Sep 11, 2012

Back to school

When my family and I moved to Ardsley, we lived just far enough from my middle school that I had to ride the bus.[1]  Fast-forward some ten years...and I now not only live on a campus, but my residence this year is also situated ridiculously close to everything I could possibly need, day or night.  Here in Galway, on the other hand, I have a twenty-minute walk between my house and campus.  This is by no means a complaint, but rather a comment about what a difference it actually does make to live away from the place where I take my classes.  Maybe I’m way off-base here, friends, but you can tell me if I’m not making any sense: I somehow feel more grown-up, more independent, because I can think, now I’m leaving school, and I’m going back to my house, where I’m going to make myself a cup of tea, finish my homework, and watch another episode of “Psych”.  (And if you're an adult reading this, that's right - "Psych" is for grown-ups, too.  James Roday is an equal-opportunity entertainer...and a skilled one, at that.)

But enough about TV.[2]  Let's talk about school, shall we?  Oh, hang on...before I get to that, I have to show you something.  (It's a little silly, but I think it's worth the quick detour.)  It so happens that my daily "commute" requires that after I cross Quincentennial Bridge, I double back and walk beneath it...and there's some graffiti on the walls of the underpass that I couldn't help but document:
"Courage + patience + good friends = success."  It's not the fullest version of the equation I might use, but I think that in this case, it's the thought that counts.
"I'm on the pursuit of happiness."  I have to admit that it's nice to see that every morning.
I wonder what Kathy ever did that made her so impressive...
Okay.  Now that that's out of my system, I'll focus - I promise.  Here's where I end up, four mornings a week, after I've left the underpass:

Believe it or not, this is an academic building.  Is it just me, or does it look more like a house than anything else?

It's a bit cramped, but no matter - space isn't as crucial to education as is a competent teacher (and, for that matter, a willing student.)
That said, the arrangement of the classroom is a little awkward.  There's two of my classmates!  (The three of us are clearly those exemplary students who always get to class early.)
I'm assuming that it means "seminar room", but my Irish has a long way to go.
As you might have guessed by now, I attended my first set of ILC (Irish Life and Culture) lectures yesterday.  Of the four professors co-teaching the course, I got a taste of two yesterday – A, who teaches Irish literature (texts originally written in Irish but obviously taught in translation) and T, who teaches history.  I preferred A hands-down, mostly because it was refreshing to rediscover how much I enjoy being a student of language and literature.  Her teaching style was satisfyingly interactive, and she did a stellar job of remembering that this class comes to her with little to no knowledge of Irish literature.  T, on the other hand, introduced himself and promptly proceeded to mumble his way through his lecture notes…at breakneck speed, considering that I'm completely new to Irish history.  I’m actually not sure that I followed a single train of thought for the entire hour.  On the one hand, this worries me, but on the other, I’m fascinated by how much these contrasting experiences reveal about my learning style, as well as what might constitute effective teaching.

Consider, for example, the fact that A used literature to get me - me, the scientist and musician - to learn about the Irish nationalist movement.  Friends, I consider myself intellectually curious, but this is just not one of those topics that would normally have me chomping at the bit.  This professor, however, managed to pique my interest within the first ten minutes of her class.  Why?  Because on some level, she made it personal (and before you start wondering if you've missed something, let me assure you that I have no Irish blood.  I'll explain.)

The Irish, it seems, have always harbored a certain resentment toward the British.  (Their country was, after all, a British colony until the mid-1900s.)  The national memory of being under foreign rule, combined with a natural fierceness, has since birthed a social movement to define the Irish identity as separate from that of the British.  The Irish, in other words, have been toiling since 1921 to distinguish themselves as independently important.  (Does this strike a chord with you like it does with me?)  So, then - what defines them?  Personally, I think about the traditional music, the drinking culture, and the clothing...particularly the tweed and the jumpers.  (I do have a weakness for those woolen jumpers.)  How about you - when you think about Irish culture, what comes to mind?   

Time's up.  Did you think about their language?  (I'd be impressed if you did, especially since Irish is an endangered language.)

We mustn't forget to consider language, friends.  Language defines.  Indeed, according to my professor, "there is no greater badge of identity than a language."  And that's where it gets personal.  I mean, think for a moment.  What language(s) do you speak?  Where and how did you learn it/them?  Do you feel a certain kind of pride in your language?  Does it create a cultural tie between you and your country?  Do you speak a different language with your family, perhaps, than you do with your friends?  Is your name (an important identifier for sure) derived from your language?

In my experience, my favorite classes (and professors, for that matter), are the ones that leave me like this...bursting with questions, itching to explore why their material should matter to me.  Well done,'ve got my attention.

[1] Incidentally, this was just fine with me, because it meant I could spend every morning and most afternoons riding with my first-ever crush.  Ah, puppy love…if you’re interested, ask me and I’ll tell you the story of the most harebrained thing I ever did for a boy.
[2] Exception: if you ever want to talk about "Grey's", I'm your girl.  I always have time for that.

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