Nice Vocabulary Words For Essays About Education

Auspicious. Aesthetic. Eclectic. These words may sound vaguely familiar to the teen in your house. But does he know exactly what they mean?

If he's prepping for the SAT, he should. Vocabulary for the test isn't as random as you might think. While it changes for each test sitting, there are certain stalwarts that tend to show up again and again. And if your kid knows the set, his odds of scoring will improve. A lot.

Much money has been spent on teasing out the candidates. And coaching companies aren't giving it all out for free. The Princeton Review offered us 50 words from their stash of "most frequently tested".  If nothing else, it's a good start. So drop a few of these words into dinnertime conversation and hope your kid's ears are perked:

  1. abstract not concrete
  2. aesthetic having to do with the appreciation of beauty
  3. alleviate to ease a pain or a burden
  4. ambivalent simultaneously feeling opposing feelings; uncertain
  5. apathetic feeling or showing little emotion
  6. auspicious favorable; promising
  7. benevolent well-meaning; generous
  8. candor sincerity; openness
  9. cogent convincing; reasonable
  10. comprehensive broad or complete in scope or content
  11. contemporary current, modern; from the same time
  12. conviction a fixed or strong belief
  13. diligent marked by painstaking effort; hard-working
  14. dubious doubtful; of unlikely authenticity
  15. eclectic made up of a variety of sources or styles
  16. egregious conspicuously bad or offensive
  17. exculpate to free from guilt or blame
  18. florid flowery or elaborate in style
  19. gratuitous given freely; unearned; unwarranted
  20. hackneyed worn out through overuse; trite
  21. idealize to consider perfect
  22. impartial not in favor of one side or the other; unbiased
  23. imperious arrogantly domineering or overbearing
  24. inherent inborn; built-in
  25. innovative introducing something new
  26. inveterate long established; deep-rooted; habitual
  27. laudatory giving praise
  28. maverick one who resists adherence to a group
  29. mollify to calm or soothe
  30. novel strikingly new or unusual
  31. obdurate stubborn; inflexible
  32. objectivity judgment uninfluenced by emotion
  33. obstinate stubbornly adhering to an opinion
  34. ornate elaborately decorated
  35. ostentatious describing a pretentious display
  36. paramount of chief concern or importance
  37. penitent expressing remorse for one's misdeeds
  38. pervasive dispersed throughout
  39. plausible seemingly valid or acceptable; credible
  40. profound having great depth or seriousness
  41. prosaic unimaginative; dull; ordinary
  42. quandary a state of uncertainty or perplexity
  43. rancorous hateful; marked by deep-seated ill will
  44. spurious not genuine; false; counterfeit
  45. stoic indifferent to pleasure or pain; impassive
  46. superfluous extra; unnecessary
  47. tenuous having little substance or strength; unsure; weak
  48. timorous timid; fearful
  49. transitory short-lived; temporary
  50. vindicated freed from blame
  • evaluative

    exercising or involving careful appraisals

    You are, as Foucault might say, the intersection of many evaluative and potentially determining discourses: you boy, you girl, have been made.

  • cartographer

    a person who makes maps

    Never has there been a more shrewd and imaginative cartographer of the psyche.

  • discomfit

    cause to lose one's composure

    I was, you might say, discomfited, and showed up to class for a while with my cellphone jiggered to dial 911 with one touch.

  • psyche

    that which is responsible for one's thoughts and feelings

    Never has there been a more shrewd and imaginative cartographer of the psyche.

  • prognosticate

    make a prediction about; tell in advance

    And all of those teachers and counselors and friends—and the prognosticating uncles, the dithering aunts, the fathers and mothers with their hopes for your fulfillment—or their fulfillment in you—should not necessarily be cast aside or ignored.

  • winnow

    the act of separating grain from chaff

    The battle is to make such writers one’s own, to winnow them out and to find their essential truths.

  • embed

    fix or set securely or deeply

    Embedded in all of the major religions are profound truths.

  • provenance

    where something originated or was nurtured

    They have confronted you with scriptures—holy books that, whatever their actual provenance, have given people what they feel to be wisdom for thousands of years.

  • amok

    wildly; without self-control

    The Internet is amok with services selling term papers and those services exist, capitalism being what it is, because people purchase the papers—lots of them.

  • relegate

    assign to a lower position

    The coach knows what your athletic prospects are, the guidance office has a sheaf of test scores that relegate you to this or that ability quadrant, and your teachers have got you pegged.

  • leery

    openly distrustful and unwilling to confide

    Colleges are even leery of disciplining guys who have committed sexual assault, or assault plain and simple.

  • detach

    cause to become separated

    At the time I found his remark a tad detached, but maybe he was right.

