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On Academics

Robert Gunn DS’16

My experiences at Deep Springs have proven to modulate something that I already knew before coming here—that there really isn’t the time to do and learn anything and everything that I’d like to, be it in a day, a week, or a lifetime. But rather than just augment that truism, these experiences have added a few more fugal voices to create a harmony that is ultimately both romantic and frustrating.

I usually have an urge to learn and read about anything I can get my hands on, yet here and now, more than at most points in the past, in a place dedicated to intense thought, I feel the time constraints that show time efficiency’s limitations. Beyond that limit a value judgment comes in: what will I prioritize with what time I do have. In few other areas of life here do I feel that more than with academics.

Academics at Deep Springs provide opportunities that are difficult to find in virtually any other circumstance.  Small classes of five to ten others whom I know and engage with individually day-in-and-out in labor, self-governance, and social spaces, and whom actually do the readings assigned to them and have things to say about it, are not easy to find elsewhere.

I find seminar spaces can be a grind at times—here comes the cheesy comparison to fugues once more—a room with that many voices can be difficult to synchronize and keep together without central organization, but those moments when we learn to think of the whole before ourselves such that the dialogue between voices is put above the virtue of any individual voice—when the individuals melt into something larger—are the moments that not only make up for the occasional grind, but point to the beauty of much of what there is to learn here. Much of DS is an odd balance of autonomy and self-sacrifice for something that’s tangible on one level but elusive and mysterious on another. Even when I don’t have as much time to do all the things I’d like to, I do have time to help create a beautiful conversation in class. Whether that be excitedly speculating on the decision procedures within various ant species in Eusociality, deciphering the aphoristic propositions of Wittgenstein, or battling over whether the concept of judicial review should be given as much weight as it does in American political institutions and thought during Constitutional Law, those moments of questioning can be powerful.

Sometimes class discussions can fall short, but unlike most educational institutions, it feels that far more of the onus is on every single person that steps into that room twice a week for 90-minutes to create something outside of themselves. My past lifetime experiences in classrooms have ranged between redefining a part of my sense of the world on the positive end and making me hate learning on the negative, but the project at Deep Springs asks me to do something else. It asks me to think about the grade I will be receiving second and to think about the ideas being floated, challenged and built around first—to love the pursuit not as a solitary venture, but as a joint venture with equals.

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