Category Archives: Teaching

Domingo

⇒ The best political action we can take right now is to work against voter suppression. (Z)

⇒ The roundups of indocumentados are a beginning, and we should pay attention. (Z)

⇒ The use of indocumentados is a form of slavery. Capitalism requires slavery, and slaves must be foreign. (Z)

⇒Racist imperatives fuel the militarization of the border. (Nicky)

⇒Poetry is only a havoc that restores. It dissipates the false pretenses of an ordered world. (Bataille 1943)

Today in culture:

Let’s look at a timeless Vermeer. And another. And more.
An interesting translation magazine: Palabras errantes.
Cinema tropical.
Huizache.

Fifteen Afro-Latin films everyone should see.
I am not your negro is playing now and must be seen.
On Netflix, we must see 13th.
We will see Ixcanul on Netflix as well, and Herzog’s Into the inferno.

Sidney Blumenthal has a smart history of the Trump family in the London Review of Books.
Jonathan Mayhew has good advice on how to learn foreign languages.
Rosie Gray discusses Bannon and the white supremacy movement in The Atlantic.
Nikil Saval writes about Gareth Dale writing about Karl Polanyi, and I would have liked to converse with this man; he is important.

Activism:

I have heard there is a number you can text to your phone, that will program in the numbers of your senators and representatives. You can do this, too.

Work:

I was going to make an announcement about, and a commitment to archiving bibliography in Zotero and/or JabRef, and not an Amazon wishlist or even Evernote. Instead, I simply started.

Axé.

1 Comment

Filed under Cinearte, Movement, Poetry, Teaching, Working

What is Critical Thinking?

This piece by Rob Jenkins was in the CHE and I am reproducing it. The words from here on are not mine.

Axé.

The longer I teach (I’m now in my 32nd year) the more I’m convinced that the best thing we can do for our students is help them learn to think for themselves.

That involves explaining what critical thinking actually means — a step I fear we often skip — as well as equipping them with the requisite skills. That’s why I recommend talking to students on the first day of class about critical thinking. What is it? Why is it important? How can they learn to do it?

What follows is an example of my opening-day remarks. For graduate students and Ph.D.s new to teaching, if this talk resonates with you, feel free to adapt it for your own classrooms.

These days, the term “critical thinking” has been overused to the point where it has almost ceased to mean anything in particular. It has become more of a popular educational catchphrase, so that even the people who use it often don’t know exactly what they mean by it.

Get any group of teachers in a room — kindergarten through college — and throw out the question, “What can we do to help our students learn better?” Within minutes, someone is bound to say, “I know, let’s teach critical thinking!” Then another person in the group will say, “Oh, that’s good. Write that down.” And so they dutifully put it on the list, and everyone nods sagely, including the people who eventually read the list, and no one ever takes any concrete steps and nothing ever changes. This process is known as “educational administration.”

None of that means, however, that critical thinking is not a real thing. It is — and it’s vital for you to understand what critical thinking is and how to do it. The extent of your success in college — not to mention life — ultimately depends on it.

Critical thinking, as the term suggests, has two components. The first is thinking — actually thinking about stuff, applying your brain to the issues at hand, disciplining yourself (and it does require discipline) to grapple with difficult concepts for as long as necessary in order to comprehend and internalize them.

This is important because we live in a society that increasingly makes it easy for people to get through the day without having to think very much. We have microwaveable food, entertainment at our fingertips, and GPS to get us where we need to go. I’m not saying those things are bad. Ideally, such time-saving devices free up our brains for other, more important pursuits. But the practical effect is that we’ve become accustomed to setting our brains on autopilot.

Actual thinking requires deep and protracted exposure to the subject matter — through close reading, for example, or observation. It entails collecting, examining, and evaluating evidence, and then questioning assumptions, making connections, formulating hypotheses, and testing them. It culminates in clear, concise, detailed, and well-reasoned arguments that go beyond theory to practical application.

All of this, as I mentioned, involves discipline. And what better place to develop that discipline than in college courses, especially the ones you don’t want to take because they’re “not in your major”? After all, we can increase our brainpower, just as we can increase our physical strength, and in much the same way — by pushing against resistance. The greater the resistance, and the more we persist in pushing against it, the greater the intellectual benefit. That’s why it’s in your best interests to apply yourself to the courses you dislike the most and find most difficult: Those courses actually constitute “cross-training for the brain.

The second component of critical thinking is the critical part. In common parlance, “critical” has come to mean simply negative — as in, “I don’t like to be around him, he’s always so critical.” But of course that’s not what it means in an academic context.