  • cornucopia

    a horn filled with fruit and grain symbolizing prosperity

    Society has a cornucopia of resources to encourage you in doing what society needs done but that you don’t much like doing and are not cut out to do.

  • protract

    lengthen in time; cause to be or last longer

    They’ve given you a sharp and protracted taste of what they feel is good and bad, right and wrong.

  • indenture

    formal agreement as to terms of a debt

    Then there are those back-breaking student loans—people leave school as servants, indentured to pay massive bills, so that first job better be a good one.

  • academia

    the world of higher learning

    The people who do this work have highly developed intellectual powers, and they push themselves hard to reach a certain standard: That the results have almost no practical relevance to the students, the public, or even, frequently, to other scholars is a central element in the tragicomedy that is often academia.

  • disgorge

    eject the contents of the stomach through the mouth

    Black limousines pulled up in front of his office and disgorged decorously suited negotiators.

  • ethos

    the distinctive spirit of a culture or an era

    As far as I can discern, the student ethos goes like this: If the professor is so lazy that he gives the same test every year, it’s okay to go ahead and take advantage—you’ve both got better things to do.

  • quaff

    to swallow hurriedly or greedily or in one draught

    If you advance in the direction of someone else’s dreams—if you want to live someone else’s life rather than yours—then get a TV for every room, buy yourself a lifetime supply of your favorite quaff, crank up the porn channel, and groove away.

  • libation

    the act of pouring a liquid offering as a religious ceremony

    Instead of being punished, these guys frequently stay around, strolling the quad and swilling the libations, an affront (and sometimes a terror) to their victims.

  • eschew

    avoid and stay away from deliberately

    The student who eschews medical school to follow his gift for teaching small children spends his twenties in low-paying but pleasurable and soul-rewarding toil.

  • expertly

    in an expert manner

    Because every subject you study is a language and since you may adopt one of these languages as your own, you’ll want to know how to speak it expertly and also how it fails to deal with those concerns for which it has no adequate words.

  • relevance

    the relation of something to the matter at hand

    The people who do this work have highly developed intellectual powers, and they push themselves hard to reach a certain standard: That the results have almost no practical relevance to the students, the public, or even, frequently, to other scholars is a central element in the tragicomedy that is often academia.

  • pessimist

    a person who expects the worst

    He couldn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus, or in the afterlife, but to Schopenhauer, a deep pessimist, a religion that had as its central emblem the figure of a man being tortured on a cross couldn’t be entirely misleading.

  • prod

    push against gently

    Occasionally—for you will need some help in fleshing-out the answers—you may have to prod your professors to see if they take the text at hand—in this case the divine and disturbing Plato—to be true.

  • compress

    squeeze or press together

    My father compressed his brow and blew twin streams of smoke, dragon-like, from his magnificent nose.

  • administrator

    someone who manages a government agency or department

    As for the administrators, their relation to the students often seems based not on love but fear.

  • shoddy

    of inferior workmanship and materials

    Shoddy work—in which the author cheats, cuts corners, copies from others—is quickly detected.

  • resource

    aid or support that may be drawn upon when needed

    I came to college with few resources, but one of them was an understanding, however crude, of how I might use my opportunities there.

  • dwindle

    become smaller or lose substance

    But then interest dwindles and matters go back to normal.

  • revere

    regard with feelings of respect

    You have been raised in proximity to common sense, if you’ve been raised at all, and common sense is something to respect, though not quite—peace unto the formidable Burke—to revere.

  • college

    an institution of higher education

    Welcome and congratulations: Getting to the first day of college is a major achievement.

  • touchstone

    a basis for comparison

    Brodhead, an impressive, articulate man, seems to take as his educational touchstone the Duke of Wellington’s precept that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.

  • articulate

    express or state clearly

    Brodhead, an impressive, articulate man, seems to take as his educational touchstone the Duke of Wellington’s precept that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.

  • goad

    stab or urge on as if with a pointed stick

    He was—and is—a perpetual challenge and goad.

  • fraught

    filled with or attended with

    Trying to figure out whether the stuff you’re reading is true or false and being open to having your life changed is a fraught, controversial activity.

  • disparity

    inequality or difference in some respect

    The public senses this disparity and so thinks of the professors’ work as being silly or beside the point.

  • consequential

    having important issues or results

    I learned that if I wanted to affirm any consequential ideal, I had to talk my way past Freud.

  • expend

    use up, consume fully

    But when we expend our energies in rightful ways, Robert Frost observed, we stay whole and vigorous and we don’t weary.

  • temerity

    fearless daring

    A friend of mine had the temerity to detect cheating on the part of a kid who was the nephew of a well-placed official in an Arab government complexly aligned with the U.S.

