LETTERS: 1.23.12

Don’t blame Directed Studies

Yesterday’s guest column by Courtney Hodrick (“Rejecting the DS culture,” Jan. 22) is yet another installment in an annual tradition of disgruntled freshmen taking to the News and seeking to justify publicly their dislike of Yale’s highly successful Directed Studies program. In this latest iteration, Ms. Hodrick argues that Directed Studies’ image of exclusivity and difficulty actually does the program harm by attracting students drawn in for the wrong reasons who spend their semester complaining. Like these students, Ms. Hodrick now regrets her decision to participate in D.S., and she seems to think that this provides grounds for criticizing Directed Studies as a whole.

But the vast majority of DSers spend far more time discussing free-will and justice than they do complaining. And attacking the program for one’s own poor judgement is simply unfair. Directed Studies, more than any other program of study, is entirely transparent about its content. You can talk to generations of former students, and there are absolutely no surprises. If you really weren’t interested in writing papers, but took D.S. because you thought it was prestigious, you have no one to blame but yourself. And surely you ought be even more supportive of a D.S. admissions process that seeks to reach out and identify those most likely to be interested, and thrive, in the program.

Not every moment of every course in enjoyable, but claiming that those less happy moments define Directed Studies is a petulant assertion that runs counter to the experience of the great majority of former students. Directed Studies created an incredible community that has carried me through four years at Yale, introduced me to professors who have served as mentors ever since and given me an unparalleled opportunity to explore a phenomenal intellectual tradition. It has done the same for countless others. Ms. Hodrick was “free to fall,” and that she did so is no indictment of the program that gave her the opportunity.

Yishai Schwartz

Jan. 22

The writer is a senior in branford and a staff columnist for the news.

 

The real mission of D.S.

Every January, the pages of the News and other publications are awash with indictments of Directed Studies, accusing the program of being too elitist, too out-of-touch, too white, too male and so on. Yesterday, first semester DS alum Courtney Hodrick (“Rejecting the DS culture,” Jan. 22) impugned the aura surrounding the D.S. student’s feat of academic endurance and the false feeling of superiority it fosters.

It is easy to pass D.S. off as a simple Great Books course that makes its devotees feel far more special than they deserve to feel. To make this claim is, in my view, to misunderstand the purpose of the D.S. reading list. In fact, many of the works D.S. students read are, to our modern sensibilities, not filled with “great” ideas. Several have been repudiated, at times with disastrous results, by history.

It is not exposure to intellectual greatness that makes D.S. so important, but rather its illumination of a vast historical dialogue. Its mission is not, as Hodrick writes, “providing a place in which the humanities can flourish,” but rather to contextualize all of our other studies before starting on them in earnest. Why else would the program be offered only to freshmen?

Because the program is so general in its scope, students see big ideas that reverberate through history and across disciplines. In an era in which the sheer volume of knowledge available to us in any university strains comprehension, DS offers a fresh breeze from a time in which philosophy and natural philosophy had but a hairbreadth between them. And for daring to return to that time in which education meant finding one’s own ideas within the great story of human history, the freshmen of every year’s D.S. class deserve great praise.

John Masko

Jan. 22

The writer is a junior in saybrook and a staff blogger for the news.

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