Think of movie critics. They cannot simply trash every film they see. Instead, their job is to combine their knowledge of films and filmmaking with their extensive experience (having no doubt seen hundreds, even thousands of films) and provide readers with the most objective analysis possible of a given movie’s merits. In the end, what we’re left with is just one critic’s opinion, true. But it’s an opinion based on substantial evidence.

To be “critical,” then, means to be objective, or as objective as humanly possible. No one is capable of being completely objective — we’re all human, with myriad thoughts, emotions, and subconscious biases we’re not even aware of. Recognizing that fact is a vital first step. Understanding that we’re not objective, by nature, and striving mightily to be objective, anyway, is about as good as most of us can do.

To be critical also means to be analytical, to be able to look at a problem or question and break it down into its component parts — the way a chemist analyzes a compound. What makes a film good, or bad, or mediocre? Is it the acting? The directing? The script? The cinematography? All of them combined?

Finally — and perhaps most important — to be critical means to be dispassionate, to be able to separate your emotions from the situation at hand. That’s not to say emotions are bad. Perhaps there are some decisions that, as human beings, we should make based primarily on emotions (although I would recommend giving your head a vote, at least). And we should certainly take emotional factors into account in all our decision-making, as in the case of compassion, for instance.

But in professional life, and to some extent in our lives in general, we simply can’t make most decisions based primarily on emotion. We can’t trust our emotions because they aren’t necessarily grounded in reality. They are inconsistent, changing with our moods, with the seasons, with the time of day, with that last song we just heard on the radio — or the last presidential election. Emotions are, by definition, not based on reason and, therefore, form a poor, shaky foundation for decision-making.

Like thinking, learning to recognize and set aside our emotions requires a great deal of discipline. As humans, we’re emotional creatures. Being dispassionate doesn’t come naturally to us; we have to train ourselves to do it. And again, what better place than in a college classroom, where you’re exposed to all kinds of ideas and information, including some you don’t like?

– See more at Chronicle Vitae.

Axé.

Leave a comment

Filed under Teaching, Working

On teaching college composition

“The common use of the argumentative essay in US schooling dates back to unprecedented growth in higher education and a literate middle class in the early 20th Century. College was no longer the purview of an elite group from similar backgrounds, and more students meant two things: an insufficient number of teachers trained in writing instruction and a more diverse student body, less likely to share knowledge of the same philosophical or literary texts to write about.”

Read the whole thing.

Axé.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movement, Resources, Teaching, Theories

Quintín Lame

We will talk about this. I would like to teach Quintín Lame along with Macunaíma and other Indian things, and perhaps I will.

Axé.

Leave a comment

Filed under Teaching

Synopsis of Postman, “The end of education”

The “school problem” has two dimensions, as he sees it. One is the engineering aspect: the means by which young people acquire an education. The other is the metaphysical aspect: the underlying purpose or mission — the “end” — of education. Postman believes that the debate over the future of America’s schools focuses too much on engineering concerns — curricula, teaching methods, standardized testing, the role of technology, etc. — while very little attention is paid to the metaphysics of schooling. As the title suggests, he feels that “without a transcendent and honorable purpose schooling must reach its finish, and the sooner we are done with it, the better.” For education to be meaningful, Postman contends, young people, their parents, and their teachers must have a common narrative. Narratives are essential because they provide a sense of personal identity, a sense of community life, a basis for moral conduct, and explanations of that which cannot be known. The idea of public education requires not only shared narratives, but also the absence of narratives that lead to alienation and divisiveness. “What makes public schools public,” writes Postman, “is not so much that the schools have common goals but that the students have common gods.” As Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, John Dewey and other great educators understood, public schools do not serve a public so much as create a public. But in order to do that they depend on the existence of shared narratives and the capacity of such narratives to provide an inspired reason for schooling.

Axé.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movement, Teaching, Theories, What Is A Scholar?, Working

Don Quixote

I have an idea for a course on Spanish literature: books that talk about the book industry. Help me make the syllabus, yes?

Meanwhile, everyone should reread the Quixote, for the language. Here is a piece of it.

Sucedió, pues, que yendo por una calle alzó los ojos don Quijote y vio escrito sobre una puerta, con letras muy grandes: «Aquí se imprimen libros», de lo que se contentó mucho, porque hasta entonces no había visto emprenta alguna y deseaba saber cómo fuese. Entró dentro, con todo su acompañamiento, y vio tirar en una parte, corregir en otra, componer en esta, enmendar en aquella, y, finalmente, toda aquella máquina que en las emprentas grandes se muestra. Llegábase don Quijote a un cajón y preguntaba qué era aquello que allí se hacía; dábanle cuenta los oficiales; admirábase y pasaba adelante. Llegó en esto a uno y preguntóle qué era lo que hacía. El oficial le respondió:

—Señor, este caballero que aquí está —y enseñóle a un hombre de muy buen talle y parecer y de alguna gravedad— ha traducido un libro toscano en nuestra lengua castellana, y estoyle yo componiendo, para darle a la estampa.

