28 December 2010

Thoughts on "The Boys of Summer"

I'm entrenched in Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer right now and something he said rang true with regards to my work this past semester on the state of American higher education.

"All the NYU Bronx campus lacked was a balanced curriculum, an intellectual climate and girls. IT was not a college, but an anticollege. It was not a place of learning but a theater of memorization. It was an institution where students regarded Lear's catastrophe as insignificant unless it was worth eight points on an exam." (47-48)

Sounds familiar...

"'What do you want to do?'"

I paused. Dr. Jones looked like someone to trust. 'Well, sir, I believe I'd like to be a writer.'

'A writer!' Dr. Jones spoke so loudly that I blushed. 'Then what on earth are you doing at a place like this?'" (48)

Kahn, Roger. The Boys of Summer. New York: Perennial Library, 1987. Print.
Now playing: Muse - MK Ultra
via FoxyTunes

25 December 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

Blah blah blah Dodgers blah blah blah no left fielder blah blah Ned sucks blah blah Eugenio Velez... really? blah blah blah.

23 December 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy, the current flavor of the week among popular literature, is everywhere. While the three books have already been adapted into hit Swedish movies, Hollywood has already drafted David Fincher of The Social Network and Fight Club fame to direct red-blooded American adaptations.

As for the book, it was certainly a satisfying read. It's paced very methodically and Larsson reveals the story's dark secrets like an onion - layer by layer by layer. I was disappointed that thematically it wasn't deeper and that one of our main protagonists, Mikael Blomkvist, doesn't develop more of a character in the 400-ish pages we spend with him.

But although we're lacking in the meat department, Dragon Tatoo's skeleton is as sturdy as any other. You get those great moments where your neck tingles and you can't put the thing down. You can tell why the book is as famous as it is - it's got a riveting story that blows the Dan Browns and Michael Crichtons of the world out of the water. It's not a difficult read and the public loves accessibility.

I'll follow the trilogy and pick up the next book soon. It's a worthwhile read, but it's certainly not a breakthrough or anything like that.

I give it 6 Vonneguts out of 10.

16 December 2010

Teaching Philosophy

This was an assignment I just turned in as part of my portfolio for my Theory of Teaching Writing and Reading course. I'm always pleased to have an opportunity to use the word Pedagogy. I wrote a 13-page paper on my strategies for fixing higher education. I'll spare you that, but I turned it in with an ailing fear that I may be a Fascist.

Robert Montenegro
English 565
Teaching Philosophy

I believe the freshman composition class, often the first academic experience to which new students are exposed, sets a tone for what the University will expect of them over the next four years. It is my duty as teacher to establish that tone and make sure students acquire the mental ammunition necessary to succeed as academics. That this hefty responsibility is frequently placed on the shoulders of inexperienced educators can be disconcerting, but I believe with the right mindset and approach this goal is well within reach.

The first thing I or any other English 110 teacher must do is descend from the academic Ivory Tower and lock myself out. My job is to welcome the students into the University community, not to hang over them in an air of superiority. My role is of guide, not god. I view teaching as a privilege where trust is bestowed on me to serve as facilitator for a budding group of scholars. Ego and hubris must be checked at the door if I am to succeed. In their place, enthusiasm and anticipation of learning must exist. As a Teaching Fellow, I am as much a student as anyone in the class, one of my goals being to learn as much from them as they from me. My attitude must always be positive and engaging. Fervor is contagious and students will react more ardently to a teacher they feel has their heart in the subject than one who comes across as either proud or glum.

Part of that enthusiasm needs to be channeled into accessibility. Writing, in its most basic form, is a tool of communication, its fundamental purpose being the transfer of ideas, stories, and information from one mind to another. It makes sense then for I as the writing teacher to be an adept communicator and to make myself available beyond the realm of class time and office hours. Students are encouraged to e-mail me regularly about any concern or question they have about my class, any other class, or anything at all related to college. Building trust and an amicable veteran-rookie relationship is important to me. Students are invited to join me out of class to partake in writing and reading groups, honing these skills for those who possess further interest.

It is imperative that this chummy atmosphere does not lead students to believe they can walk all over me and float through the class with ease. Assigned work will be heavily critiqued at mandatory one-on-one meetings. Good grades will only be handed out to work that is truly excellent. I find the professors I work the hardest for are the ones who want and expect the most out of me. A professor who approaches a student to discuss their writing commands more respect than one who simply passes back papers drenched in red ink. If I establish that I have an earnest interest in their success, the students will give their best effort to not let me down. The goal is to be a respected role model and not a pushover, demonstrating that the enthusiastic pursuit of success should be the status quo during a college career.

In my classroom, lecturing is discarded in favor of a more communicative, group-oriented class format. Desks are arranged in a circle to establish a sense of community conversation as opposed to a classroom simply focused on me. We use class discussion and the intellectual exploration of various topics to determine our own definition of good writing. Through this form of almost Socratic dialogue, students will ideally abandon the notion that there is always a correct answer they must reach in order to make the grade. Too often are students’ learning strategies impeded by an assumption that success comes from “working the system” or figuring out what the professor wants and then feeding it to him. This is an unfortunate trend that must be snuffed early in order to preserve the importance of academic self-exploration and the merit of thinking for oneself. For my students, the right answer is the one that they are able to defend and present the strongest. The content of their writing won’t be as important to me as their ability to effectively communicate. Remember - communication is the basic point here.

My main goal as an English 110 teacher is to establish a precedent for how students should conduct themselves throughout college. Although my demeanor and approach will be as welcoming and motivating as possible, there is a sense of gatekeeping inherent in the course’s difficulty. There will be those who do not reciprocate the same passion I promote during class or those who struggle with their ability to write. I will take a tough love approach to these students, offering them ample amounts of my own time and energy to try and help them as much as possible, but if they exhibit apathy or cannot manage to produce college level work by the end of the course, I will not grant them a pity pass. Intellectual apathy is an epidemic in our society and I hope to serve as part of the coalition that will bring us back down to Earth. We must raise the standards by which we define academic excellence and expunge the collegiate lethargy that has grown in the wake of setting the bar of success so low that students without an avid interest in learning are able to waltz away with a University degree.

The best strategy to accomplish this, and a place where I believe many fail, is to establish oneself as the amiable facilitator I have described. Just because I’ve evacuated the academic Ivory Tower does not mean I also evacuate intellectualism. I just make the conscious decision not be a jerk about it. To continue to be supercilious will only distance us further from a society that has outgrown stuck-up tweed coat intellectuals and requires a new breed of academic leaders who can maintain an affable educational environment while still challenging students to do their best. We must not be afraid of turning away those who do not exhibit the qualities of excellent collegiate thinkers, for to allow the undeserving to advance only debases the value of a college diploma and hurts society by trusting the keys to the Thunderbird in the hands of people who simply cannot drive. My teaching philosophy is to get the best out of my students by intensely challenging them in an atmosphere that is both comfortable and mentally stimulating, adequately preparing them for a successful and rewarding academic career.

13 December 2010

Difference between contender and pretender

While Ned Colletti is parading his 6-man rotation of Kershaw, Billingsley, Lilly, Kuroda, Garland, and Padilla as if it's the hottest thing on the block, the Phillies now have Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Oswalt.