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Semester Reflection

pfischer's picture

I joined this class late, and missed the first three classes. However, the book I probably enjoyed the most was David Shields’ Reality Hunger. I was surprised to learn of the highly negative perception of Shields’ work, and should have realized the disconnect between me and the rest of the class would be indicative of my experience for the rest of the semester. In the first class I attended, we discussed Fun Home, a book I thought was significant for the scope and variety of literary references. However, the literary references and allusions were not discussed, ostensibly because most members of the class had never read the books that were alluded to, or been exposed to literature at all.
The discussion of Fun Home could have dealt with the intellectually provocative question of the appropriateness of sharing other’s secrets. However, any intelligent or interesting comments were drowned in obnoxious, self-involved personal stories. The literature we read, particularly the memoirs, invited easy comparisons to one’s own life. However, certain members of the class hijacked the conversations past the point of no return. This happened nearly every class, and once the discussion disintegrated into highly charged argumentative drivel, I just tuned out. I take responsibility for my part in the discussions, and definitely remember many times that I could have tried harder to move the discussion into a productive area. However, I was often too frustrated with either certain individuals of the class who would not stop talking, or just generally frustrated that I had brought up things I found interesting and relevant to our study of non-fictional prose, and they were dismissed in lieu of personal, irrelevant meditations.
I wrote my mid-semester evaluation on our need to have more productive discussions. While I appreciate Anne’s efforts in attempting to keep us on topic, she is ultimately not responsible for providing the content of class discussions. I think I learned a lot about self directed education, especially the convergent/divergent video, but sometimes I saw our class as the distinct products of the convergent education, unable to adapt to the more self-directed educational practices.
One part of the class that I really appreciated was the opportunity to choose the books read in the second semester. I was frustrated, as stated before, with the discussions and other aspects of the class. I felt that maybe books that maybe left the realm of the mind would provide more fodder for discussion. Therefore, I suggested some ‘political’ works, which many in the class objected to. Their objections, as I understood them, were based on possibly inflammatory content of the ‘political’ books. Their objections further prove my point that our class was intellectually undisciplined, and unable to separate whatever instinctual feelings were roused by the works from class-appropriate comments. I definitely understand and acknowledge that sometimes ‘non-intellectual’ comments are needed to bring the conversation back to earth and/or ask the necessary obvious questions, but in-class reactions to both the ‘political’ and ‘nonpolitical texts’ made me feel depressed, nauseous, and darkly amused, often at the same time.
Strong points of this class? Positive things that happened? Few and far between. I admire Anne as a professor and wished that she could have provided more direction, and most positive things I’ve gained from this class have come directly from her. As for most others, I am not trying to be mean, but I feel like you have completely wasted my time. There were definitely some people and moments in the class that I appreciated and I felt were making an effort, and I am grateful for that. As for the rest of you, I cannot believe that we are even associated with the same colleges, and am honestly astonished that this class counted for a Bryn Mawr or Haveford degree. You were dragged through the semester kicking and screaming about the heavy workload – the reading was appropriate, but definitely on the light side for a 200 level English class. Looking back I can’t decide if I should have put in more effort, and maybe worked harder to try to raise the seemingly unredeemable quality of conversation, or if I should have stopped coming to class completely.
The conclusions we did come to – nothing is real? There is no nonfiction? We are unable to define fact/truth/real/false/fiction/nonfiction? I felt like I was picked up and dropped mercilessly in an intellectual wasteland, with no way out. I know that certain others in the class share my sentiments, but never said anything. And I too, did not say as much as I should have. I just felt that the class was such that redemption was impossible – we weren’t on a plane, we were digging a ditch. We weren’t unaware we were landing, we were too far down to be able to come out. I know this is not what anyone wants to hear, and realize that my grade might suffer on account of this brutal honesty. Several friends have suggested that I send this account after grades come out, because of the possible negative repercussions of this admittedly brutal honesty. I personally apologize to Anne, and to the class, for not taking more proactive action and trying to chart a more cohesive, rewarding class through ‘nonfiction’. When I did try to do so, I felt drowned out and misunderstood.
Anne, we talked about the different levels of communication in our writing conference and maybe I should have communicated my frustration more in that setting, and I’m sorry if this seems like an attack on your class and your teaching style. In some way, it is, because you did have the control to shape and push the class into what you felt was appropriate. We also discussed how your teaching style is heavily reliant on class composition. Some years of the same class are good, the others bad. The self-directed style of this class had moments in which it was highly rewarding, and I wish I had taken another class with you. I’m not totally sure if it is my personal incompatibility with self-directed classes or ‘nonfictional prose’, or if maybe this was just a bad group.
Overall, I did honestly try to do well. I had my moments of disillusionment, which came intermittently over the semester and settled deeply in the last few weeks. My first two essays were deeply considered, and written over a period of a few days. I had genuine interests in my topics, and truly did put in a lot of effort. My third paper, as discussed, was not so much of an effort. That came at a busy time in the semester for me, and that due date was unfortunately the same as two other papers: my thesis historiography and a 25 page final for my other history seminar. By that point, I had sort of thrown in the towel regarding this class, and judged the time spent writing those projects as more important than class attendance in this class and work on that paper. However, I have spent a lot of effort on the final paper and hope that you do enjoy it.
My intentions here were not to be rude, or to belittle members of the class. This evaluation was honest, and well intentioned. I think that a nonfictional prose course could be perhaps incorporated into a genre course, which I know Anne teaches, or perhaps more cohesively organized so that we are not deposited in an intellectual terrain of doubt and unknowing. If this had been a philosophy class, then maybe that conclusion would be appropriate. If we had read some theory, or used Shields to greater effect, then again maybe that would be appropriate. But this semester was a discontinuous amalgamation of confusion, non-being, and circular, painful discussions.  I have been advised to write a ‘I grew as a person and really learned about definitions/nonfiction/nonsocks/education/ form/literary theory, but that’s not a fair or honest assessment. This was my version of truth, my nonfictional account of what I personally have taken from this semester. I guess if I wanted to apply what I had ‘learned’ this semester, I would say that you shouldn’t have wasted your time reading it, because nothing is ‘true’ or ‘real’, and that the subjectivity is layered to such a stifling extent that it doesn’t matter what anyone else says or does, you’re trapped within your own mind. Robert Coles came too late in the semester to save us with ‘the story,’ we were already too far gone.


Anne Dalke's picture

multiple stories

So: I've been mulling over this posting for 10 days now. Wondering just why-and-how the request for a self-evaluation became an evaluation not of self, but of classmates--and thinking of that move as a testimony both to the power and the problematics of co-constructed dialogue. Have been puzzling, too, about how such a critique could be made productive of both more teaching and more learning. Thinking especially of how, in that room that was our classroom, there were actually 17 different rooms: while in one of them (above), we were "drowning in obnoxious, self-involved personal stories," in another (per Owl) "we all had our own truths which are based on experiences," and in yet another (per veritatemdilexi) your words were "edited" far too much, your voices "altered" to fit my agenda rather than your own.

Of course there were multiple other stories in that room: while veritatemdilexi found us "entirely unaware of the world and environment that surrounds us," for example, Aya was calling our attention to all those "narratives that surround us with no benefit of a cover page." If we needed any more evidence of the constructedness and variability of non-fictional prose, our range of accounts of what was going on when we were together certainly provided some! I'd be curious, of course, to hear others...

In the interim, don't miss the archive of our final performances.

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