Many years ago, my fi ancée attempted to
lend me a bit of respectability by introducing me
to my would-be mother-in-law as a future Ph.D.
in literature. From Columbia, I added, polishing
the apple of my prospects. She wasn’t buying it.
“A doctor of philosophy,” she said. “What’re you
going to do, open a philosophy store?”
A spear is a spear—it doesn’t have to be
original. Unable to come up with a quick re-
sponse and unwilling to petition for a change of
venue, I ducked into low-grade irony. More like
a stand, I said. I was thinking of stocking Kafka
quotes for the holidays, lines from Yeats for a
And that was that. I married the girl anyway.
It’s only now, recalling our exchange, that I can
appreciate the signifi cance—the poetry, really—
of our little pas de deux. What we unconsciously
acted out, in compressed, almost haiku-like form
(A philosophy store?/I will have a stand/sell pieces
of Auden at two bits a beat), was the essential
drama of American education today.
It’s a play I’ve been following for some time
now. It’s about the increasing dominance—
scratch that, the unqualifi ed triumph—of a cer-
tain way of seeing, of reckoning value. It’s about
the victory of whatever can be quantifi ed over
everything that can’t. It’s about the quiet retool-
ing of American education into an adjunct of
business, an instrument of production.
The play’s almost over. I don’t think it’s
When math and science rule the school
By Mark Slouka
state of the union
Then there’s amortization,
the deadliest of all;
of the heart and soul.
Despite the determinisms of the day, despite
the code-breakers, the wetware specialists, the
patient unwinders of the barbed wire of our be-
ing, this I feel is true: That we are more nurture
than nature; that what we are taught, generally
speaking, is what we become; that torturers are
made slowly, not minted in the womb. As are
those who resist them. I believe that what rules
us is less the material