Defending My Thesis

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I may be the only person in America who can say this–but defending my thesis was fun!

Say what? Well, back in college, I was chosen for the Henry Rutgers honors program, which gave me lot of credits but for which I had to produce a thesis–just as if I were going for a master’s degree, or a Ph. D. Spend a whole year researching it, then write it up, present it to the Political Science Dept., and defend it before a panel of professors. And by the way, it was in the age of carbon paper, a technology which many of you have never seen or heard of. But I am not going to get nostalgic for carbon paper.

Now, I had a big advantage over the panel of professors: none of them had any knowledge of the subject! Anytime you can swing that, go for it. My title was “A Systems Analysis of the Viking Age,” featuring the likes of Harald Bluetooth, Eric Bloodaxe, Ragnar Hairy-Pants (I try not to think of Spongebob), and a cast of colorful supporting characters. The professors sat there marveling. Well, we were in New Jersey. People in New Jersey have a certain fascination for men with funny nicknames whose enemies wind up face-down in a landfill.

Once I freely admitted that of course you could study the Viking Age just using plain old history, but that the “systems” part would work very well with history, they’d complement each other–having done that, I was home free. Most of it was me telling Viking stories to the profs. All we needed was beer and pretzels. Everybody had a very pleasant time.

College used to offer experiences like this. It was called scholarship. You didn’t have to worry about pronouns. You didn’t have to be woke.

There is something to be said for scholarship as an end in itself. It can preserve the collectively accumulated knowledge of mankind. Deciding that everybody has to go to college has just about destroyed scholarship, even as it has virtually destroyed the university itself.

Someday we’ll realize what we’ve lost. But I don’t know that we can ever get it back.

5 comments on “Defending My Thesis

  1. What’s the difference between knowledge and being educated? Think about it. I once worked at a place where they were much more concerned about where you learned something that what it was that you actually knew about the subject. There was some sense to this, back when a diploma from an accredited college meant that you had earned your degree and that this degree was in a useful field. But about that time, diploma mills began to sprout up and any number of people at that workplace paid heavily for degrees from schools that did little more than collect tuition and print diplomas. The results were predictable.

    In the decades since, it seems to have gotten much worse. Knowledge is secondary to prestige and we are all living through the effects of businesses led by people with impressive academic credentials, but no perspective and little, if any, real-world experience.

    IMO, this can’t be reversed. How could it, when the lunatics are running the asylum? Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and without that ultimate source of authority, the standards become negotiable. As we’ve seen, the next step is that “your truth” and “my truth” come into being and absolute truth goes out the window. Without any standards of truth, it would be possible to teach anything and issue a diploma based upon standards which vary wildly.

    As I understand it, a thesis was not to prove a point, but to demonstrate that the the person writing the thesis knew how to research, how to utilize references and how to create something which could withstand academic scrutiny. IIRC, Buzz Aldrin did a thesis on Line Of Sight Guidance Techniques for Manned Orbital Rendevous in 1963, before anyone had even attempted such a thing. The committee reviewing his thesis probably knew quite a bit less about the subject than Aldrin did, but they could evaluate his methods and the quality of his research. He earned his doctorate and contributed greatly to the success of the Apollo program, which required successful orbital rendezvous in order to accomplish the tasks required to get to and from the moon. I wonder what the atmosphere was when he presented that thesis.

    1. That atmosphere probably didn’t include a call for beer and pretzels.
      Naturally, I learned quite a lot about the Viking Age in the course of my research. If you ask what practical good it did, well–none, I guess. None beyond the exercise of preserving knowledge and inquiring into the differences between the vikings’ world and ours. It’s knowledge that would otherwise be lost; and I love history too much to let that happen. For what it’s worth, I found inspiration in the history of St. Olaf, and warning in the history of King Harald Hardrede of Norway.
      It may be knowledge that can’t in any way help us design better cars; but it’s part of who I am.

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