Introducing: The Jesuit Hacker

“The world is full of fascinating problems waiting to be solved.”

E. S. Raymond’s insight kept popping into my head this past Wednesday when I had an opportunity to sit in on the most recent Jesuit Pedagogy Lunchtime Discussion. It was an opportunity for faculty and graduate student instructors to talk about effective practices for teaching in a Jesuit environment. Among the many threads in the discussion was the role of creativity as a pedagogical tool. Participants offered examples of creative projects being used to great success in the classroom. My mind, however, wandered very easily from creativity to creation. I can appreciate the mental exercise at work in imaginative assignments, but what are we building from them? What will we do with them? One of the participants at the discussion expressed dissatisfaction with “research qua research” in the classroom. I’m not sure I’m more satisfied with creativity qua creativity. Look at how much talent we have in the classroom. Let’s use this creativity to make something. Let’s work together to solve some “fascinating problems.”

Solving fascinating problems is the first element of the “hacker attitude” as defined by Raymond in his essay “How to Be a Hacker.” The essay is freely available (not an unimportant point, as we will see in future posts) online at: http://www.catb.org/esr/faqs/hacker-howto.html. Raymond’s essay contains practical wisdom for coders and people interested in computer work. It also has much practical wisdom for graduate students and instructors, particularly, I would argue, those of us in Jesuit surroundings.

For the moment, I will simply introduce Raymond’s five aspects of the “Hacker attitude.” Before I explain what each of these has meant to me in a Jesuit context, I think it would be a good idea for readers to reflect on whether or not these ideas readily map onto whatever they think the corresponding “Jesuit attitude” would look like.

Raymond describes the aspects of the “Hacker attitude” as follows:

  1. The world is full of fascinating problems waiting to be solved.
  2. No problem should ever have to be solved twice.
  3. Boredom and drudgery are evil.
  4. Freedom is good.
  5. Attitude is no substitute for competence.

The required reading for you—and only a blog post on Jesuit pedagogy would begin with required reading—is Raymond’s essay. Over the next few posts, I plan to explain what we, as graduate students and educators at a Jesuit institution, can learn from computing culture and I will start by elaborating on each of the five points above. I think there will be real benefits from us all adopting, at least in some part, the role of “Jesuit hacker.” It is my suspicion that Raymond’s essay, in addition to other foundational works on hacker culture which I plan to discuss in future posts, will be unfamiliar to average graduate student in the humanities. I hope that this interdisciplinary clash inspire new ideas and approaches and lead to a deeper understanding of the “digital” side of digital humanities.

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