on putting essays out there and silent classrooms at institutions of higher education

by art3mis

playing on art3mis.fm - i always wanna die (sometimes)

on putting essays out there

hello, internet. it's me, art3mis.

so, two years later, i'm back! i realized that i want to take advantage of basically having an online record that other people can access. i write a lot for myself (mostly in the notes app), and i've thought a lot about putting stuff out there. it's not about having people read it (other than my friends, if they feel so inclined) but more about the idea of publishing something; i want to feel that this body of work is being stored and put together for me to one day look back on, and think hey, this was contributed to the world, even it was useless.

i think i'm going to start with essays that i'm proud of, and maybe eventually move on to other stuff that i've written for myself.

on silent classrooms at institutions of higher education

i'm at university now! i wanted to go to this school for a very long time, but i'll be honest and say that it's not at all what i expected, in good ways and bad. i'm in the engineering program, which has a much different curriculum from the rest of the school, and i have mixed feelings about this. obviously, i'm studying computer science, but as someone who still cares a lot about art and reading and history, it's strange having to push against the intense course requirements to be able to take classes in the humanities, and be the only one out of my engineering-student friends who cares about books or writing.

there's an extremely famous literature class at my school that is only required for non-engineering students. to me, it seemed like a no-brainer to sign up for this class as a freshman, but to my fellow freshmen, engineers or not, this is shocking. the idea that an engineer would voluntarily choose to pick up a book is apparently unheard of. my engineer friends all feign disgust when asked if they would want to take an english class, and there's a not-so-insignificant communal feeling of superiority above english or ancient studies majors.

i've known this school as a bastion of academia and the hallowed campus of interdisciplinary study; yet actually being here, it seems like that doesn't apply at all to the majority of the students here, because they are in majors that are the so-called exceptions: economics, political science, or computer science. apparently, wanting to take this accepted path to success means that all your courses, and life choices in college, must be pre-professional. to my uchicago friend: i envy you.

i guess i'm wondering why computer science students at this institution all fit in this google/microsoft/nvidia pipeline, and have no interest in other fields. i'm sure a good portion of this is because of economic motivations, but the lack of demonstrated interest in any fields of music, design, etc. is...perplexing.

and even in these humanities courses, the room is silent! i'm the only engineering student in this section of the literature course, and yet i find myself leading the socratic-style conversation most of the time! why pay over $60,000 (if you're not on financial aid) to miss out on these moments of learning, these final fruits of academia before graduating into the real world of cubicles and staff meetings?

i just read an article in the undergraduate magazine of my university about "pedagogy of the privileged"1 that discusses the silent classroom problem. most of the classes here follow the socratic method, yet the author points out that this isn't actually effective. although the author describes how these kinds of student-voiced teaching methods came out of the anti-oppression movement to allow minority voices to feel empowered in the classroom, she argues that at least at our school, students don't feel motivated to speak because they aren't actually learning the material because the teacher isn't teaching it. they're lacking a framework for class discussions and concrete theory for participation to jump off from.

while i agree with much of this essay, i do think that there's also a significant problem here with students simply not caring enough. in a literature class where the idea is not necessarily to apply specific theories or a framework, but rather to make connections across works and just practice thinking and speaking critically about texts, much of the burden is on the student. by burden, i do just mean 1) doing the readings before class, which yes they are 200 pages but it's not that bad really 2) showing up to class and 3) opening and closing your mouth while producing sound to do that funny thing called talking. do i sound frustrated? huh.

it's the peer pressure thing. students don't want to talk too much because they don't want to be the only one. i personally feel much more empowered to participate when everyone else is, too. but where does this fear come from? it's the fact that caring about books, and caring about art, isn't respected here. and that's sad.

a friend of mine who also studies computer science told me recently that he was inspired by my choice to take this literature class, and will also be taking it next semester. i was excited to hear that he would be reading these books too, and that we could talk about some of them as he takes the course; that was, until he told me that he didn't actually plan on reading the books, just reading the sparknotes and showing up to class to hear what the teacher had to say about them so he could basically get the "top 10 most famous scenes" out of the syllabus. damn.

this is symptomatic of the same trend that was around while montaigne wrote his essais; people read so that they can espouse quotes, make references to famous scenes, or understand what people mean when they say, "that's just like plato!"

what i'm advocating for (no, not a bookclub for engineers) is people in tech and engineering to open themselves up to the idea of having multiple interests, of being motivated by things other than money, and of recognizing that things can actually make you more unique in your field. i recognize that this is a somewhat privileged take, and maybe at your university this isn't the way things are--but i'm simply suggesting that maybe the generation that will be developing future technology have an interest in philosophy, so they can make ethical and well-thought-out machines, or english, so they can write about their research well and articulately, or art, so they can design things efficiently and beautifully. and so that areas like history and art and music don't die out behind us, because we need tech to keep them alive.

that's all, folks. as always, feel free to email me your thoughts.

<3 art3mis

1i'm choosing not the put a citation for this source because i'd like to make it somewhat difficult for angry people that i beat on chess.com to find my school, and therefore me (as i've been warned to do by a friend, who is in fact the kind of person that stalks people who beat him in chess). but obviously, with the information i've provided, it's not difficult to find the document if you'd really like. please feel free to email me if you'd like me to provide the essay.