Category Archives: academics

I’m proud of my students

Today’s choral contest was by far my favorite school event.  There are some students who hurt my feelings and disrespect me on a regular basis, but i loved every single one of my students today.  How could you not love them when they’re singing like little angels?

I know all i talk about on this blog is school now, but that’s the thing:  i love school and it’s my favorite thing to talk about.  This job is no doubt the toughest i have ever had.  Sometimes i wanted to quit, sometimes i hated my school, but i think i’ve always secretly loved it.  I get along so well with everyone and i’ve made the place my second home.  I know the majority of my students—their names and class numbers—and most of the teachers in the main teachers’ office.  The weekly journals were an important part of building a relationship with the students; we shared interests and food/cultural recommendations over them, and sometimes, they shared more personal things, to which i always, always replied.  I’ve gotten thank you letters, and i’ve gotten hate letters.  But i gave my end-of-semester speech to each of my 2nd grade classes, and they all listened attentively and thanked me in return.

2-1 wasn’t so bad at the beginning of the semester, but after i lost some students’ work, they banded together and refused to pay attention in class.  I got the most negative feedback on my evaluations from this class.  I really hated them at times and at one point, i came close to telling the vice principal that i refuse to teach them (before you call me crazy, the VP and i are tight, so i would’ve gotten away with this).  But i forgive them now and understand that some students just hate school, and nothing’s going to change that.

2-2 was my worst class at first.  They were the loudest and most difficult to control.  What made it worse was that the co-teacher i teach it with didn’t know how to discipline.  I was the harshest and strictest with this class, and now they’re one of my most attentive and obedient classes.  Towards the end of the semester, their journals were the best.  This was the only class that learned to follow all of my instructions for journals.

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If only our minds could just click with each other

It seems that The Stone‘s contributors’ responses to readers’ comments are often better than their original posts themselves:

Philosophers typically try to illuminate with a combination of argument and (re-)conceptualization.  But the most careful and perspicuous argumentation, as indispensable as care and perspicuity are, will not convince someone who is disinclined to accept a philosopher’s way of framing a problem or phenomenon.  And, as the philosopher Stanley Cavell has stressed repeatedly, nothing guarantees that the arrogation of philosophical authority, no matter how well intended, will not turn out to be an act of mere arrogance.  In this way, in fact, philosophical expression and young women’s sexualized attempts at self-expression have something in common:  neither can be fully controlled by an author’s intentions, and nothing guarantees that they will come off in the way their authors hope they will.  –Nancy Bauer, “Authority and Arrogance: A Response”

Which, if you think about it, is what ails all human communication, but i think the problem is even more exaggerated when it comes to doing philosophy.  Philosophy is best done dialogically (because every argument requires counter-arguments to move forward, and the best counter-arguments come from those who have had different experiences than you have), and if your opponent cannot accept your way of approaching a problem or understand your intentions in communicating your ideas, the argument falls flat.  This is why philosophers, more than anyone else, need to find people who can understand the way they think and communicate in order to do their job.

Which makes me wonder, can real philosophy only be done between people who can “click” in this way?  I’ve spent many philosophy recitations frustrated and impatient because everyone had their own way of thinking, and each think-system was so disparate to the point where we were all on different wavelengths, trying to intersect somewhere, but usually failing miserably.  One person would require real life examples to contemplate any philosophical issue, and another would find such examples cumbersome and dangerously restrictive.  One would be engrossed in analysis, while another would constantly divert to meta-analysis.  One would subscribe to dualism, and another, to monism, and yet another, to pluralism.  No one would think to budge.  And why should they?  Their individual frameworks were the ones that helped them think about these issues.  But do you know what happens when such disparate individual frameworks gather in one room?  A question is raised, a claim is made, and a silence follows while everybody tries to evaluate the claim-maker’s think-system, ultimately rejecting it in favor of their own.  Repeat until time’s up.  You’re lucky if you get a single counter-argument.

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Filed under academics, communication, philosophy


[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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Filed under academics, college, philosophy

Mapping out your life is overrated

A wise friend of mine recently said to me, “Knowing what you want to do is not quite the same as knowing exactly where you can go.”  School and society put so much emphasis on the where that i lost sight of the what as i came closer to where i am now:  my last semester of college.

