The Problem with Scholarship

So I recently found out that I need to review my Hebrew for an upcoming class. I got out my old Hebrew book and started to review. I quickly found myself lost in details as I tried to capture the big picture. I was swimming in exception cases on Dagesh Fortes before I knew it. Nevermind nouns and adjectives.

This kind of approach is typical to scholarly literature. It’s hard to see the forest for the trees. I remember in College, the hardest class I ever took was statistics. It got so bad that I went to the mall and got a copy of some kind of dummies book. The guy at the counter said something like “I almost failed statistics too.” As soon as I started reading the book, everything made sense. The book that I was using as an “intro text” was probably better suited for, well, the professor. Instead of explain the basics, we were doing some kind of reverse proofs. Once I started reading the dummies book, my grade leapt out of the garbage can, and I managed to pass.

Now I don’t think there is a problem with reverse proofs or the finer points of Hebrew accents, I just think it should be for those who have already mastered the basics, not as some kind of weed out that separates the future scholars from the rest of us. That’s the thing though… the academy promotes and produces this kind of ultra-technical lost in the forest way of thinking, and attracts those who like it. Every once in a while you get one of these professors who is a true teacher and has made it his life to make the abstruse plain. These are the people that inspire you about a subject. The problem is that they should be the rule, not the exception.

I believe what ultimately matters is communication and application and this makes me a populist. I’d rather have a so called “popular” treatment of almost anything than a scholarly treatment, because that is what it means–it means something that has been distilled so that you can understand it, and so that it focuses on the big picture.  The scholarly treatments should be for scholars not for intro students… but then, how would they stay in business if they did it that way?

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