  • erotic

    giving sexual pleasure; sexually arousing

    He calls it “the overestimation of the erotic object.”

  • analytical

    using or skilled in using reasoning

    And you will have to be tough if the professor mocks you for uttering a sincere question instead of keeping matters easy for all concerned by staying detached and analytical.

  • revise

    make changes to

    He didn’t get to revise his understanding of himself, figure out what he’d do best that might give the world some profit.

  • stroll

    a leisurely walk, usually in some public place

    Instead of being punished, these guys frequently stay around, strolling the quad and swilling the libations, an affront (and sometimes a terror) to their victims.

  • detached

    no longer connected or joined

    At the time I found his remark a tad detached, but maybe he was right.

  • nonetheless

    despite anything to the contrary

    Scholarship, even if pretentious and almost unreadable, is nonetheless labor-intense.

  • challenging

    requiring full use of your abilities or resources

    When he came to Harvard to talk about religion, he shocked the professors and students by challenging the divinity of Jesus and the truth of his miracles.

  • reliance

    the state of depending on something

    Much more I learned from the sage—about character, about loss, about joy, about writing and its secret sources, but Emerson most centrally preaches the gospel of self- reliance and that is what I have tried most to take from him.

  • navigate

    direct carefully and safely

    His separation of the self into three parts, and his sense of the fraught, anxious, but often negotiable relations among them (negotiable when you come to the game with a Freudian knowledge), does a great deal to help one navigate experience.

  • sheaf

    a package of several things tied together

    The coach knows what your athletic prospects are, the guidance office has a sheaf of test scores that relegate you to this or that ability quadrant, and your teachers have got you pegged.

  • barrage

    the heavy fire of artillery to saturate an area

    (Though sometimes—and this I owe to Emerson—it seems right to let the psyche fall into civil war, accepting barrages of anxiety and grief for this or that good reason.)

  • periodically

    in a sporadic manner

    Periodically the public gets exercised about this situation, and there are articles in the national news.

  • surround

    extend on all sides of simultaneously; encircle

    Amidst the impressive college buildings, in company with a high-powered faculty, surrounded by the best of your generation, all you need is to keep doing what you’ve done before: Work hard, get good grades, listen to your teachers, get along with the people around you, and you’ll emerge in four years as an educated young man or woman.

  • transcendent

    exceeding or surpassing usual limits

    Schopenhauer, who despised belief in transcendent things, nonetheless thought Christianity to be of inexpressible worth.

  • pretentious

    creating an appearance of importance or distinction

    Scholarship, even if pretentious and almost unreadable, is nonetheless labor-intense.

  • exhilarating

    making lively and joyful

    Emerson’s greatness lies not only in showing you how powerful names and customs can be, but also in demonstrating how exhilarating it is to buck them.

  • synonymous

    meaning the same or nearly the same

    “Strongly spent,” the poet says, “is synonymous with kept.”

  • guy

    an informal term for a youth or man

    Colleges are even leery of disciplining guys who have committed sexual assault, or assault plain and simple.

  • astonish

    affect with wonder

    You can get a terrific education in America now—there are astonishing opportunities at almost every college—but the education will not be presented to you wrapped and bowed.

  • quest

    the act of searching for something

    The quest at the center of a liberal-arts education is not a luxury quest; it’s a necessity quest.

  • challenge

    a call to engage in a contest or fight

    When he came to Harvard to talk about religion, he shocked the professors and students by challenging the divinity of Jesus and the truth of his miracles.

  • exaggerate

    enlarge beyond bounds or the truth

    If you do not undertake it, you risk leading a life of desperation—maybe quiet, maybe, in time, very loud—and I am not exaggerating.

  • intermittent

    stopping and starting at irregular intervals

    He buys shirts from the Salvation Army, has intermittent Internet, and vacations where he can.

  • radically

    in an extreme or revolutionary manner

    This is radically false.

  • gruff

    brusque and surly and forbidding

    My father was a gruff man, but also a generous one, so that night at the kitchen table at 58 Clewley Road he made an effort to let me have the chance that had been denied to him by both fate and character.

  • suggest

    make a proposal; declare a plan for something

    The dean of students laughed lightly when I suggested that this behavior might be grounds for sending the student on a brief vacation.

  • legacy

    a gift of personal property by will

    The legacy of their college years will be a legacy of difficulties overcome.

  • develop

    progress or evolve through a process of natural growth

    This I began to develop because of my father, who had never been to college—in fact, he’d barely gotten out of high school.

  • salient

    conspicuous, prominent, or important

    Education has one salient enemy in present-day America, and that enemy is education—university education in particular.

  • altering

    the sterilization of an animal

    This kind of perspective- altering teaching and learning can cause the things which administrators fear above all else: trouble, arguments, bad press, etc.

