Grad School After Homeschooling: Lana Hope’s Story
HA note: Lana Hope’s story was originally published on her blog Wide Open Ground on October 1, 2015. It is reprinted with her permission.
In my post College after Homeschooling, I explained why college was emotionally difficult on me. My main argument in that post was that I was not intellectually able to assent to what my professors were trying to demonstrate to me because I was close-minded. My world was such that if every word from the professors lips was not grounded and derived in the Bible, it was wrong, and I was extremely suspicious of all ideas. I noted that while I experienced deconstructing of my beliefs in college (the professors did impact me positively, over time), by the time I graduated, I had also consciously reconstructed my beliefs back to fit into the evangelical mold – albeit the mold was bigger than when I first began college.
Five years after undergrad, I enrolled in a masters program in Canada where I graduated this past May. The experience was overwhelmingly positive. In fact, graduating from that university and driving away was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done because that university (or rather the philosophy department at my uni) represents the safest environment I’ve ever been apart of. Today, I want to write about how grad school really rescued me from my negative attitude toward college and impacted me positively.
First of all, grad school taught me that even professors disagree with each other. One reason I was scared of truth as an undergrad is that I thought there was a liberal agenda out there, out to shallow my faith alive. While there is certainly a modern ideology that persists throughout the academy, by no means are professors able to tell students what to think when they overwhelmingly disagree with each other. I had some glimpse that professors disagreed in undergrad — say when two professors disagreed on the interpretation of a Biblical passage — but those were, for the most part, surface level disagreements, and I knew it. When I got to grad school, knowledge was presented to me quite differently. Professors admitted that history isn’t facts but interpretation, which opened my understanding to realizing that professors struggle, actually struggle, to interpret the world. In the same manner, some of my professors were unabashed empiricists, and some were not. Some professors loved premodern philosophy; some thought we should disregard all premodern thought and operate at a purely 21st century scientific level. I began to realize that not only are professors not telling us what to think, but they could never tell us what to think when they can’t even make up their minds themselves.
Secondly, grad school taught me that there are no easy answers. In fundamentalism, the world is extremely simplistic. For example, the fundamentalist who wants to do the work of epistemology (the study of what composes knowledge and our ability to know) just needs to begin with fearing the Lord because, as I was taught, the Bible says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Or, the fundamentalist just needs to read Genesis 1 to do the work of science. Grad school complicated every issue and every discipline in a powerful way for me because I had to face the reality that the answers are not cut and dry.
Perhaps I should illustrate an issue that is contentious — how to stop violence, how we go about multiculturalism or affirming those from other countries, etc. Some contemporary philosophers, like Derrida and Levinas, argue that our relationships, both politically and otherwise, should begin with radical difference and that we have a duty to affirm others as different from us without reducing them to sameness. While Levinas and Derrida make a great point, other political philosophers like Badiou have pointed out that when we insist on someone being different than us, we actually ending up in inequality. This is because when we focus on “I have a duty towards person X because of Y,” we have already made X a victim and therefore put ourselves as the superior. In other words, we are saying, “I am X’s rescuer,” which is not equality. Badiou argues that radical difference can never end up in equality. He argues that we need to focus on universal truth that binds us and allows us to embrace the other as our equal. But if Badiou is correct, other problems emerge, namely if we are to adhere to universal truth, what happens when (a) we think we have the truth and we don’t, or (b) the wrong person decides to give everyone their truth. Need I dare point out that Pol Pot murdered 2 million people in order to give the people truth?
In other words, what grad school taught me is that the answer is never, ever simple, and that sometimes there is no easy answer.
Third, grad school taught me respect for others. Research complicates the truth; knowing the right answer isn’t always black and white. So I had to learn to respect people who disagreed with me. Ironically, in some sense I learned to respect people who made a good argument and good research even if I strongly disagreed.
Fourth, grad school made me aware of the extent that the university can be theist friendly. At least in my discipline, current research far from proves that there is no God. And most of my professors agree. In fact, in my graduate seminar last week, the professor commented that, “one of the great things about Kant is that he teaches us that reason is too limited to prove that God doesn’t exist.” Yes, I go to a public university, and yes, the professor does not believe in God. But the professor is still theist friendly.
Fifth, grad school taught me to encourage disagreement and wrestle with ideas. My undergrad also encouraged disagreement, but in grad school, disagreement is our fuel. Grad professors aren’t too keen on lecturing. They much prefer to let grad students argue among themselves. Additionally, no one could publish papers if we all agreed. It is precisely because ideas are contentious that papers can get published. Grad school taught me that disagreement is okay.
In conclusion, I love grad school. This is now my third year, and I still love it. I am not convinced I want to become a professor myself, namely because I want to travel and live in other countries. (Plus my life experiences has taught me that the greatest truth is usually hidden among the “least” of us.) But grad school has been good for me. It’s given me a safe place to brainstorm and wrestle with ideas. Grad school has been a far safer place for me to say, “hey, I think I might believe X” or “hey, I don’t know what I believe about Y” than the church has ever been for me. For that, I’m thankful.
So if I could offer any year 1 college student advice, I’d say this. Nobody is making you believe anything, but do let yourself be intellectually challenged.
P.S. You can expect a post soon on the radical difference topic. I’m going to be doing a term paper on this topic, so I’ll have a lot to say.