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Notes for Day 1 '09

Notes for Day 1 of Food for Thought '09
I. Welcome!--to potluck that is BMC and E-Sem

for next 14 weeks we're going to be having a conversation here;
we are (I hope!) a various group, with varied experiences;
we come from different places and we know different things;
we also like different things, for different reasons...
so let's start by getting a taste of that...

II. Start to get to know one another:

Go round, say your name and
tell us a story about one of your favorite foods
(something familiar, something surprising?
what it tastes like/where you ate it/with whom/why)

III. trying out/modeling what we'll be doing

our first obligation here is to say what we know:
our task is to articulate our experiences—tell stories about them;

but our second obligation is to listen/really listen to one another's stories
it's a bi-partite experience, and it's very tricky:
on the one hand, to make our stories as compelling as we can;
on the other, to acknowledge that they are always inadequate, incomplete,
and open to revision: we have to be willing to change our stories in light of new information:
(this is hard to do—we get attached to the stories we tell….)

We’re going to get lots of practice talking with each other:
a learned skill, needing lots of experience.
What we’re working towards, value, in talking as in writing:
A willingness to speak up/share your insights, however wacky!

And a willingness to have them tested against further data, be revised in conversation.
You'll offer an initial thought, the rest of us will encourage you to develop that idea, back it up.
Risky, hard, important, and required: that you contribute to
ongoing conversation/learning of us all (not just your own, interior…)

Lots of little concrete ways to do this (ex: don't raise your hand while someone's speaking!...)
come in to every class w/ some thoughts to share;
come ready to say what you thought as you read: take notes, bring questions;
not really taking the course otherwise:
i'm not doing all the cooking; everybody's contributing to this pot luck!

So: we invite all accounts/insist that everyone shares what they are thinking;
and we insist on openness to re-telling/revising ‘em all.
We'll start by telling stories about what we know experientially,
laying those experiences alongside one another,
and alongside what other experiencers/thinkers/writers
have experienced/known/thought/written about .

We will think and write together about the implications of our experiences
for the larger world; course has four sections, on how we decide
• what to eat?
• what data to attend to?
• what interpretations to accept?
• (given all we've learned about decision-making)
what would work best for a college curriculum .

Move from the most concrete to the most abstract,
from the most embodied to the most philosophical,
from the most spontaneous to the most revised.

We’re going to start with the dilemma of being omnivorous eaters:
(since we can eat anything, including one another--do a little cannabalism, later!)
how do we decide what to put into our mouths? Who does the deciding, why, how?
How much do you know about what you are eating?

Go outward from that to more political and philosophical questions:
(though food is very political!); move from being eaters to being scientists,
to be being literary critics, to be curriculum designers.

The central question of the course is about the paradox of choice:
about the trouble that choosing gives us,
and how much culture (expertise, education) helps and/or hinders us.

General--> Specific/Philosophical--> Pragmatic
We are one of two courses in a cluster;
designed syllabus jointly last year w/ bio prof, Peter Brodfueher,
teaching another section across the hall,
w/ 15 other students, identical reading/writing assignments.
(Had a lot of fun, very successful last year; repeating it w/ some tweaking....)

Peter, like me, has been here forever/decades.
His research speciality is leech crawling/decisionmaking.
My training in 19th c. Amer lit; really re-defined myself as a gender theorist (other course: GAS works);
interested in all variations of American literature (understood as a world literature, fed by streams across space and time);
in the relation of science and literature (2 panels @ SLSA in November); & in emergent pedagogies.

Peter and I will meet regularly to plan/co-ordinate/adjust what we're doing.
We might meet together w/ his section a couple of times this semester;
one joint activity we are planning this month is a field trip, on
Sat, Sept. 19 to PETE'S PRODUCE FARM in Westtown (1/2 hr. away).

But mostly we'll just be meeting here, 
every Tues/Thus @ lunchtime (bring your lunch if you want;
not inappropriate; we might interrogate what you are eating!).

We’ll be giving you lots of food for thought throughout the next few months,
continually feeding you add’l information,
asking why we think what we do, how we might learn to think differently,
how we make choices in thinking our thoughts/living our lives
(eating choices, health choices, aesthetic choices, advising choices,
different disciplines’ attitudes toward choice, free will…).

You’ll have abt. 50 pp. reading to do for each class.
You'll find that reading in a course pack and 5 books,
all available in the Bookshop; total cost about $100.
If you want: also get Diana Hacket’s Pocket Manual of Style;
(and here's a gift from the CSem program: Writing with Sources--plus Writing Center info…)
Buy all but coursepack more cheaply elsewhere if you want;
also copies in library, (but because reserves not used), not on reserve.

