University education, philosophy and a bereft bank account

The Jacksons: From the July 16 issue of the Manitoba Co-operator

My question is this,” said Jennifer Jackson from the chair she was occupying in the sun porch of her parents’ home. “If there is no space and there is no time, then how can anything be said to exist? I mean this house exists by taking up space. My words exist without taking up space but they do take up time. If there was no space and no time, then neither my words nor this house could exist, nor could anything else.”

Jennifer’s father, Andrew, gazed at his daughter and set his coffee cup down on the little table next to his own chair. “I see your lips moving,” he said, “and I hear sounds coming from your mouth, but the sounds are like Greek to me.”

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“Speaking of Greek,” said Jennifer, “did you know the Greeks didn’t actually invent democracy? Everybody thinks they did but they didn’t.”

“Let me put it this way,” said Andrew, after a moment’s thought. “If you had asked me who invented democracy I would not have said the Greeks.”

“What would you have said?” asked Jennifer.

Andrew shrugged. “Probably the British,” he said. “Or not.”

Jennifer laughed derisively. “The British! They most certainly did not invent democracy! But I must say they are well on the way to destroying it.”

There was a pause as Andrew considered this. “I was pretty sure,” he said, “that we sent you to university to study agriculture. I figured we would be having discussions about differing birth rates in various breeds of sheep or maybe the pros and cons of genetically modified alfalfa. But maybe that’s not what they teach in agriculture these days. Maybe they teach the fundamentals of existential angst and the origins of democracy. Which is all important stuff I’m sure but I confess I can not see how that’s going to improve the bottom line here at Jackson Agriculture Limited.”

“Oh Dad, you’re such an old fuddy-duddy,” said Jennifer. “If I want to know the differing birth rates of various breeds of sheep I can just Google it. And actually they do teach us that at university. But we don’t really pay much attention to it because we know we can Google it.”

“So they do teach you a few useful things?” asked Andrew.

“Absolutely very useful things,” said Jennifer. “For instance, how to get your father to adopt new farming practices by making him think it was his idea.”

Andrew laughed out loud. “No doubt you’re going to have a degree in that by the time you’re through,” he said.

Jennifer grinned. “It comes naturally to me,” she said. “At least I’ll graduate that class with honours.”

“Well that’ll be a first,” said Andrew. “Nobody in this family has ever graduated from anything with honours.”

“Not true,” said a voice from the doorway. Jennifer’s mother Rose entered the room and seated herself in the chair next to her daughter. “Randy graduated from kindergarten with honours.”

“That’s true,” said Andrew. “Randy showed such promise as a child.”

“We were just discussing the relative merits of various types of university education Mom,” said Jennifer. “From the philosophical study of origins to the practical study of birth rates in sheep. We hadn’t come to any conclusions.”

Rose put her coffee cup down on her own table. “Now you’re just showing off,” said Rose. “Philosophical study of origins! Ha! So tell me what you’ve learned about the philosophical origins of sheep? Or do sheep not have philosophical origins.”

It was Jennifer’s turn to laugh. “Things don’t have philosophical origins,” she said. “They just have origins. And you can study the origins from a philosophical standpoint.”

“I still don’t see the value of that in an agricultural sense,” said Andrew. “Or a business sense. If I have a deficit in my bank account, I could care less about studying the origin of that deficit from a philosophical standpoint. I just want to know where the money went and why it isn’t in the bank.”

“Ah yes,” said Jennifer. “It probably went to pay for my education or maybe for my wardrobe. And philosophically speaking, that’s because we rightly believe that my education and my clothing priorities are more important than having a bank balance.”

Rose looked at Andrew. “Now we’re getting somewhere,” she said.

Andrew looked doubtful. “We are?” he said.

“Yes,” said Rose. “Because Jennifer’s in university, we now know why we’re going broke.”

“We do?” said Andrew.

“Yes,” said Rose. “It’s because Jennifer has too many pairs of jeans.”

“And I still don’t have enough,” said Jennifer.

“And that right there is the philosophical origin of parental poverty,” said Rose.

“Which is?” said Jennifer.

“There’s no such thing as too many pairs of jeans,” said Rose.

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