From Big Think:
Poetry critic and Harvard professor Helen Vendler has published a refreshing article in Harvard magazine, in which she encourages the school to welcome mediocre students who also happen to be great writers. It’s about time someone of her stature exploded the ideal of the “well-rounded” student:
The truth is that many future poets, novelists, and screenwriters are not likely to be straight-A students, either in high school or in college. The arts through which they will discover themselves prize creativity, originality, and intensity above academic performance; they value introspection above extroversion, insight above rote learning. Such unusual students may be, in the long run, the graduates of whom we will be most proud. Do we have room for the reflective introvert as well as for the future leader? Will we enjoy the student who manages to do respectably but not brilliantly in all her subjects but one—but at that one surpasses all her companions? Will we welcome eagerly the person who has in high school been completely uninterested in public service or sports—but who may be the next Wallace Stevens?
Point well taken: why should we harass talented artists to show an aptitude for student government or lacrosse? It’s not as though we harass student athletes to become great artists. Vendler isn’t encouraging parochialism, just an allowance for the focus and discipline successful art requires:
It remains for us to identify them when they apply—to make sure they can do well enough to gain a degree, yes, but not to expect them to be well-rounded, or to become leaders. Some people in the arts do of course become leaders (they conduct as well as sing, or establish public-service organizations to increase literacy, or work for the reinstatement of the arts in schools). But one can’t quite picture Baudelaire pursuing public service, or Mozart spending time perfecting his mathematics. We need to be deeply attracted to the one-sided as well as the many-sided.
Link to the rest at Big Think and thanks to Randall for the tip.