Caught Between Oxford and MarsCulture, Education, Science — By Joi Weaver on December 1, 2010 at 6:15 am
I’ve always wanted to visit Europe; there are so many things there that inspire me, that mark the greatest achievements in the history of mankind. However, I haven’t yet been able to go (the funds have just never worked out), though many of my friends have lived there for a semester or two.
I envy them sometimes, but not because of their academic experiences. I hope to never have to enroll in any school ever again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-education. In fact, I love to learn: I’m addicted to it. But I’ve grown tired of jumping through hoops to prove to someone else that I’ve learned enough to be permitted to learn something else, and I would really rather not go through that again. If that means I never have a fancy string of letters behind my name, that’s fine with me.
But sometimes I get insecure, and doubt the worth my own life goals. How could my dreams of going back to Florida for a shuttle launch compare with my friends’ goals to return to Oxford, Athens, and Assisi? Are my goals of writing a science fiction novel that inspires the next generation of explorers really equal to my friends’ goals of elected office, scholarship, and parenthood? We’ve received essentially the same college education: a focus on the great books of the Western world, combined with Socratic discussion. Did their education simply stick better? Am I just the dumbest one from the group? After all, someone has to be. Their dreams are filled with the greatest achievements of history, and all I can think about it are spaceships and the difficulties of colonizing Mars.
Sometimes I want to pretend that I’m like them. I wish I could long for that “towery city, and branching between towers,” but I find myself drawn into a vision of the first simple buildings on a distant dusty red planet. I try to desire the slow pace of the ancient cities they love, but find myself eager to return to the happy bustle of the Kennedy Space Center. Many of them would be thrilled to be able to live in Oxford, while I’m just as happy in my smog-filled Southern California, at least until the first colony ship departs for Mars.
My dreams seem crazy, by comparison. I’ll never be one of the few human beings to set foot on Mars; in fact, I’ll be lucky to see mankind land there within my lifetime. I don’t have the math or science background to be one of the incredible crew of people who send others into space or drive rovers on faraway planets. The most I can hope for is to write something that inspires someone else to study more, to try harder, to become one of the few to set foot on a planet other than this one. And if something that I write contributes to a single person reaching out into space, I will be happy.
The education my friends and I share gave us all a love for tradition and the great things that mankind has done throughout history. And yes, in a world of revisionist history and apathy about the ability to accomplish anything great, it is of utmost importance to hold on to the great things of the past. But someone has to love the things of the future, too. The massive Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center is no cathedral, but it is breathtaking, and it’s no small matter to appreciate it. Launch pad 39A may not be the Parthenon, but it is the point from which so many of mankind’s dreams have taken off, dreams that still continue to this day.
So I wish my friends well in their dreams of Oxford, London, and Athens: fare forward, travellers! But I’ll keep my dreams of Gusev and Marineris, and my hope of the ice-bound Europa. After all, it’s going to be the future soon.