Start on Thursday w/ some selections from Pollan’s The Omnivore's Dilemma:
Intro, Chapters 1 & 5 (1-31, 85-99); also video King Corn (Shorter  and Longer Clips).

Changing syllabus is on-line.

Ask you to read--and to write regularly, both in and out of class,
and to meet with me every other week to discuss your thinking and your writing.
Hope to meet with (all/most of) you on Wednesdays, starting next week;
sign up for conferences on Thursday, once your schedules are (more) settled.

What's unique about our course is that, besides talking w/ each other in person,
and handing in a piece of more formal writing to us each week,
and having conferences about your writing (which all E-Sem'ers do),
we are offering you an inbetween space: our on-line class forum @

Each Tuesday, Peter and I will put up a question we’d like you to answer in that forum
(more deliberate than speaking in class, less formal than written work:
excellent place for showcasing revisionary thinking).
About being a public intellectual: thinking out loud.

First assignment for Thursday (besides reading those 3 chapters in O's D),
is to go to the web forum and introduce yourself
by describing your favorite food: write up what you said this morning.

To do this, you need to
*go to the course webpage
* register for a Serendip account
* can click on the Login link (top, right of page),
then click on Create New Account
* you MUST use your Bryn Mawr e-mail address.
The registration code will be **********

Always log in before you post every week, so your post will go up automatically
(otherwise----due to the spam control system, it will be vetted, and so delayed).

This is background/preparation/warm-up for your first “formal” writing assignment,
due on Friday by 5 p.m.: tell a story/describe a family meal @ your house (will discuss that more on Thursday).

This is the pattern: every Tuesday I’ll give you a question to answer on-line by Thursday;
AND I'll give you instructions for a 3-pp. paper due  by 5 p.m. on Friday
(I’ll bring in samples of your writing for the rest of us to
look @, work on together, anonymously @ first).

Following week, I’ll give you another different-but-related assignment
Sequence intended to place what you know experientially into
conversation with something you may not know,
have not encountered before (analysis of your family meal!).

Difficult push-and pull of authority and humility:
claim what you know, acknowledge what you don’t, yet,
figure out the relation between the two.

In the first book we’re reading, The Omnivore’s Dilemma,
Michael Pollan writes from personal experience,
then adds lenses of naturalist, ecologist, & anthropologist—
we’re going to ask you to work in the same way:
start w/ what you know, go outward, add to it.

Whole semester spelled out on-line (and in syllabus in packet,
but will be revised! on-line more up-to-date!)

What is also (probably) distinct about our course is our form of evaluation:
we will not grade any of your individual papers. @ the end of the semester,
you will put together a portfolio of all your work, and evaluate yourself.
The checklist for that evaluation, and our expectations, are all on-line
(this is not mysterious: come to class and conferences, contribute in-person and on-line;
hand your papers in on time; be responsive to instruction...)

What else?

Let’s GET Back TO WORK
Turn to this question of education: what is it that we are doing here?
I said, "This classroom is a potluck."
Go ‘round again, say, "For me, education has been...."

A metaphor (literally and pragmatically)--
μετά (meta), “‘between’” + φέρω (pherō), “‘I bear, carry’”)--
bear/with/carry across/

It talks about a concept by describing something similar to it.
has two parts: tenor/vehicle--> abstract/concrete--> education/potluck
reveals/channels the way we think.

A simile describes a "rational similarity,"
and an analogy states the similarity explicitly.
But a metaphor "hides the source of the identity,
and so heightens emotion and undercuts rationality."
The essence of a metaphor is understanding one kind of experience
in terms of another, and the fit is always going to be inexact....
Metaphor is important precisely because it hides the logic of association
(think of all the words which imply that "argument is warfare," or "argument is a path").

Metaphors foreground some aspects of an identity between
two items, while backgrounding others. All metaphors fall short.
Where inquiry GETS serious is just where this happens,
where the image won’t “carry” the idea “across,”
where you start to see how the limits of our language can limit our world.
Lack of directness makes metaphor effective:
allows us to express attitudes we might not express directly.

What are our metaphors telling us about our conception of and attitude
towards the process of being educated?
What's going to happen here, if  we are working from fundamentally different root metaphors?

Let's go back and play w/ the implications of our metaphors...
what do they say about our attitudes toward this process/education?
(If education is….
what am I? my classmates? My teacher?)
What do our metaphors tell us about our concepts of where authority lies?
About our ability to inquire and interrogate?

What did you learn from hearing one another’s stories?
Any revision on your story/metaphor/simile now?
(Add this to your posting, also….?)

See you Thursday!