  • thesis

    an unproved statement advanced as a premise in an argument

    All right, there’s nothing wrong with this as far as it goes—after all, the student who writes a brilliant forty-page thesis in a hard week has learned more than a little about her inner resources.

  • detect

    discover or determine the existence, presence, or fact of

    Shoddy work—in which the author cheats, cuts corners, copies from others—is quickly detected.

  • enhance

    increase

    What colleges generally want are well-rounded students, civic leaders, people who know what the system demands, how to keep matters light, not push too hard for an education or anything else; people who get their credentials and leave the professors alone to do their brilliant work, so they may rise and enhance the rankings of the university.

  • creator

    a person who grows or makes or invents things

    It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.”

  • ponder

    reflect deeply on a subject

    From Freud I found a great deal to ponder as well.

  • aspire

    have an ambitious plan or a lofty goal

    I don’t mean Freud the aspiring scientist, but the Freud who was a speculative essayist and interpreter of the human condition like Emerson.

  • affront

    a deliberately offensive act

    Instead of being punished, these guys frequently stay around, strolling the quad and swilling the libations, an affront (and sometimes a terror) to their victims.

  • projection

    the act of expelling or ejecting

    Having found what’s best for you to do, you may be surprised how far you rise, how prosperous, even against your own projections, you become.

  • precept

    rule of personal conduct

    Brodhead, an impressive, articulate man, seems to take as his educational touchstone the Duke of Wellington’s precept that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.

  • repress

    conceal or hide

    They’re disguised fulfillments of repressed wishes.

  • raise

    move upwards

    It’s been said that raising a child effectively takes a village: Well, as you may have noticed, our American village is not in very good shape.

  • metaphor

    a figure of speech that suggests a non-literal similarity

    You’ll be looking into the reach of every metaphor that every discipline offers, and you’ll be trying to see around their corners.

  • requirement

    necessary activity

    “How about the science requirements?”

  • confront

    oppose, as in hostility or a competition

    They have confronted you with scriptures—holy books that, whatever their actual provenance, have given people what they feel to be wisdom for thousands of years.

  • precipitate

    bring about abruptly

    Edmund Burke saw common sense as a loosely made, but often profound, collective work, in which humanity has deposited its hard-earned wisdom—the precipitate of joy and tears—over time.

  • grade

    a position on a scale of intensity or amount or quality

    Amidst the impressive college buildings, in company with a high-powered faculty, surrounded by the best of your generation, all you need is to keep doing what you’ve done before: Work hard, get good grades, listen to your teachers, get along with the people around you, and you’ll emerge in four years as an educated young man or woman.

  • banish

    expel, as if by official decree

    You must ask whether reason should always rule the passions, philosophers should always rule the state, and poets should inevitably be banished from a just commonwealth.

  • job

    a specific piece of work required to be done as a duty

    For students, that end is a good job.

  • probe

    an exploratory action or expedition

    And, too, you’ve been tested, probed, looked at up and down and through.

  • abstract

    existing only in the mind

    The students write their abstract, over-intellectualized essays; the professors grade the students for their capacity to be abstract and over-intellectual—and often genuinely smart.

  • arduous

    characterized by effort to the point of exhaustion

    When they face equally arduous tasks later in life, students will tap their old resources of determination, and they’ll win.

  • major

    greater in scope or effect

    Welcome and congratulations: Getting to the first day of college is a major achievement.

  • virtually

    in essence or effect but not in fact

    The proof is that virtually no undergraduate students can read and understand their professors’ scholarly publications.

  • culture

    all the knowledge and values shared by a society

    We’ve got guns, drugs, two wars, fanatical religions, a slime-based popular culture, and some politicians who—a little restraint here—aren’t what they might be.

  • proximity

    the property of being close together

    You have been raised in proximity to common sense, if you’ve been raised at all, and common sense is something to respect, though not quite—peace unto the formidable Burke—to revere.

  • conformity

    correspondence in form, type, or appearance

    The virtue in most request is conformity.

  • predict

    tell in advance

    He declares that dreams don’t predict the future and that there’s nothing benevolent about them.

  • profound

    situated at or extending to great depth

    Embedded in all of the major religions are profound truths.

  • tenure

    the term during which some position is held

    The work they are compelled to do to advance—get tenure, promotion, raises, outside offers—is, broadly speaking, scholarly work.

  • hatch

    a movable barrier covering an entrance

    One night after dinner, he and I were sitting in our kitchen at 58 Clewley Road in Medford, Massachusetts, hatching plans about the rest of my life.

  • volunteer

    a person who performs work done by choice

    The professor saves his energies for the profession, while the student saves his for friends, social life, volunteer work, making connections, and getting in position to clasp hands on the true grail, the first job.

