Bill Gahan

Perspective: A More Perfect Union

Aug 28, 2020
Markus Innocenti / Pixabay

Commonly-held narratives about identity and nationhood lend meaning to our lives and allow us to work together. One of America’s storylines is founded upon the premise that we strive for a more perfect union through the defense of equality and liberty for all.

Perspective: Death In The Time Of COVID-19

May 15, 2020
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Many deathbed scenes before the Black Death of mid-14th century Europe featured a dying person surrounded by community. For decades after that plague, they were often shown alone with death. Fear of contagion changed behaviors toward corpses. What would plague do in a culture that already denied death, like in the United States?

Mourning in black for a year—to ritualize a life lived through each day without the loved one—is an antiquated practice in Europe, but unheard of here, where people prefer to say “he passed away” rather than “he died.”

Perspective: Whose History?

Jan 24, 2020
Jessica Pamp / Unsplash

This month, The New York Times reported on divergent history textbooks in California and Texas schools. The same publisher caters to each region’s views: California’s says that rulings on the Second Amendment allowed for gun regulations. The Texas book doesn’t.

Pixabay, Wikimedia, Unsplash

Think of ballet, literature, and Goya. What comes to mind? Elitist rhetoric regarding so-called “high art” is powerful. This reality lends force to "alternative," "protest," and "people's art" of all sorts. Tolstoy describes this dichotomy in "What is Art?" Ironically, the famous novelist came to believe that "high art” lacked “naturalness,” and he rejected most literary endeavors late in life. 

Perspective: A Practical Education

Oct 11, 2019
Pixabay

Over two years ago, I spoke in a Perspective about ways university degrees grounded in the liberal arts were denigrated in some loud quarters as impractical.  It’s true that the cost of higher education in the United States, which has risen by 400% since the 80’s, must be fixed. It’s also true that as preparation for a particular job, vocational training is useful.

Perspective: Go Beyond The College Tour

Sep 6, 2019
youngmoneymag via Flickr / cc by 2.0

Once a decision is made to attend college, then subsequent choices  await. My daughter receives stacks of letters from colleges trying to entice her. Most of them tout benefits so similar that they become virtually indistinguishable.   

 

Perspective: Finding The Sublime In The Everyday

Aug 2, 2019
Neal Herbert / National Park Service

What causes awe? It’s felt in the presence of nature and incredible feats of human creation. To feel it daily requires wise humility and awareness. 

 

Perspective: The Beast In The Jungle

May 24, 2019
Patty Jansen / Pixabay

The spirit of creation drifts over the surface of the void. I conjure this image and imagine a swelling power withholding, breathing, and reveling in its perfect potential. There is something sublime about the moments before any creation. The palpable silence calling for art to fill its emptiness, if you listen, is everywhere. 

   

Gerd Altman / Pixabay

Why does time crawl or fly? Is it always because we are bored or having fun? 

As we age, we feel that time zips by. This past winter feels like a blur now that the sun warms my back. But isn’t this just how I process the past? I perceive last winter as quick, but while I was in it, time crawled in its petty pace as snow sealed me indoors. 

 

Perspective: Why Study Shakespeare?

Feb 1, 2019

An acquaintance asked, “Why study Shakespeare? There’s no rhyme or reason in it.” A friend from the YMCA told me it was “all Greek” to her. These phrases were coined by Shakespeare. 

There Is Emptiness In A World Without Poetry

Nov 23, 2018

 

 

Where’s the love for poetry? Verse forms a baby’s first love of language through nursery rhymes and Dr. Seuss’s couplets. Outside of music, wordplay and poetic expression soon go gentle into that goodnight—rarely to be roused again.  

What Is Your Worth?

Oct 19, 2018

 

When someone asks, “what is your worth?” -- do you think of money? Our sense of personal value is based on habits of mind absorbed from upbringing and values promoted by our culture. 

 

You May Be Inspired, But Do You Share It?

Sep 14, 2018

 

Synchronizing heart and mind to better ends requires inspiration, which is the stirring toward an elevated plane of feeling or action. Literally to “breathe in,” inspiration breathes life into our aspirations. 

