibaldi fish and the shimmering silversided reflection of jacksmelt. I don't trust this euphoria, which comes on me like so much adrenaline calm, but it's not important that I trust it. It's important that I flow with it, and let it soak through me, and use it for all the good I can do. I've floated aimlessly through the high waters of this winter, and I'm ready to make for some useful shore, gliding over this calm, lovely water.