Saturday, November 12, 2011

Wearily, I find myself, once again, required to say something about MFA degrees. I don't want to talk about them; but as your comments over the past few days have shown, they're on your minds. That's understandable: almost any contemporary conversation about poetic education seems to circle back to them.

You all know that I don't have a master's degree, but that was my own choice. I could have entered an MFA program; and if I had, I might be holding down a real job now. Here's what I think: If you have a degree, and earning that degree changed your artistic life for the better, then it was worth getting. If you don't have a degree and have, as a self-taught student of the art, changed your artistic life for the better, then earning a degree was unnecessary.

My gut feeling is that getting a teaching job should not depend on whether or not one has an MFA. Poetry training is not the same as teacher training. But then again, a Ph.D. isn't a teaching degree either; it's a sign that one has supposedly accumulated a certain amount of knowledge. Nonetheless, for all practical purposes, it equals a teaching degree. We all know that some college professors are stunning teachers and that others are horrible. So the problem isn't with the advanced degree per se; it's the difficulty of proving that someone is a good teacher and deciding whether or not good teaching abilities should trump research or scholarship credentials. And don't tell me that requiring all these poets and scholars to get education certificates will solve the teaching problem, because it won't.

Anyway, I'm going to stop talking about this now. I want to reiterate that my comments about education had nothing to do with degrees but with Vendler's remark that "one must, after all, face the fact that all poets who wield language powerfully are exquisitely well educated, even if they have had to educate themselves, as Whitman and Dickinson and Crane did." I think it's an interesting statement. Was John Keats a better poet than John Clare because he was better able to educate himself through reading? Was Keats a better poet than Clare because he was better able to make use of his life experiences? Was Keats really a better poet than Clare? Even if those questions are unanswerable, I still think they're interesting.

1 comment:

Ruth said...

Even WITH a degree, one should be in the business of continuing self-education. IF education stops when one has a degree, then one hasn't really understood the purpose of education in the first place. I know I am putting this rather badly; however, a degree does not a ___________ make.