—¿Qué título tiene el libro? —preguntó don Quijote.

A lo que el autor respondió:

—Señor, el libro, en toscano, se llama Le bagatele.

—¿Y qué responde le bagatele en nuestro castellano? —preguntó don Quijote.

Le bagatele57 —dijo el autor— es como si en castellano dijésemos ‘los juguetes’; y aunque este libro es en el nombre humilde, contiene y encierra en sí cosas muy buenas y sustanciales.

—Yo —dijo don Quijote— sé algún tanto del toscano y me precio de cantar algunas estancias del Ariosto. Pero dígame vuesa merced, señor mío, y no digo esto porque quiero examinar el ingenio de vuestra merced, sino por curiosidad no más: ¿ha hallado en su escritura alguna vez nombrar piñata?

—Sí, muchas veces —respondió el autor.

—¿Y cómo la traduce vuestra merced en castellano? —preguntó don Quijote.

—¿Cómo la había de traducir —replicó el autor— sino diciendo ‘olla’?

—¡Cuerpo de tal —dijo don Quijote—, y qué adelante está vuesa merced en el toscano idioma! Yo apostaré una buena apuesta que adonde diga en el toscanopiache, dice vuesa merced en el castellano ‘place’, y adonde diga più dice ‘más’, y el su declara con ‘arriba’ y el giù con ‘abajo’.

—Sí declaro, por cierto —dijo el autor—, porque esas son sus propias correspondencias.

—Osaré yo jurar —dijo don Quijote— que no es vuesa merced conocido en el ¡Qué de habilidades hay perdidas por ahí! ¡Qué de ingenios arrinconados! ¡Qué de virtudes menospreciadas! Pero, con todo esto, me parece que el traducir de una lengua en otra, como no sea de las reinas de las lenguas, griega y latina, es como quien mira los tapices flamencos por el revés, que aunque se veen las figuras, son llenas de hilos que las escurecen y no se veen con la lisura y tez de la haz; y el traducir de lenguas fáciles ni arguye ingenio ni elocución, como no le arguye el que traslada ni el que copia un papel de otro papel. Y no por esto quiero inferir que no sea loable este ejercicio del traducir, porque en otras cosas peores se podría ocupar el hombre y que menos provecho le trujesen. Fuera desta cuenta van los dos famosos traductores: el uno el doctor Cristóbal de Figueroa, en su Pastor Fido61, y el otro don Juan de Jáurigui, en su Aminta, donde felizmente ponen en duda cuál es la tradución o cuál el original. Pero dígame vuestra merced: este libro ¿imprímese por su cuenta o tiene ya vendido el privilegio a algún librero?

Axé.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bibliography, Poetry, Teaching

Sarmiento du jour

Ricardo Piglia once pointed out that the apocryphal quotation at the beginning of Domingo Sarmiento’s Facundo (1845) — the French sentence “on ne tue point les idées,” written by Sarmiento on a wall after being attacked by a federalist gang — can be taken as an emblem of Argentine literature in its foundational moment. Not simply in its banal content, but primarily in its form and in the discursive economy that presides over its historical inscription. By relating how Rosas’s dictatorship, “after sending a committee in charge of deciphering the hieroglyph,” (Sarmiento 5) must have wondered what in the world it could mean, Sarmiento draws the line between civilization and barbarism with a mere epigraph: barbarians are, of course, those unable to read the sentence. More than in the utopian vision it voices, “the sentence’s political content resides in the use of the French language” (Piglia 15). A voracious student of foreign languages, Sarmiento located in the transculturation of European sources a sine qua non condition for the construction of a modern civilized Argentine nation. Transculturation is, however, always already torn apart by aporias, not the least of which plagues the authorship of Sarmiento’s epigraph. Sarmiento attributes it to Fortoul, but Groussac later argued that it was in fact taken from Volney, only to be contradicted by Verdevoye, who noted that it does not appear either in Fortoul or Volney, but in Diderot. The exercise in tracking down sources naturally does not matter in itself, but as an emblem of the predicament of an entire national literature. Designed to found a nation by alienating, domesticating, and eventually transculturating that nation’s originary barbarism, the letrado’s civilizing gesture is from the beginning contaminated by a savage, barbaric relationship with its sources, emblematized in recurrent erroneous and second-hand attributions. (– I. A.)

Axé.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bibliography, Race book, Resources, Teaching