Tuesday, September 17, 2013

School: What it looks like this semester.

12:18 AM Posted by Patrick 2 comments
I do not suppose that I have said anything on here about this present semester yet? No? That is a shame, because it is really shaping up to be rather interesting.

I was not expecting to enjoy Stat-125, and I might not, but it is proving mind-numbingly easy to this point. Granted, there is a load of homework to be done, but doing it thus far has been driving home every minute point. The practical application of it has actually been pretty interesting. The beginning has all been about methods of gathering and evaluating data, and it has been rather informative when it comes to seeing how might skew statistics with relative ease: by accident or on purpose. The professor seems to have a general misanthropic cast, coupled with a folksy arsenal that would rival Pat White. She is probably tottering on the very edges of sanity, or so it appears, and lacks greatly in demeanor, and in her failure to keep us straight with her other classes, which is particularly problematic when she expects us to know material, or have homework prepared, that she never told us about. I am determined to get something out of that class regardless.

My classmates are an interesting lot. I sit next to a woman in her mid thirties, whose children are all but grown, and who is studying to be a kindergarten teacher (I think I successfully veiled the hard light which kindled in my eyes when she said this). She seems nice enough, but she also lets it show that she feels that she is more experienced and world wise than the rest of us; there is some definite conceit there, and she does not hide it so well as I hide mine. The guy behind me is an ex-army loudmouth, who says something off color each class-period, without fail. He is studying to be an anthropologist, but does not appear to have a high opinion of Muslims or black people: someone should tell him that anthropology has changed in the last century. He is charming enough when he is not being ein Depp. He might just survive if he does not open his big mouth around his professors. He sits next to cute-but-not-so-bright-guy, who is clearly into cute-but-not-so-bright-girl; they would make an excellent couple. Guy in the Corner is well spoken and apparently well read, but a total math-phobe; I will probably end up helping him. Dumb-blonde sits in front of me and asks the most inane questions. Tennis-girl appears to be a real human being, so won't get described here.

Ottoman History--see also, The Bernd Fischer Show--is taught by the dryly humorous and rather charismatic ex-Chair of the History Department. His deportment is excellent, and his jokes are almost as funny as he thinks they are. His refusal to move away from the old lamp projectors is almost endearing. His minute knowledge of centuries of history across a great part of the Earth and recorded time is near over-awing. The subtext of the class is the chaos which prevails in the remnants of the Ottoman Empire; the last dark--and totally accidental--legacy. He is a god amongst insects, or so he has given us to understand: a big deal in his own right. And in case we wondered who the insects were, here is the reading list and the writing assignments.

Ottoman history draws a different set than American history does. Amen. I am sitting in one of the most socially awkward and eclectic classes I have ever been in. Medieval history buffs with gen ed students with African Studies students with people studying Islam. I guess this means more to me, having been in contact with people from each of these areas before, but it is funnier than you would think. First: the quality of history student dropped after last semester. Our Senior Seminar class was twice the usual size, and many of us genuinely kicked ass...in the sense that a historian ever does. It was a high powered senior-class that left, and there is a little bit of a vacuum. The history students I have in the present class--at least a few that I know of--had to take the writing intensive  multiple times, because it whooped on them royally. A handful dropped this class after the first week. Some of the people I do not recognize. Either they are not history majors, or have not been significant enough to pop-up on my radar. Judging from some of the questions asked in the class, there are people who have not done any of the reading, and I expect them to be gone too, at least once the reality of the workload hits. First exam? First ten page paper? It will hit. There are people in the class I wouldn't mind talking to, but there are also people who like to chatter at me--'chatter' being operative word--so I make sure to arrive just moments before His Eminence.

German Culture and Folklore are both taught by Lee, who is pretty good. He has a penchant for going on tangents, which is alright, except that he has a tendency to go on tangents into things that I already know, and to spend valuable time on a favourite point. He also lacks his wife's instinctive ability to get to the heart of a question, or--better still--to the heart of what a student is asking. Lee can dance around it for 15 minutes and still not get there, meanwhile there will be two or three students who clearly get the gist of what the student is trying to ask, but who do not want to cut Lee off. Lee is intelligent, thoughtful, and generally kind, but he has an ego, and does not like it over well when it is pointed out that he is missing something. You must lead him to it. That said, he is an excellent teacher of the material, and has the talent--if not of answering questions succinctly--of asking really meaty questions. I enjoy his classes without exception, I just think he has some room for growth left.

 The Content of the classes is good. The culture course is pretty basic and deals with the basics of German society and life: economics, education, and the like. The side goal of the course, as with every class Lee teaches, is to get us talking as much as humanly possible. All activities and homework is geared toward this as much, or more, than imparting permanent knowledge about Germany to us. The Folklore class is more interesting. We are examining the idea of what is "German" starting with Tacitus description of the Germanic tribes, and going right through German nationalism. This is a fusion of Folklore, bound together with Lee's personal specialization, so I think it should be excellent.

My German classmates are amazing. I don't think that much more need be said. I have an ego too, and I can sit in these groups and feel among equals, and in some cases betters.