  • commend

    present as worthy of regard, kindness, or confidence

    You’re to be commended, and not just you, but the parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts who helped get you here.

  • chilly

    appreciably or disagreeably cold

    For their essays can be brilliant, in a chilly way; they can also be clipped off the Internet, and often are.

  • realm

    a domain in which something is dominant

    Let the profs roam free in the realms of pure thought, let yourselves party in the realms of impure pleasure, and let the student-services gang assert fewer prohibitions and newer delights for you.

  • provoke

    provide the needed stimulus for

    Freud has something challenging and provoking to say about virtually every human aspiration.

  • affirm

    declare solemnly and formally as true

    I learned that if I wanted to affirm any consequential ideal, I had to talk my way past Freud.

  • discreet

    marked by prudence or modesty and wise self-restraint

    The idea that a university education really should have no substantial content, should not be about what John Keats was disposed to call Soul-making, is one that you might think professors and university presidents would be discreet about.

  • clasp

    hold firmly and tightly

    The professor saves his energies for the profession, while the student saves his for friends, social life, volunteer work, making connections, and getting in position to clasp hands on the true grail, the first job.

  • faculty

    an inherent cognitive or perceptual power of the mind

    Amidst the impressive college buildings, in company with a high-powered faculty, surrounded by the best of your generation, all you need is to keep doing what you’ve done before: Work hard, get good grades, listen to your teachers, get along with the people around you, and you’ll emerge in four years as an educated young man or woman.

  • aversion

    a feeling of intense dislike

    Self-reliance is its aversion.

  • issuing

    the act of providing an item for general use

    If universities stopped issuing credentials, half of the clients would be gone by tomorrow morning, with the remainder following fast behind.

  • potentially

    with a possibility of becoming actual

    You are, as Foucault might say, the intersection of many evaluative and potentially determining discourses: you boy, you girl, have been made.

  • create

    bring into existence

    But the public also senses that because professors don’t pay full-bore attention to teaching they don’t have to work very hard—they’ve created a massive feather bed for themselves and called it a university.

  • suppress

    to put down by force or authority

    You may find your own suppressed and rejected thoughts flowing back to you with an “alienated majesty.”

  • prone

    having a tendency

    It’s just that smart people are prone to look into matters to see how they might go about buttering their toast.

  • emerge

    come out into view, as from concealment

    Amidst the impressive college buildings, in company with a high-powered faculty, surrounded by the best of your generation, all you need is to keep doing what you’ve done before: Work hard, get good grades, listen to your teachers, get along with the people around you, and you’ll emerge in four years as an educated young man or woman.

  • pose

    assume a bearing as for artistic purposes

    (Detached analysis has a place—but, in the end, you’ve got to speak from the heart and pose the question of truth.)

  • massive

    containing a great quantity of matter

    Then there are those back-breaking student loans—people leave school as servants, indentured to pay massive bills, so that first job better be a good one.

  • demonstrate

    give an exhibition of to an interested audience

    Emerson’s greatness lies not only in showing you how powerful names and customs can be, but also in demonstrating how exhilarating it is to buck them.

  • controversial

    marked by or capable of arousing disagreement

    Trying to figure out whether the stuff you’re reading is true or false and being open to having your life changed is a fraught, controversial activity.

  • injure

    cause bodily harm to

    But he writes another—in part out of a feeling of injured merit, maybe—and that one they do buy.

  • discern

    detect with the senses

    As far as I can discern, the student ethos goes like this: If the professor is so lazy that he gives the same test every year, it’s okay to go ahead and take advantage—you’ve both got better things to do.

  • monetary

    relating to or involving money

    In a culture where the major and determining values are monetary, what else could you do?

  • prohibition

    the action of forbidding

    Let the profs roam free in the realms of pure thought, let yourselves party in the realms of impure pleasure, and let the student-services gang assert fewer prohibitions and newer delights for you.

  • predecessor

    one who precedes you in time

    For somehow your predecessors are more yourself than you are.

  • primary

    of first rank or importance or value

    The idea that the courses you take should be the primary objective of going to college is tacitly considered absurd.

  • cultivate

    adapt something wild to the environment

    The reason to read Blake and Dickinson and Freud and Dickens is not to become more cultivated, or more articulate, or to be someone who, at a cocktail party, is never embarrassed (or who can embarrass others).

  • invest

    lay out money or resources in an enterprise

    Whatever the case, no one wants to invest too much in them—for life is elsewhere.

  • benevolent

    showing or motivated by sympathy and understanding

    He declares that dreams don’t predict the future and that there’s nothing benevolent about them.

