Instructions: As you read “The Collective Experience” by Stuart Vail

Instructions: As you read “The Collective
Experience” by Stuart Vail, record your
thinking in the margins. Annotate by writing
your reactions, personal connections,
questions, opinions, and/or summaries. Be
thorough with your annotations – look at the
rubric and you will understand why.
The Collective Experience
Stuart Vail
When I announced my intention to marry my high school
sweetheart, my parents tried to talk me out of it. In fact, so
did her parents. I was twenty, going into my third year of
college, and she was just out of high school. Our parents
were concerned that we were too young, and they also felt
that marriage would be an unnecessary burden since I
hadn’t yet finished college. Of course we did not listen. Who
were they to tell us what to do with our lives? We knew what
we wanted and we went for it. After less than two years we
separated. In addition to all the factors associated with us
being too young in the first place, she was afraid life would
pass her by, with my career taking off, leaving her homebound without a college education. Everyone had tried to tell
us, but we didn’t listen. We had to find out the hard way.
Why do we have to continually repeat the same mistakes in
history over and over again? Why can’t we learn from others
who have already tread these well-worn paths? Imagine not
having to start at “square one” each time. Imagine tapping
into the collective experience, benefiting from centuries of
accumulated wisdom and enlightenment, and proceeding
from there. Each newborn would come into the world with a
brain already programmed with the sum-total of all
experience, and add to that the learning and understanding
gained in his own lifetime, which in turn, would be added to
the ever-increasing pool of knowledge for subsequent lives.
The thing about starting from scratch is that, as with a
muscle, the journey of learning, the individual process and
experience of learning, shapes the brain’s growth, tonifying
and individualizing it. That is what differentiates one brain
from another and allows for a society of individuals, not
assembly line robots. However, with that wonderful
individuality comes the risk of being misshapened by an
abusive parent, sibling, spouse, teacher, peer group, and
anyone else throughout life who happens to pass-on their
potentially pathetic two-cents-worth of influence.
Imagine what we could really learn if we didn’t have to
continually worry about, and labor under, the negative
influences of others. Poor teenagers: they spend most of
their time trying to “fit in,” trying to be “cool.” They
incessantly worry about acne, fashion, cars, social status,
hair styles, girls/boys, drugs, sex, and money. It seems very
familiar, because isn’t that list of worries the same that
obsesses adults? Teens, however, have the incredible
opportunity of having really nothing to do: no responsibilities
other than learning at school. Available to them is a wealth of
ideas and concepts, histories of civilizations, complex and
fascinating mathematical systems, colorful languages, and
the rich world of art—a virtual cornucopia of luscious brain
food—yet they ignore and discard most of what is offered to
them in their attempts to “fit in.” Nothing or no one can tell
them that they are throwing away a golden opportunity. They
have to learn the hard way.
Their homework is barely done—if at all—and the lessons
presented in class are forgotten. Textbooks are barely given
the chance to flower in their glory, even though what they
have to offer is a vast, priceless array of riches. In
knowledge one possesses power, or the potential for power.
But alas, the books suffer disuse. They are dead weights
hauled from class to class, maybe never to go from school
locker to home. The words inside, having been carefully
crafted into sentences housing great reward, silently call to
be released. If the “deaf and blind” students would only allow
those words to complete their mission, their worlds would
change. The antidote to all their petty, self-absorbing
problems is right in their hands, those dead weights they
grudgingly haul from class to class to class....
Allow the words to complete their mission. Imagine! The
collective experience is in our hands: books. It’s all there.
But who reads anymore? As a culture, we prefer to have
television and movies educate us and our young: history
according to Disney and Oliver Stone. Now there’s a
perspective! Our over-the-top, in-your-face, THX “the
audience is listening,” fast-edit, break-the-sound-barrier-
paced movies are creating a generation of kids who now
expect those same special effects in every aspect of life.
That’s why they have to fill the gaps between movies with
trips to Universal Studios, Disneyland, water parks, video
arcades, Nintendo games—anything, as long as it is loud
and fast-paced. No wonder they can’t sit quietly and read a
book. No wonder words, simple words, can’t compete—or
can’t complete their mission to illuminate. There’s no one
home, the inn is vacant: there’s not a soul to receive their
Consider the plots of many of today’s top films. Consider the
lack of character development and the actual dialogue the
actors have to say. Not much there. The writers lack a
knowledge of words, a knowledge of the history of words,
and a wisdom gained only from the implementation of that
knowledge. Yet, most young filmmakers grew up on the very
trash they are trying to make. By all the signs, their own
textbooks probably sat unopened in their lockers at school
while they stayed up for hours after bedtime trying to beat
the latest computer game. If they had spent only half of that
time and energy reading some of the writings of Plato, Rumi,
da Vinci, Rilke, and Joseph Campbell, all wonderful
contributors to the collective experience, they would be ten
times the filmmakers they are today. The real tragedy is that
there are no words in their lives, no understanding of real
literature, art, science, and history; and the only tools they
have to fill the void are fast edits and push-the-envelope
special effects. The collective experience is right under their
noses, but no one can lead them to it. They will have to learn
the hard way.
Assignment: Write three paragraphs that address the 3
1. What does it say? (What is the text about?)
2. What does it mean? (to those identified in the text)
3. Why does it matter? (What important understanding
emerges from the text.
Be sure you are thorough in your response.
Staple your annotations to your written response and submit.