ILCS300 Methods of Criticism was my wild card. It was required, but I was not really looking forward to it. Three weeks in, I am fairly certain that it will be my favourite class of the semester. It should have been termed ILCS300 Masters of Sophistry. We are studying literary criticism, which is always conflicted, never settled, and somewhat fascinating. The first thing we did was to lampoon silly outmoded things like "fixed meaning" and "truth," which can only exist if there are unchangeables and unchangings, which simply do not exist: hermeneutics and exegetical studies are outmoded and simply jejune. I saw this coming, so I was not exactly dismayed, but I play along and enjoy the game of it, finding the contradictions and asking the questions that each successive approach cannot answer. They should give up and accept the Lord Jesus as their personal Saviour; then, at least, we could allow that there could ever be a definitive answer. But, alas, part of the point is anti-theological in the first place, so oh well.

Really though. Sophistries is my favourite game. The more complex, the more ridiculous, the more lost everyone gets, the giddier, the more energetic I find myself in class. We stare into the abyss, into this morass of self-important and arbitrary noise, and we smile at the twistedness, the contortions, the false distinctions, and the inconsistencies: I smile at them, because I can see what the author wants me to see, but also see the problems therein, and further still see that there are many around me who take what the author wants them to see as gospel. I am not so prone to this as I once was; it comes from losing perspective.

Did I tell you about the time I almost thought I had tones of Marxism in my personal philosophy? It came right on the heals of reading Marx: powerful words, fine words. Much of what Marx says has a ring of truth because he is addressing very real problems with the world. The problem, when reading Marx, is that one should never forget that he believed in the perfectibility of human nature, and that it was central to his model for creating a better world. Human beings, in his version of the world, are basically decent, but corrupted by the artificial forms and mores of civilization. It took me a solid week of serious walks to get everything hammered out, but at the end I had realized that, though much of what Marx said sounded good, it was all based off of a fantastical world where people were basically good. A lovely edifice on a rotten foundation. Since then, I have been much more careful to examine the principals behind the fine words I read. I am not perfect at this art, but I am getting better.

The greatest joy comes with working with my classmates. Some of them buy the whole thing. Completely. Others remain skeptical. In either case, this group--made up entirely of foreign language students, goes about muddling through these things enthusiastically. I have never been in a class where group participation was so strong. Even among the skeptics, they play the game along with and turn out some really bright and interesting ideas. Sitting to my left are Danyelle, Sarah, and Scary Carol Watson, French majors all, good feminists, and true believers in the gospel of literary criticism. They are all intelligent, but sometimes too eager to be perceived as intellectuals, aligning themselves with each edgy idea as it comes, sometimes obviously before they have actually grasped it in its exactitude. To my right sits Communist Kyle, whom I respect. He understands all, or most, of the content as we receive it and is in competition with me for class Streber. He is able to take each idea as it comes, apply it, test it, and to his enormous credit, challenge it. He is aggressive and immoderate in his personal and political opinions, but he thinks on a high level, so we'll look past that.

Turko-German chick--to my shame, I simply cannot remember her name right now--is the other German speaker in the class. She speaks five languages and strikes me as being a genuinely decent person. Everyone in there is polite, but she is one of those people who actually seems to care.Morgan and Tall French student sit in front of Kyle; they are quiet and clever, probably come from Bourgeois parents, and one could never guess whether they buy it or not. There are other characters, but those are the ones nearest me, and probably those most important to the classroom. Kyle and I make up the backbone of the class: when things go off track, eventually the professor relents and just lets one of us talk. Carol is opinionated and willing to talk; she occasionally misses the mark, but has a lot of substance and value to say.  TGC talks, but has too much range of knowledge and interest, and therefore tends to go tangential. I think those four are the people that all 20 odd persons in the room would know by name and sight.

Getting to the professor: he is remarkable. His delivery is clear, fun, and effective. He explains things simply and elegantly, without needing to dumb them down. He is enthusiastic. He loves the topic, and it is infectious. I am more impressed with him, as a lecturer, than I am with anyone else this semester...he is on a level with maybe only one or two others. Stephen Buttes, Spanish. I regret that I did not get to take more of his classes. Oh well.

The other change that I have undergone is my total lack of anxiety over grades, deadlines, or class loads. Spring semester was it: my trial by fire, my crucible, my leap of faith. After making it through last semester without a scratch, I feel a kind of study zen going into this somewhat lighter load. In addition, graduation is in sight, and there are more serious things looming on the horizon. Job searches, apartment hunting, and possibly grad-school are not so terribly far off. I am almost done with school, so I will have time to concentrate on the concrete world. There are times that I have felt like school was an impediment to my growth as a human being and a man, and I still feel that way at times. I go through my classes this year as a formality; I already have the tools, and anything they throw at me will not prove a new or daunting challenge. I gain more knowledge, yes. But that is something I could also do on my own. I have been taught the skills necessary to acquire the knowledge; that was the challenge.

Now I am ready for new challenges, whatever they may be, and my gut says I need to stop putzing around and start looking at finding grown-up work. I think that will have to be the first item on the agenda. Anything to escape this feeling of being in neutral...it is feelings like these that drive better men than me to join the Army.

2 comments:

  1. Haha, just got done with my morning run friend, and as I read on and on I started thinking (Now Patrick don't do anything stupid, you will be more use to your country outside the military). I am glad you have some mechanism inside you that keeps you (for the most part) from doing stupid things. I always feel like I get so much more information reading this blog then I do talking to you, but it is not nearly as delightful. Hope to catch up with you soon my friend.
    Cheers

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  2. "Apartment hunting"? APARTMENT HUNTING?!

    Let me let you in on a little secret: apartments suck.

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