 

Willful Ignorance In The Information Age

Aug 10, 2018

 

Opportunities vary, but never has so much information been accessible to so many. Still, otherwise hardworking adults shrink from seeking treasures of knowledge within their grasp. “Just tell me what I need to know for my job,” they say. Natural curiosity burns from birth, but do we extinguish it? 

 

The United States, built upon principles of equality and pragmatism, champions identities based on what people do --- not upon where they were born. Until recently, in older civilizations, the career question “what are you going to be when you grow up?” sounded strange for its equation of occupation with Being. You already were what you were. 

How Do You Consider Charity?

Jun 1, 2018

Say a friend you haven’t seen in years texts you for money. You may wonder if she’s gambling or using, right? What if it’s a stranger asking for food money? You want to avoid callousness, but don’t want to be a sucker either. Personal desires to feel good about giving can be exploited.

Read Widely To Find Truth

Apr 20, 2018

Plato feared poets would corrupt his idealized Republic through emotional appeals. However, he was using poetic devices himself to create his fictional city.

It was for higher ends like those espoused by Plato that 16th century scholar Sir Philip Sidney defended poetry as ennobling humans and giving them higher ideals. He defined “poetry” as any sort of creative endeavor.

Finding Value Beyond The Surface

Mar 16, 2018

What do misers do? Like idolaters, they hoard objects that stand in for their heart’s true desire. Instead of valuing the potential, the miser continually craves gold even while grasping it, confusing it for an end in itself rather than a symbol of purchasing power.

We are not Scrooge or Silas Marner -- but similar tendencies on a smaller scale are normal.

How Do You Define A Patriot?

Feb 9, 2018

What’s a patriot?

In Shakespeare’s Richard III, a man accused of treason for former loyalties defends himself, saying:

We followed then our lord, our sovereign king.
So should we you, if you should be our king.

He suggests patriotism depends on loyalty to rules governed by a monarchical system.

There Is Truth In Fiction, Too

Jan 5, 2018

“But is it true? I only read nonfiction.”

Sometimes I get this response when recommending poetry or novels. The prejudice against imaginative writing has a long history, from Plato’s banishment of poets in The Republic to the Puritan mistrust of any representation not from Scripture.

This prejudice lives on in predominantly Anglo nations, where novelists and poets enjoy significantly less exposure on daily news cycles than do their counterparts in other cultures.

Learning That's Not 'Tacked On'

Dec 1, 2017

Worldwide, most people are at least bilingual. Yet how many times have you heard, “I studied French in high school, but I don’t remember any of it?”

Studies confirm the experience of millions: Language acquisition is far more successful when begun in the first few years of life and sustained.

So why do we still “tack on” foreign languages so late? Is it our limited view regarding the purpose of education as a collection of finished outcomes? Add separate subjects to your toolkit, and presto, you’re ready for the workforce.

Thinking Is Worth Thinking About

Oct 27, 2017

How often do you ponder what you’re doing and why? Our “just do it” culture admires action and denigrates contemplation as “overthinking.”

This prejudice in the English-speaking world is old. Rhetoric accompanying Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries expressed distrust of contemplation while it praised action. Hamlet’s misgivings about deep thinking also reflect this bias.

More In A Degree Than Just A Job

Sep 22, 2017

A friend is doing well without a university degree. She wonders, “Am I missing anything?”

We should address the cost of higher education. Let’s respect academic and vocational choices alike. Our economy and democracy need both.

But if you’re going to pursue a traditional degree with substantial "gen ed" requirements, be open to its potential beyond job training.

Students ask: “How will I use my degree in life?” Outside the essential financial concern, asking how an experience will be “used” suggests one need only hop on the right conveyer belt.

Broaden Your View Of Your World

Aug 3, 2017

I want my kids to look for unexpected potential in others and in themselves, but do I do the same?

Citing a study, The New York Times reported that when children over five saw a box filled with items, they struggled to see the box as anything other than a container. But the younger children saw it as a flexible resource with a variety of uses.

Bill Gahan

Aug 3, 2017

Bill Gahan, English department chair and Faculty Trustee at Rockford University, is a native of Madrid, Spain, where he lived until he was 20.

He also lived in Germany, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara, where he earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California.

He has published on Shakespeare and early modern English writing and culture; Spanish painting; and Latin American and U.S. poets.

He has received teaching awards from UCSB and Rockford University.