Tuesday, April 19, 2011

schol-fucking

[This was a partial from a week ago]

So, things have been slow-going on the blog. There are wide-gaps in-between posts, nowadays -- directly due to the all-consuming process of being a "good" student. And being a good student, from what I've experienced, is in how you plan your strategy. I'm finding that there isn't necessarily a correlation between being intelligent and having a good gpa; you just have to know how to play the game well. Welcome to the academy.

I will put it out front: I have been feeling a bit burned out as of late. My last term consisted of hard classes with the requisite deadlines, as per usual. But I also had essays, packages to mail, money orders to place, questionnaires to fill out, professors to pester about multiple recommendation letters, and general tidying up of loose ends for my study abroad program to Japan. In this process, I have been dealing with severely incompetent departments who can't seem to get their shit straight. Furthermore, the attitude on their part is kind of "oh well,...it's still your responsibility," while they enforce strict deadlines for submissions. There is a serious lack of reciprocal respect, and this has been kind of getting under my skin. The onus is on the student to prioritize, commit, take responsibility for their actions, as well as understand that these departments receiving applications and materials are 'very busy.' This mentality would explain why I've gone long periods without email responses from department heads when I've inquired about crucial details of the application process. This is not exclusively a PSU thing: the department I am primarily dealing with is the Oregon University System, down at Oregon State University. Maybe this is an Oregon thing.

I could go into more detail, but I will spare you. My point being that it's really the lack of respect that has been shown that bothers me. Professors, too, typically have this attitude of being 'too busy' to bother or to deal. This is, of course, due to their own time-constraints placed on them by the institutions, I know. However, it sometimes feels like they forget that students pay a hefty price for the college experience, especially university, and part of that experience includes time with, and guidance from, professors. And furthermore I'm not sure why I should care that they are too busy writing their book to take some time to teach a decent class.

This is a somewhat unrelated tangent, because my professors have been, largely, pretty good, but the relationships I've observed between fawning student and professor are pretty annoying. Even the professors I've enjoyed have sometimes exhibited the cliched elitism and condescension associated with academics. It's strange to think that there are probably many students who believe triangulation is not required in getting at the  truth. My daddy says so, and now my professor says so, and society says so, and so it is so. In a class I am taking right now, it is a graduate student/professor style of class, where the graduate student mostly teaches the course while the professor makes appearances to give authority to lectures. On the first session, the TA helped with all the map-rigging, passing out of papers, and making sure professor's jacket was put away and needs were met. On our third class session, the TA had some papers on the 'pulpit' (or whatever you would call the wood structure where professors sometimes lecture from) as the professor made his way over to it to start the lecture. Since I was up front, I overheard the professor say to the TA, who was gathering his papers and apologizing for the scatter, "you know," as he pointed to the mess, "you really shouldn't do that." Jesus Christ, really? You can't appreciate that this guy already acknowledges his "messy" papers? Oh, are you gonna give him a lecture in being tidy and organized, later? The quietly-strained tension between professor and student hints at what maybe goes on in back rooms.

It's a slightly embarrassing situation, actually: a fast-talking, nervous graduate student practicing to be a teacher babbles on without fully knowing the content of the material, while the guy who should be teaching us is busy going to seminars and other colleges, where he mingles with colleagues. Also, the TA has a way of agreeing too much with everybody's comments, which then makes the whole thing kinda seem arbitrary. Nice enough fellow, this TA, but this isn't a fucking charitable experience: we pay for this shit. If these kind of classes were listed under, I don't know, "experimental pedagogy," and at a discounted rate, they could be excused.

If I were younger, maybe, I might adopt or accept the professor/lackey relationship, but I don't, exactly. I learned my lesson in kitchens, where it is more or less required to have unquestioning faith in the chef you work for. That ended up with disastrous consequences (a separate post, really). From professors, I get what I need, but always try to remain clear about what I'm receiving. American academics tend to be consensus-takers rather than bold thinkers, typically promoting the rather homogenous "critical-thinking" college-meme that, paradoxically, seems to blur rather than distinguish. [Hard to explain, but it seems like academics are always playing "catch-up" to the new ground that others are breaking, rather than the reverse.] In other words, I don't feel a need to worship at the feet of someone who, in some ways, merely regurgitates a methodical, and very mechanical, process of thinking. Much of the time the "angle" can be anticipated, and most of the time it's not reinforced with a convincing argument. There is something rather strange about institutionalized critical thinking, or really to the point: critical thinking linked with consensus. It would be more interesting to hear the private thoughts of these professors and academics, and to see which of them have honest criticisms about the institutions they work at.

[This is from this morning]

I had thought about leaving the above as a draft, but I decided, why not? I'm still roughly feeling this way. Last night's class, of which I had mentioned above, was much like last week's. Professor comes in to lecture for about forty-five minutes, then hands it over to the Graduate student. We then spend about two hours listening to lecture, then participating in a mind-numbing group activity.

I would be curious to know if other universities promote group-work as much as PSU does. This seems to be their hallmark, or something; with professors always citing some statistic that shows that students actually do benefit from it, whether the student knows it or not. What it really seems to be is a little breather for the professor, and a pointless exercise in tolerance for the students. It also promotes bad study-patterns, from what I can tell. Many classes and exercises in academia seem to gear students to think quickly on their feet. I sort of translate that to mean snap-judgments. Group deconstruction of texts in fifteen minutes is very common, encouraging students to think about texts without the larger context. This happened a lot in an English class I had, where the instructor consciously tried to prevent the historical context, of which the plays were written in, to be known. Therefore, a more pure or "gut-feeling" filter could be used in deconstruction. Essentially, she wanted the plays to be treated first and foremost as art. The problem is that without historical context the reader is forced to rely only on their limited contemporary knowledge while attempting to make judgments and decisions on literature that was written sometimes hundreds of years before them. What's the point? Why make the judgments prematurely? Why not acquaint oneself with content and context, then start to critique?

This happened in some of my history classes, too. The lists of books assigned were enormous, with even the professor understanding that it was probably not a feasible amount to read, let alone absorb. I was even encouraged to skim. Therefore, a very scattered and incomplete picture of events may have embedded themselves into my brain. Apparently, this is common. I still think it's a problem though, especially for anyone who is pursuing a future in academia. Deadlines, skimmed books, partial-information retention, stress,...now begin to formulate a thesis and an argument. A sloppy basis for actual intellectual work, I feel. That might seem dramatic, but you know -- sometimes these people are listened to.

My brain is going numb.

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