Two down, two to go. As academe is wont to do, the most difficult is saved for the end. Sleep deprivation, the mind a jumbled collection of disparate ideas, unable to neatly categorize that which must be regurgitated logically, concisely, and accurately. It is true.......the brain needs time to digest, just like the stomach. As your mother taught you not to go swimming right after that delicious lunch on the beach, fearing a cramp, so is it inadvisable to go to an exam directly after cramming. I fear a major brain cramp. Ohhhh......woe is me!
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Time waits for no student, and so it is for this newest member of the hampster wheel. Mercifully, most of my exams are not cumulative, but, still, the volume of material covered since mid-terms, in late February, is staggering.
From being expected to remember footnotes in books, and the when, where, and why thereof, to sweeping questions like the Fall of the Roman Empire and precise execution of the union of functions that are irrational, it is a stressful time for mind and body.
And, for the first time, I get the mind and body thing. Both need rest, and more importantly, exercise. The brain is in pretty good shape, but the body is going to need a lot of attention soon. So, another lesson learned: it's all about balance and harmony. Keep the mind and body fit, and both will work at high levels for extended periods of time.
Maybe I can get the balance thing figured out in time for next semester.
Posted by Agricola at 11:58 AM
Monday, April 23, 2007
Classes are over! Exams are next! Then, 10 glorious days of rest, relaxation, golf, and re-familiarization with my wife before we start all over again.
In honor of the occasion, a little Hamlet:
What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more.
Sure he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and godlike reason
To fust in us unus'd (4.5.35-41).
Hamlet didn't have to write two papers in one weekend, and then study for some difficult exams.
Posted by Agricola at 2:21 PM
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Writing the Hamlet paper. As I think about, and try to put into my words, Hamlet's lamentation of his condition, Merle Haggard sings softly in the background.
I have of late - but wherefore I know not, - lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and, indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory....
What a piece of work is Man...
And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me...
Says Merle Haggard:
Wishing all these old things were new...
Ahhh, the human condition.
Posted by Agricola at 5:35 PM
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Today was the last day of classes for all the Tuesday/Thursday courses. Monday is the last day for the rest. Exams start next Wednesday. Still have two big papers due Monday, hopefully without that all-night nonsense of a few weeks ago, and then the final blast of studying for exams.
You might be asking how I feel. The answer is tired, stressed, mildly confident, and ready to move on. The acquired study habits, and the practice of same over the last 12 weeks, the restoration of the long-term memory and rehabilitation of the short-term memory, plus the knowledge that I have mastered the material of this semester all give me a comfortable sense that I can get through the next 10 days. But it is not about getting through. It is the challenge of maintaining the best possible grades; holding on to the value of the work already committed to the process.
And I'm gonna hold on......
As the late, great Jim Morrison said: "Break on through to the other side".
Posted by Agricola at 3:40 PM
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
On nice mornings, with coffee mug in hand, I like to sit in the common area of our classroom building before class starts. Today, I sat and watched the college chapter of Habitat for Humanity set up their booth to sell T-shirts to support their efforts in rebuilding homes in New Orleans. As I got up to go to class, one of the students offered me a "reload", which I gratefully accepted. A brief conversation ensued, I was delighted to be communicating with another student. He told me how terrible New Orleans was, and is, and that maybe the city would yet again be inundated by another hurricane. I chimed in and started to tell him the the story of St. Genvieve and the flood in 1993. He let me ramble for a minute with a look of puzzlement on his face, and finally said:
"Dude, I was like six years old then!"
I guess I forgot how old I am............
Posted by Agricola at 10:03 AM
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
We've rounded the headland, and have our destination in sight. Between we students and Summer lie the perilous seas of EXAMS. Most of us are aware of the dangers and have begun to take the necessary steps to navigate the reefs. One of the most important steps is finishing the papers that are due on the last day of class. The library at my school is thronged with faces that I, a regular habitue' of the facility, have not seen this semester. Which reminds me of a story that I heard recently, told to me directly by another student that was present at the moment.
At a prestigious university many miles from our humble academe, where the student body hails from all points of the compass and all corners of the globe, my source, also a diligent denizen of her library, overheard this comment from the group of Asian-American students that she regularly sees in the study area adjacent to her regular spot: "Must be close to exam time....all the white boys are starting to show up".
It is apparently a universal law of the college experience.........
Posted by Agricola at 7:42 PM
Monday, April 16, 2007
From the Analects:
The Master said:
He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn toward it.
If the people be led by laws, and uniformity sought to be given them by punishments, they will try to avoid the punishment, but have no sense of shame.
If they be led by virtue, and uniformity sought to be given them by the rules of propriety, they will have the sense of shame and moreover will become good.
Posted by Agricola at 9:01 PM
Friday, April 13, 2007
Grades. Are they the measuring stick of academic achievement? By most accounts, potential employers, graduate school admissions committees, and even the school of your major care immensely about the quantification of your achievement. Here's a link to an article by a professor that scares me witless:
I fall squarely on the mastery spot. To me, effort and results, as measured against the expectations of the professor, should be the only factors, with results far outweighing effort. How many times have I heard, in the business world, "I don't care about effort, I only care about results!" Results should count.......not my position on an arbitrarily imposed curve that meets the expectations of the department chair. Give me, Professor, your expectations at the start of the semester, measure my performance against those expectations during the term, and give me a final evaluation before I can be promoted. That's life in the real world, and that's what we studnets ought to be learning in the academic world.
