Monthly Archives: April 2010

Committed conversations

There’s something about late night heart-to-heart’s in New York.  The hustle and bustle of everyday life in the city makes you yearn so much for human connection that even sustained eye contact becomes something to be cherished, and soul-satisfying conversations crawl their way into secret repositories, like this one.

While the city was celebrating 420, my friend and i sat in bed, Guinness draughts in hand.  We shared our individual pasts, reminisced over our high school years, and revealed our hopes and dreams.  Maybe it was the Guinness talking, but maybe it was also our hearts connecting.

For the first time in a long time, i had what i call a “committed conversation.”  We each had the other’s undivided attention for once, undistracted by the city’s beauties and failings.  The tension of NYC in daylight fell away as we drank, leaned back, and indulged in the silence of my room and the authority—the sweet audibility—of our voices.

Last night replenished my soul, and i’m finally unafraid to plow through the three weeks i have left here.

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Let’s talk professors

[I’m just going to refer to all of these professors in the male pronoun to avoid the tedium of using he/she, him/her, etc.]

I was just reading for a class i hate, and it occurred to me why i hate this class and the professor that teaches it so much.  Then i started thinking back to all the different types of professors i’ve had over the past four years:

1.  The unintelligent professor

This professor just holds you back and there is absolutely no point in taking a class with him, unless you’re the kind of student who’s into taking advantage of this type’s lack of intelligence and getting an easy A out of the course.  Sometimes you sympathize with him when all the students talk shit about him behind his back or corner him or even belittle him in class discussions.  But in the end, you wonder why you’re paying to learn nothing, and if you’re smart, you drop the course while you can.

2.  The smart professor who can’t teach

A smart guy, just not an effective professor.  Most of us have had him.  In many cases, he’s the kind of person who’d make a great conversationalist or a friend, but just can’t teach.  You sympathize with him and wish your classmates would give him more credit.  Or maybe you’re mean and just criticize him to no end, dismissing the class as a waste of your time.

3.  The smart professor who can teach

The perfect professor, you might say.  But there’s more to being a great professor than being smart and knowing how to teach, as we shall see later on.

4.  The smart professor who seemingly can teach but doesn’t know what teaching is really about

He’s clearly smart and he succeeds at getting ideas across, while maybe even engaging his students, but he’s not what a good professor should be:  someone who uses his smarts for good.  So yes, i think this type uses his smarts for evil.  He uses his class to show how smart he is instead of discovering how smart his students also are and learning from them, too, which is an essential part of teaching.  If this type also happens to be arrogant (which they often tend to be), he thinks his students are all dumb, but if he isn’t arrogant, he just doesn’t know what it means to be a teacher.  You might forgive him if he’s a Ph.D. student or a professor early in his career, but if you’re an idealistic student, it can be very hard.

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Indignant

[update 04/13/10:  My TA more than redeemed himself today.  He started out recitation by saying that in grading our papers, he was forced to reconsider the criteria that he’d laid out for us for writing our papers, one of which was that we should write in simple prose.  He still believed that we should do this, but he wondered what the value of that might be.  So we spent the entire class debating the value and lack of value in simplifying the language of these philosophers, which evolved into a wholesome discussion of relevant topics both explicitly and implicitly at hand:  the difference between analytic and continental philosophy; the purpose of writing these papers; the question of audience; the difference between explaining and expressing, and how we necessarily do both while writing these papers; the cognitive process of reading and writing; motives for writing the way we do; language as a tool for contextualization; and the way certain philosophers subvert language to re-contextualize concepts.  The TA was very open to our varying opinions and arguments, and it was clear that he cared about how his criteria were affecting our writing and learning.  And that’s all i needed to know.]

I was deeply offended, insulted, and hurt today.  I’m not sure if i should write about this publicly, but i’m so flustered and have been upset like this for the past twelve hours that i need to vent, or else i won’t be able to sleep tonight.

I wrote my first paper for Existentialism & Phenomenology class several weeks ago.  I was transfixed by Heidegger’s account of death and knew that I needed to write my paper on it.  One of the suggested topics involved it anyway, so i set out to write on that topic, but as i wrote the paper and re-engaged with the text, i became more interested in a different issue within Heidegger’s account of death:  his characterization of death as possibility, not actuality, and the implications this might have for his entire argument.  And this shift in interest—and consequently, in my argument—occurred sometime in the morning of the day it was due.  In short, i procrastinated quite extensively, stayed up all night and just wrote and re-wrote like my life depended on it, panicked for fear of not even finishing on time, and then really did run out of time and was forced to cut the paper short and slap on a concluding sentence.  Not surprisingly, the paper ended up being quite disorganized, and ultimately, my claims were not backed up with strong enough arguments.  Had i given myself ample time, i would’ve done what i knew i had to do when i decided to change my topic:  start fresh and build up my argument.  But since i was irresponsible and left myself too little time, i was forced to rework what i had already written, which culminated in patching and re-patching chunks here and there, re-ordering paragraphs, removing some and adding new ones, and all of this in vain.  In my effort to work with what i already had, i neglected to fully develop my argument and work out a strong line of reasoning for it.  I didn’t even know if my argument was valid.  I decided to just write and see if i could come up with an argument in the process.  Bad, bad mistake, obviously.  I always outline my argument and make sure i have it down pat before i even start writing, but i didn’t think i could do that with the time i had remaining.  I probably could have if i had stopped panicking and had steadily thought things through, but there’s no use in crying over spilled milk.

After i handed in the paper, i wanted to spend the next few days revisiting my argument and trying to see if what i wrote really made sense.  Of course, other classes and obligations got in the way, and soon, i forgot all about the shoddy argument.

Earlier this week, i got the paper back, graded and commented on.  I got a higher grade than i expected, but it was clear from the TA’s comments that he didn’t get the point of my paper.  This was seriously worrisome for me, and i couldn’t just let my argument go misunderstood, or even not understood at all, so i went back to my dorm and started tearing the paper apart.  Initially, i was just writing responses to the TA’s comments, but i soon realized that there were too many missing links in my argument.  Responding to these comments wasn’t gonna get me anywhere.

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