  • ignore

    refuse to acknowledge

    And all of those teachers and counselors and friends—and the prognosticating uncles, the dithering aunts, the fathers and mothers with their hopes for your fulfillment—or their fulfillment in you—should not necessarily be cast aside or ignored.

  • publication

    the act of issuing printed materials

    The proof is that virtually no undergraduate students can read and understand their professors’ scholarly publications.

  • energy

    forceful exertion

    The professor saves his energies for the profession, while the student saves his for friends, social life, volunteer work, making connections, and getting in position to clasp hands on the true grail, the first job.

  • perspective

    a way of regarding situations or topics

    This kind of perspective-altering teaching and learning can cause the things which administrators fear above all else: trouble, arguments, bad press, etc.

  • compel

    force somebody to do something

    The work they are compelled to do to advance—get tenure, promotion, raises, outside offers—is, broadly speaking, scholarly work.

  • reject

    refuse to accept or acknowledge

    You may find your own suppressed and rejected thoughts flowing back to you with an “alienated majesty.”

  • exceed

    be or do something to a greater degree

    We need to see where they fall short and where they exceed the mark, and then to develop them a little, as the ideas themselves, one comes to see, actually developed others.

  • rub

    move over something with pressure

    But what to do with that talent—there was the rub for my father.

  • destructive

    causing damage

    You have to ask yourself if wildly expressive music (rock and rap and the rest) deranges the soul in ways that are destructive to its health.

  • joint

    junction by which parts or objects are linked together

    I continue to hold in mind one of Emerson’s most memorable passages: “Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater.

  • talent

    natural abilities or qualities

    He had talent: My brother and I each got about half the raw ability he possessed and that’s taken us through life well enough.

  • deposit

    the act of putting something somewhere

    Edmund Burke saw common sense as a loosely made, but often profound, collective work, in which humanity has deposited its hard-earned wisdom—the precipitate of joy and tears—over time.

  • brilliant

    full of light; shining intensely

    For their essays can be brilliant, in a chilly way; they can also be clipped off the Internet, and often are.

  • medical

    relating to the study or practice of medicine

    They want the certificate that will give them access to Wall Street, or entrance into law or medical or business school.

  • mock

    treat with contempt

    And you will have to be tough if the professor mocks you for uttering a sincere question instead of keeping matters easy for all concerned by staying detached and analytical.

  • objective

    the goal intended to be attained

    The idea that the courses you take should be the primary objective of going to college is tacitly considered absurd.

  • devote

    dedicate

    What if you arrive at college devoted to pre-med, sure that nothing will make you and your family happier than a life as a physician, only to discover that elementary-school teaching is where your heart is?

  • content

    satisfied or showing satisfaction with things as they are

    The idea that a university education really should have no substantial content, should not be about what John Keats was disposed to call Soul-making, is one that you might think professors and university presidents would be discreet about.

  • bore

    make a hole, especially with a pointed power or hand tool

    But the public also senses that because professors don’t pay full- bore attention to teaching they don’t have to work very hard—they’ve created a massive feather bed for themselves and called it a university.

  • promotion

    the act of raising in rank or position

    The work they are compelled to do to advance—get tenure, promotion, raises, outside offers—is, broadly speaking, scholarly work.

  • contain

    hold or have within

    What he told me that evening at the Clewley Road kitchen table was true in itself, and it also contains the germ of an idea about what a university education should be.

  • despise

    look down on with disdain

    Schopenhauer, who despised belief in transcendent things, nonetheless thought Christianity to be of inexpressible worth.

  • sustain

    lengthen or extend in duration or space

    He never had a world of possibilities spread before him, never made sustained contact with the best that had been thought and said.

  • statistics

    a branch of mathematics concerned with quantitative data

    You’ll not only question the statistics teacher about what numbers can explain but what they can’t.

  • facility

    a building or place that provides a particular service

    So, if you want an education, the odds aren’t with you: The professors are off doing what they call their own work; the other students, who’ve doped out the way the place runs, are busy leaving the professors alone and getting themselves in position for bright and shining futures; the student-services people are trying to keep everyone content, offering plenty of entertainment and building another state-of-the-art workout facility every few months.

  • aggressive

    characteristic of an enemy or one eager to fight

    Right now, if you’re going to get a real education, you may have to be aggressive and assertive.

  • figure

    the form or shape of a person's body

    They’ve done a fine job skating on surfaces in high school—the best way to get an across-the-board outstanding record—and now they’re on campus to cut a few more figure eights.

  • ignored

    disregarded

    And all of those teachers and counselors and friends—and the prognosticating uncles, the dithering aunts, the fathers and mothers with their hopes for your fulfillment—or their fulfillment in you—should not necessarily be cast aside or ignored.