I'm just back from a committee meeting at which the subject of grades and grade distributions came up, and it became clear to me that academics (even at the same institution, even in the same field) have wildly different philosophies about just what grades ought to mean.
There are the normal-distribution folks, who think grades ought to convey how you are doing relative to the other people taking the class. The average grade is a C, no matter whether that average corresponds to demonstrating coompetence on 40% of the content or 90% of the content. The grade you get is dependent on how many standard deviations above or below the mean you are. (It should be mentioned that there are universities -- including some with very high tuitions -- where the mean is more like a B than a C, but where the general approach is still a normal-distribution approach.)
Then there are the grading-on-mastery folks, who use grades to identify how well you have mastered the material. An "A" paper will be one where you've mastered almost all of the material, while an "F" paper is one where you show little to no mastery of the material. Folks who approach grading this way often have nice rubrics that will spell out the virtues an "A" paper must instantiate, those that a "B" paper must instantiate, and so on.
Posted by Agricola at 1:59 PM
Sunday, April 8, 2007
Thursday, April 5, 2007
College is really a wonderful experience. It's more than simply being surrounded by youth, excitement, and the swirl of many ideas. It's also the unexpected encounters with knowledge or information. For us adults, without being consciously aware of it, these kinds of encounters seem to find us with less and lessfrequency. For me, these moments are like shocks of energy that carry me back in time, and remind me of when so much was new and unknown.
The start of class, with the news that we will be watching a video. Up late the night before, working on TTPTCNBF*, I was prepared to fight the nods of sleep deprivation. The orthodox church in communist Romania? Huh?
Until the part where the old woman, via translator, is telling our host about the lovely, Romanov-like Easter eggs she is painting. They really do look remarkable, even on the 30 year old tape. She says that the decoration of Easter eggs is an old Orthodox tradition, based on the story of the death of Jesus. On the cross, Christ was lanced by the Roman centurion. His blood ran down his body and fell to the ground where it spattered a basket of eggs that a bystander had put down to watch the Crucifixion. The bloody eggs were immediately taken as a sign by His followers, and the celebration of the Resurrection calls for the ritual dying eggs to resemble the eggs spattered on Golgotha those many years ago.
Who knew that the Easter Egg Hunt that brings such pleasure to children and their parents is such an important symbol of the Resurrection? Not me.
*The Term Paper That Cannot Be Finished
Posted by Agricola at 4:15 PM
People over the age of, say, 35 might remember the t-v ad that asked the question in the title. Perhaps the spot was produced in an effort to scare parents into keeping a closer eye on their little ones. If so, it certainly has spawned an entire generation of local news anchors who can't seem to resist the urge to hype the latest "compelling" story that only serves to further terrify the public. But that's another post.
This post is about my early adventures on FaceBook. Having been prodded by my professor and classmates to join, I dutifully logged in and supplied the necessary info. Gaining access was like being transported to an alternative universe, one where everybody is 19, where everyone is your friend, and there's always someone to talk to. This is, for my generation, akin to the neighborhood bar that never closed, where you could always find a willing listener and an escape from whatever problem was keeping you awake.
Last night, while working into the wee hours on the term paper that could not be finished, with my Google home page up-front and my i-tunes radio pumping "study music", my train of thought (aka the BS factory) was interrupted by the pleasant "beep" of my gmail notifier. Guess what? A friend was online, and nosing around my FaceBook account and leaving a message. Just a minute later, another beep. Another friend. All this at Midnight. Soon, I was having two chats with two different people, in two different locations. Investigation today with my Y-generation spy/mentor revealed that the late night is prime FaceBook time. Who knew?
I guess the lesson is that Mom and Dad don't have to worry too much about Jane or Jack. They're in their bedroom, safe and sound, talking to the universe about everything under the sun, while you sleep the sleep of the uninformed.
Which is, I suppose, safer than their crawling out of the second story window, jumping to the ground, and marching into the darkness with whomever.
Posted by Agricola at 3:33 PM
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
A short break to contemplate the wisdom of some words heard today in class. As I examine Taoism in the term paper that cannot be finished, it is entirely appropriate that an answer heard in class today captures the essence of the Tao.......
Professor: "Who can tell me something about William Shakespeare?"
LB: "He was good at what he did."
Posted by Agricola at 5:51 PM
Monday, April 2, 2007
We happy few, we band of students, can see the end of this semester's struggle. Between us and a much needed respite lie terms papers, cumulative essays, and, FINAL EXAMS. What had started as a trickle of information masquerading as a stream of information has turned into a raging torrent of reading, thinking, writing, and reviewing. It seems, to this student rookie, that the entire semester has steadily risen in intensity and urgency.
Two major hurdles this week, followed by two more next week. This is what we signed up for, this challenge of succeeding in academe.
Posted by Agricola at 6:38 AM