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This Week:
Volume 25 Issue 37 - 2017-09-22

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Fly on the Wall
Brick & Mortar Domestication


Jason Sullivan
Volume 25 Issue 37 2017-09-22

Studying on a summer day is not everyoneís glass of ice tea. We at AU may be elite at managing our time, but July heat can drive a wall between our studious desires to further our education and our carnal drives to go out and play. At such moments, itís helpful to reflect on the visceral struggles facing traditional post-secondary students, immured as they are in brick and mortar fortresses posing as ivory towers of higher learning. Whereas we at AU are free to range and make almost any place our classroom, ordinary students must promptly appear and attend to the expectations of time and place set out by their institutions and their professors. In this sense, education entails a form of domestication. While we at AU face the task of training ourselves into regimes of success, we at least are masters of our methods.

Bringing underlings to heel is nothing new in hierarchic settings such as schools. Domesticating his nobility, who each considered themselves lords over their own private domain, was the stated goal of Louis XIV when he built the Palace of Versailles (Western Civilization, online). Aristocrats were expected to visit Court each winter and often attended to all manner of the Kings, er, whims. "They did gardening work, served at the kingís table, and even emptied the kingís chamber pot (potty) to get the kingís ear and earn royal favors" (lisahistory, online). Now, one might protest at a comparison between the demanding guidance and tutelage of a classroom professor (or AU tutor!) and the dutiful scrubbing of a monarchís bedpan, but the fact remains: to achieve "patronage", subordinates had to tow their sovereignís line (lisahistory, online).

In classrooms, we often must learn to appease the private yarns or public aims of professors in a way that greatly exceeds the expectations placed on us by our AU tutors. In the first place, tutors are there to advise and mark rather than to conscript us into their ideological or pedagogical regimes. Compare your average experience of note-taking with this horror story published at McGill University in Montreal:
"Instructorsí justifications for banning laptops in classrooms are almost always of the following variety: thereís research that shows students who take manual notes perform better academically, and students use their laptops for purposes other than note-taking, which is distracting to other students. Or, in translation: "Iím going to use my position of power as the instructor of your course to make paternalistic decisions for you, an adult, because I donít trust you to use a laptop responsibly...I had to run to a library immediately after a lecture to type up my illegible handwritten notes-a complete waste of time that did no aid my learning in the slightest." (Khoshroshahy, online).

What crap, right? Uncomfortable as it is to write an essay on a luxuriant summer afternoon with countless pleasurable options in the offing, at AU we at least decide how to take notes, and how many times to check our social media accounts while doing so. No wonder professors can resonate as monarchs needing diapers; the diarrhoea of their long-winded lectures can be, at times, a fair match for the flow abiding in a royal hall.

Seriously, though, I have had some wonderful professors in classrooms and they have enriched my life. And others who, well, pushed interested students away from disciplines like philosophy or sociology because their dissertations involved soporific delivery, hyperbolic screeds, or both. Dan Denesiuk, a Masterís graduate as of last week at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, told me that, in his view "25% didnít add anything beyond slides" to the lectures their students attended in class (Denesiuk, personal communication June 2017). Now, having to be in a certain place at a certain time is domestication enough. But realizing that, instead of sitting in a stuffy classroom you could have observed the very same PowerPoint presentation under the shadiest of trees on the softest of grass has got to take the ice-cream cake. No wonder brick and mortar schooling occurs over winter; itís cold enough outside to make attending indoor classes seem a plausible invitation.

Brick and mortar professors make the classroom their domain, and not always to benefit of students. Some will hand out notes before class while others post the notes online and still others expect students to sit and take notes as the lecture is being given. Having experienced all three methods with success I can say that for me the latter method required the most study after the fact, simply because handwriting takes longer than typing. However, as Denesiuk, notes, there is something especially effective about handwriting when it comes to retaining information. This has been discussed by one of the most prominent philosophers of the 20th Century: Martin Heidegger. Known for a propensity to chase his own tail on subjects such as the nature of our being as humans, Heidegger understood what it is to be enveloped by a subject and feel its percolation by a sort of intellectual osmosis. We just have to be open-minded in a way that suits us. Technology, and as AU students online delivery is the technological essence of our scholastic schemata, is central here. Heidegger wrote that:
"when writing was withdrawn from the origin of its essence, ie from the hand, and was transferred to the machine, a transformation occurred in the relation of Being to man...It is no accident that the printing press coincides with the inception of the modern period...In the typewriter we find the irruption of the mechanism in the realm of the word..." (Heidegger, P. 85)

At AU, we benefit from computer technology while still choosing how to absorb the actual material. Intermediary professor egos are absent, such that we can directly touch the topic; there is one less barrier between us and the object of our study. Whether you prefer cutting and pasting from a pdf or writing in the margins of a paper textbook, the relation of hand to material is one we choose for ourselves. Without this direct visceral contact, we arenít reading as actively, and may have to reread or reabsorb material. In this way, taking classroom notes but having to later revisit them, in a sense, reduces us to the level of machines.

As the saying goes, an infinite number of monkeys typing would eventually type the complete works of Shakespeare (Collins, online). Maybe so, but we arenít monkeys, and we deserve better than to be domesticated for some professorís pet project. One great thing about AU is that we arenít reduced to a state of servility. We may miss out on summer fun as we take courses but at least we choose where our scholarly minds are caged.

References

  • Collins, N. (2011). Monkeys at Typewriters íClose to Reproducing Shakespeareí. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/8789894/Monkeys-at-typewriters-close-to-reproducing-Shakespeare.html
  • Denesiuk, D. (2017). Personal Communication, June 2017.
  • Heidegger, M. íParmenidesí Trans. Andre Shuwer & Richard Rojcewicz. (2009). Indiana University Press.
  • Khosroshahy, P. (2015). Students Needs Over Professorís Egos. Retrieved from http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2015/10/students-needs-over-professors-egos/.
  • Western Civilization: 17th Century Politics and Culture. Lisahistory.net. Retrieved from http://lisahistory.net/hist104/pw/lectures/17thc/1absolutism.htm


  • Jason Hazel-rah Sullivan is a Masters of Integrated Studies student who loves engaging in discourse while working in the sunny orchards and forests of the Okanagan.

     

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