  • restraint

    the act of controlling by holding someone or something back

    We’ve got guns, drugs, two wars, fanatical religions, a slime-based popular culture, and some politicians who—a little restraint here—aren’t what they might be.

  • sage

    a mentor in spiritual and philosophical topics

    Much more I learned from the sage—about character, about loss, about joy, about writing and its secret sources, but Emerson most centrally preaches the gospel of self-reliance and that is what I have tried most to take from him.

  • achievement

    the action of accomplishing something

    Welcome and congratulations: Getting to the first day of college is a major achievement.

  • contribute

    provide

    Such students leave and become donors and so, in their own turn, contribute immeasurably to the university’s standing.

  • inevitably

    in such a manner as could not be otherwise

    You must ask whether reason should always rule the passions, philosophers should always rule the state, and poets should inevitably be banished from a just commonwealth.

  • detected

    perceived or discerned

    Shoddy work—in which the author cheats, cuts corners, copies from others—is quickly detected.

  • prospect

    the possibility of future success

    In terms of their work, students live in the future and not the present; they live with their prospects for success.

  • assert

    declare or affirm solemnly and formally as true

    Let the profs roam free in the realms of pure thought, let yourselves party in the realms of impure pleasure, and let the student-services gang assert fewer prohibitions and newer delights for you.

  • shrewd

    marked by practical hardheaded intelligence

    Never has there been a more shrewd and imaginative cartographer of the psyche.

  • odds

    the likelihood of a thing occurring

    So, if you want an education, the odds aren’t with you: The professors are off doing what they call their own work; the other students, who’ve doped out the way the place runs, are busy leaving the professors alone and getting themselves in position for bright and shining futures; the student-services people are trying to keep everyone content, offering plenty of entertainment and building another state-of-the-art workout facility every few months.

  • alter

    cause to change; make different

    This kind of perspective- altering teaching and learning can cause the things which administrators fear above all else: trouble, arguments, bad press, etc.

  • concern

    something that interests you because it is important

    And you will have to be tough if the professor mocks you for uttering a sincere question instead of keeping matters easy for all concerned by staying detached and analytical.

  • comprehend

    get the meaning of something

    He gave me the chance to see what I was all about, and if it proved to be different from him, proved even to be something he didn’t like or entirely comprehend, then he’d deal with it.

  • survive

    continue in existence after

    To merely survive in this American village and to win a place in the entering class has taken a lot of grit on your part.

  • future

    the time yet to come

    In terms of their work, students live in the future and not the present; they live with their prospects for success.

  • adequate

    having the requisite qualities or resources to meet a task

    Because every subject you study is a language and since you may adopt one of these languages as your own, you’ll want to know how to speak it expertly and also how it fails to deal with those concerns for which it has no adequate words.

  • sublime

    of high moral or intellectual value

    Reading the great writers, you may have the experience that Longinus associated with the sublime: You feel that you have actually created the text yourself.

  • intensity

    high level or degree

    After the kid-samurai episode, the chair of my department not unsympathetically suggested that this was the sort of incident that could happen when you brought a certain intensity to teaching.

  • crude

    belonging to an early stage of technical development

    I came to college with few resources, but one of them was an understanding, however crude, of how I might use my opportunities there.

  • associate

    bring or come into action

    Reading the great writers, you may have the experience that Longinus associated with the sublime: You feel that you have actually created the text yourself.

  • ability

    having the means or skills to do something

    The coach knows what your athletic prospects are, the guidance office has a sheaf of test scores that relegate you to this or that ability quadrant, and your teachers have got you pegged.

  • lecture

    a speech that is open to the public

    The world wants him to write more, lecture, travel more, and will pay him for his efforts, and he likes this a good deal.

  • experience

    the content of observation or participation in an event

    My father had some experience with lawyers, and with policemen, too; he was not well-disposed toward either.

  • undertake

    enter upon an activity or enterprise

    If you do not undertake it, you risk leading a life of desperation—maybe quiet, maybe, in time, very loud—and I am not exaggerating.

  • text

    the words of something written

    Reading the great writers, you may have the experience that Longinus associated with the sublime: You feel that you have actually created the text yourself.

  • adopt

    take into one's family

    Because every subject you study is a language and since you may adopt one of these languages as your own, you’ll want to know how to speak it expertly and also how it fails to deal with those concerns for which it has no adequate words.

  • esteem

    the condition of being honored

    One kid I knew (and rather liked) threatened on his blog to mince his dear and esteemed professor (me) with a samurai sword for the crime of having taught a boring class.

  • scholar

    a learned person

    The people who do this work have highly developed intellectual powers, and they push themselves hard to reach a certain standard: That the results have almost no practical relevance to the students, the public, or even, frequently, to other scholars is a central element in the tragicomedy that is often academia.