This academic year has changed me in strange ways.  I struggled a lot last semester with insecurities i never knew i had, most of which got in the way of my learning.  For the first time in my life, i found my classes to be an inconvenience and a drone (this partly had to do with the kinds of classes i was taking that semester, but it was also my attitude towards the learning that got in the way).  Needless to say, it was a highly disappointing semester, resulting not only in dropped grades but also a further drop in self-esteem.  (Just to be fair, one class and the professor that taught it encouraged me to express myself, which positively changed my approach to writing, but this didn’t change the fact that i felt oppressed by my other classes and professors.)

This semester has been interesting in that the four classes i’m taking are so different from each other and yet still overlap in various ways, in ways that motivate me to synthesize the thought products of each class with each other, which in turn makes me strive hard in all of them.  One class, Tactical Media, is a graduate course cross-listed as an offering to undergraduate upperclassmen, but the class is mostly graduate students.  I was intimidated at first by their professional accomplishments and general outspokenness, but i’m starting to find it easier to talk to these people than my fellow undergraduates.  There is a higher degree of respect for each other and not just a willingness but a desire to get to know one another.  I think it might have to do with the lack of competition.  They’ve already accomplished a great deal in their respective fields, and they’re all here for different reasons (the course belongs in the Arts and Public Policy department, but students come from all different departments, backgrounds, and careers).  They’re here to further their own individual projects, whether it be producing a social activist movement or sparking a debate about urban etiquette, but while doing so, they work together and share their individual interests and skills.  At the undergraduate level, most students are in the same boat of graduating and moving on to their respective fields.  Whether they admit it or not, undergrads are out to outdo one another in order to get a job or make it into grad school.  But going back to why i started talking about this class in the first place, it’s a key element in my learning this semester in that it is helping me become more outspoken in all of my classes; to put it simply, it’s encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone, but in a welcoming environment.  There is no competing—only sharing.  We don’t even compete for grades, because we grade ourselves at the end of the semester.  Discussion in this class is therefore as democratic and open as it can get; besides the individual projects (which are always collaborative), we are all in the unified project of progressing as a class.

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Protected: Actually, i do have something to say

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My last NYU September

The past week has been the best i’ve ever spent at NYU.  This is my third semester dorming (the first, fall of freshman year, and the second, spring of junior year), and i have never been this happy with my living situation.  Alumni Hall was definitely nice–you can’t beat its location, neighborhood, and convenience—but it was too loud and hectic, and i spent many a night cursing off the sophomores gathered under my second-floor window smoking, chatting, and generally being stupid all night.  And of course, there were the mice.

Now i’m at 26th and 1st, and while it’s the least popular NYU dorm, i’m very happy with the remodeled kitchen and i even like that it’s out of the way.  The walk to the subway is not bad at all, and the lack of good, cheap eating options in the neighborhood compared to the East Village will mean that i’ll be cooking most meals, which should be a nice change.  And it’s quiet.  There are mostly juniors and graduate students here (i’m the only senior on my floor, the rest being juniors), and despite living next to two big hospitals, i’ve only heard one ambulance so far.  While i sometimes miss the liveliness and convenience of the East Village, i’m relieved to be living in a peaceful, residential district this year.

Then there are my suitemates.  I don’t think i’ve ever gotten along this well with assigned suitemates.  We talk all the time, hang out all the time, and have tea and sweets together regularly (cute, right?).  I actually look forward to them coming back to the room, and i already miss one of them who’s been in Toronto for the past two days.  And if this weren’t enough, i have an awesome RA!  He’s so friendly and helpful and i love running into him all the time.  My freshman year RA was hard to get ahold of and ultimately failed to help me resolve issues with my disruptive neighbors (hence, the departure after one semester), and i never even formally met my junior year RA.

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Filed under academics, college, new york

Education, learning, training

These are my initial thoughts on the differences between education, learning, and training.  I’m looking to see how these thoughts evolve as i continue with my participation in all three.

My Media Criticism professor said that the purpose of his course was to teach us the vocabulary necessary to discuss visual culture.  I think he was on to something.

How many times have you read something for class and gone, “I knew that!  That’s what i always knew or vaguely knew but never had the words to express.”  That certainly sums up how i usually feel when reading academic texts.  And so, we could argue that education is the acquisition of vocabulary, a means of expressing what you know.

Learning, on the other hand, is about perceiving things and thinking about the information gathered.  Learning is the development and exercise of thought.

Training, which is geared towards a craft or profession, is the acquisition of skills.

Now the question is, how well do learning establishments, and even individuals, integrate the three?

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