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alesnick's picture

Being a Beginner

Last night I dreamt that at the last minute I agreed to teach a new course, standing in for someone else.  There was a sense of high stakes and flurry around the course; many high level people and their administrative assistants kept checking with me on whether the classroom in Taylor was all right with me, and the building was gleaming clean --I remember a long corridor leading to the room with waxed, shiny floors.  When I entered the classroom I found about 10 senior faculty standing in a ring to welcome me.  One of them told me the course was to be in teaching a musical instrument; ah, I thought, I already knew that!  I made a joke about how I would teach piano as it was the only instrument I knew at all.  But then he named the 5 possible instruments it could be and they were all Medieval, with strange names I didn't know.  There was an electronic keyboard in the corner, though.  So I said I would be changing the course from basic piano to "being a beginner."  We would play piano, I explained.  Some people would be beginners, some (like me) just a bit ahead of that, other experienced. We would find out what happened in this scene, teach and learn one another -- "use the space and let the space use us," in Okereke's terms -- and the experience of learning piano would become a study of what it means to be a beginner, to begin.

Of course in one respect this is an anxiety dream (likely prompted by my work during the say on my self-assessment essay for a professional review cycle): I don't really know anything, so all I can do is "facilitate;" teaching really is telling after all.  But then I think of our guinea pigs and how one of them now readily eats the grass outside while at the beginning he seemed to freeze before it, but I kept bringing him out and he . . . "learned?" 

I want to believe that beneath the anxiety, which is really just an index to social arrangmements no more or less, is a story that could have been inspired by my talk with Brandon and Chloe yesterday after their first day in Dalun.  What does it mean for them to begin there?  And for our colleagues there to begin with them? Could it mean that led and placed there by social arrangements, distributed know-how and histories, people form circles and see what sounds can be made, and what meaning?

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