  • accomplish

    achieve with effort

    I was about to go off to college, a feat no one in my family had accomplished in living memory.

  • function

    what something is used for

    The primary function of Yale University, it’s recently been said, is to create prosperous alumni so as to enrich Yale University.

  • reflect

    throw or bend back from a surface

    These essays are honest: Their footnotes reflect real reading, real assimilation, and real dedication.

  • commit

    engage in or perform

    Colleges are even leery of disciplining guys who have committed sexual assault, or assault plain and simple.

  • substantial

    real; having a material or factual existence

    The idea that a university education really should have no substantial content, should not be about what John Keats was disposed to call Soul-making, is one that you might think professors and university presidents would be discreet about.

  • sustained

    continued at length without interruption or weakening

    He never had a world of possibilities spread before him, never made sustained contact with the best that had been thought and said.

  • perpetual

    continuing forever or indefinitely

    He was—and is—a perpetual challenge and goad.

  • course

    a connected series of events or actions or developments

    But until I had the reincarnation stuff from a solid source, I better get to work and pick out some English classes from the course catalog.

  • depart

    go away or leave

    This view informed an address that Richard Brodhead gave to the senior class at Yale before he departed to become president of Duke.

  • fundamental

    serving as an essential component

    No matter what anyone says this work has precious little to do with the fundamentals of teaching.

  • evolution

    sequence of events involved in the development of a species

    You’ll be the one who challenges your biology teacher about the intellectual conflict between evolution and creationist thinking.

  • formidable

    extremely impressive in strength or excellence

    You have been raised in proximity to common sense, if you’ve been raised at all, and common sense is something to respect, though not quite—peace unto the formidable Burke—to revere.

  • harsh

    disagreeable to the senses

    One does not need to be as harsh as Schopenhauer to understand the use of religion, even if one does not believe in an otherworldly god.

  • conceive

    have the idea for

    When you read Plato, you’ll probably learn about his metaphysics and his politics and his way of conceiving the soul.

  • source

    the place where something begins

    But until I had the reincarnation stuff from a solid source, I better get to work and pick out some English classes from the course catalog.

  • decade

    a period of 10 years

    He wasn’t invited back for decades.

  • toil

    work hard

    The student who eschews medical school to follow his gift for teaching small children spends his twenties in low-paying but pleasurable and soul-rewarding toil.

  • philosopher

    a specialist in the investigation of existence and knowledge

    You must ask whether reason should always rule the passions, philosophers should always rule the state, and poets should inevitably be banished from a just commonwealth.

  • invisible

    impossible or nearly impossible to see

    “No!” he said, filling the air with an invisible forest of exclamation points.)

  • discourse

    an extended communication dealing with some particular topic

    You are, as Foucault might say, the intersection of many evaluative and potentially determining discourses: you boy, you girl, have been made.

  • plenty

    a full supply

    So, if you want an education, the odds aren’t with you: The professors are off doing what they call their own work; the other students, who’ve doped out the way the place runs, are busy leaving the professors alone and getting themselves in position for bright and shining futures; the student-services people are trying to keep everyone content, offering plenty of entertainment and building another state-of-the-art workout facility every few months.

  • direction

    a line leading to a place or point

    In saying that, he (like my father) hinted in the direction of a profound and true theory of learning.

  • restore

    bring back into original existence, function, or position

    Education is about finding out what form of work for you is close to being play—work you do so easily that it restores you as you go.

  • necessity

    the condition of being essential or indispensable

    To be poor in America is to be a failure—it’s to be without decent health care, without basic necessities, often without dignity.

  • hint

    an indirect suggestion

    In saying that, he (like my father) hinted in the direction of a profound and true theory of learning.

  • risk

    a source of danger

    If you do not undertake it, you risk leading a life of desperation—maybe quiet, maybe, in time, very loud—and I am not exaggerating.

  • luxury

    something that is an indulgence rather than a necessity

    The quest at the center of a liberal-arts education is not a luxury quest; it’s a necessity quest.

  • analysis

    abstract separation of a whole into its constituent parts

    (Detached analysis has a place—but, in the end, you’ve got to speak from the heart and pose the question of truth.)

  • vigorous

    characterized by forceful and energetic action or activity

    But when we expend our energies in rightful ways, Robert Frost observed, we stay whole and vigorous and we don’t weary.

  • intellect

    knowledge and mental ability

    Of course, given your intellect and discipline, you can still probably be one.

  • decline

    grow worse

    You’ll ask your history teacher about whether there is a design to our history, whether we’re progressing or declining, or whether, in the words of a fine recent play, The History Boys, history’s “just one fuckin’ thing after another.”

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