Shattered Mirror

It’s amazing the amount that is assumed of a student, and yet the extraordinarily petite amount a student is allowed to assume. We are expected to know just what the numbers attached to a class means – the difference between 95 and 141 isn’t a scanning number. Or the difference between a scholarly presentation and a speech. What are all of these things? Of that those that teach a higher level of a discipline view the lower levels as child’s play, instead of respecting them for the building blocks that they are.

Perhaps I’m being unfair, discrediting the rest of the faculty for the sternness of one member. Though really, this is an opportunity to shine, should I play my cards right.

I didn’t know what an Honors class was. I knew that it got me a sash on graduation day. That was what I knew. I knew that it looked good on a college transcript and was a way to get closer to my graduation two credits a quarter faster. That was what I knew.

Entering into my first honors class – Humanities 295, I learned that it was a class that only required one assignment – to which I rejoiced! One assignment is a cake-walk! Granted, it meant that we still had to read through two books and have valuable class participation, but I could pump out a ten page paper – no problem.

Of course, as the class went on, it was no longer just a paper. We would also need to give a presentation on our paper. But, she told us, we needn’t worry too much, since it was quite acceptable for us to simply read our paper for the class if we didn’t feel comfortable otherwise. However, we should aim for ten minutes or so.

The class was on the Duality of the self, or – as I learned today – more than duality, the fractured self. The class itself is called “The Self as Other.” We were told to write a paper on anything we wanted as long as it related to the title of the course and the material read. Sound like any other paper. Though instead of 3 pages we should aim for 10 pages.

This is a huge subject, and open for a lot of opportunity. I put a challenge to myself, and decided to write about occult, and Aleister Crowley’s idea of the True Will – simply because I wanted to see if I could get away with it in a class.

This was not the class to experiment in.

The evening after I gave my presentation, I received an email from my professor saying, “I have not read your paper yet, but I think you need to re-write it.”

I’ll wait a minute while you re-read that last sentence. Take as much time as you need.

After a bit of back-and-forth emailing, I gathered an idea of what she meant, and we set up a time to talk about it – which was earlier today. I just came from the meeting.

It was an interesting interaction of continuous contradictions (If you want, you can read that sentence again too, simply because it was fun to write). I learned that The way I’ve been learning to write papers -that is, to have an idea that ties into the theme of the material presented by the teachers and use the sources to support your idea – is backwards, and that we should be supporting the ideas of the sources with our ideas….which sounds to me a lot like regurgitating ideas with no room for originality to me.

I was told as follows:

  • that my idea related not at all to the focus of the seminar, which was the duality of self. After talking with her a bit, she eventually saw that it did relate, however, I should throw it out any way, start over from scratch – but don’t get rid of my paper, because the ideas in there, if expanded upon, would be great for a doctoral thesis someday.
  • Don’t look at my paper, write my ideas down first, then find supporting quotes in the book (even though the sources, according to said professor, should be supported by my ideas, not the other way around). However, have a look through my paper for ideas, and pull out paragraphs that I think might work in my new thesis.
  • Write my thesis first – something she said she would never do since papers never work well that way, but I should do that.
  • No one is judging during the presentation, it’s purely for sharing of ideas with the classmates (just wait for it…)

There is of course a chance that I completely misunderstood what she was trying to tell me – let’s be fair here. And at the end of the day, she is giving me the opportunity to re-write it. We spoke for a very long time, until finally she asked if I had any questions. The fated moment came:

“Is it at all possible – if I write everything up to snuff, to your standards – that I can pull an A from this.”
“Well, I wouldn’t think so. The presentation was part of your grade, and it didn’t relate to the subject matter because your paper didn’t relate to the subject matter.”

I could feel myself going red.

“Is that a problem? A B isn’t bad,” she added.
“I’ve never had anything less than an A.”
“Oh….Well, you’re not going to get an A based on that, but I can relate. I had a teacher do the same thing to me when I was an undergrad, and I left his office and promptly went to the lady’s room to cry. This must be quite a shock to you then.” Then, “You do seem to be holding it together alright though.”

This was further from the truth. I had every intention of sitting in my car and crying, and was just trying to remain composed until I could make it that far.

I explained to her that a lot of her expectations were things I wasn’t aware of simply because I hadn’t been exposed to them, nor had she voiced her expectations.

“Well, that’s the problem with community college, some people have been exposed and know what they are, and some people haven’t.”

A lot of these responses I hadn’t the faintest idea what to do with. I don’t really know what I was expecting. I didn’t know how I would respond if I was in her place either. So, I suppose that I can’t view her responses as unreasonable, though I can say that I felt they were without guidance.

She did give me options, but they were vague enough to be even be interpreted as to leave my paper as is.  That’s an exaggeration, of course.

I’d like to say I left feeling deflated, though my continuous state of being in a rush kept anything from being able to be felt. I didn’t even cry once I got to my car. Somewhere under all those words I heard the underlying message: She did believe I could do better, and not because my paper was subpar. She knew I had ideas, and that I could create something of worth from them.

Whats more, for the first time I felt like I was in University, and understood the difference. Of course I’m in community college, but I realized that this was what University was going to be like – scholarly papers expected instead of the fluff pieces I came up with for my other English classes.

The souring part is that I left feeling disdain myself for the English classes I had taken thus far, that they had done little to prepare me for the next level. of my education. How could community colleges  – of high school for that matter – pretend to prepare students for an upper crust education? Everything I had been doing in the writing center to support students to just get through this class, how to communicate their ideas – was just as basic and almost useless as five paragraph essays. And yet, I believed I was doing something amazing, believed I was -what? elite? I hold no bragging rights. I feel like I have been showing off and proud of graduating middle school at this point.

Why does this matter? Why do I feel such anger? Because all this praise I have been getting from my English teachers thus far has kept me from setting my academic bar higher. I have believed that I am something prominent, almost like I have some kind of brain super power. But really, I just know how to connect an idea with another idea. I’m not scholarly, I’ve just figured out the system.

So where’s the silver lining? Where’s the pot of gold at the end of the drain pipe?

I now have raised my personal standards. Having recognized this, having been told by this professor that I’m a thinker, I know that I can do better, and I should strive for better. I can do better, and I what’s more, I can figure out how to show it in a scholarly manner in the next three days. Well, two days since today is mostly over and I still need to study for my next two final exams.

So, to this vague professor that wants me to scrap all my work and start from scratch – I say Challenge Accepted.

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One thought on “Shattered Mirror

  1. Pingback: A full year | Scribing English

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