Ode to Discussion

Let’s face it: there’s a reason that Humanities Core has more-or-less mandatory discussions. That reason is because frankly, we (meaning all students reading anything, ever) kind of suck at things when we are on our own.

We all have genres and specific disciplines in literature that we’re good and bad at, both in writing and reading/analyzing. This doesn’t mean you have to like what you’re good at and hate what you’re bad at; it simply means you understand the conventions and how to read/write in a particular style. Admittedly, though, being bad at something does sort of make you hate it.

I’ll toot my own horn, of course. (We all know that I’m narcissistic garbage, right?) Me, I’m pretty fantastic at most poetic and fiction analysis, and I can hold my own when it comes to critical theory. Sometimes I don’t struggle with visual analysis, but this depends on how familiar I am with the visual artifact’s time period’s conventions and context. However, I know that no matter how hard I try, I am absolutely, 100% abhorrent with two genres: epic poetry and philosophical texts.

Epic poetry is ridiculously difficult for me to grasp. Throw the Romantics or the Beat poets at me, and I am game. But the second you give me the classics, I break down and cry. Everything about the genre makes little sense to me, and to be quite honest, it’ll be a good day if I even understand the narrative plot at all.

Philosophical texts are a nightmare. I just feel assaulted by too many seemingly made-up concepts and words, and I end up either vehemently disagreeing with the philosopher or wondering how they perfectly summarized my entire life yet also made all of my colloquial thoughts pompously pretentious.

Imagine my copious amounts of joy when my two favorite genres are exactly how we began HumCore. (-:

This is exactly how I felt, thanks Nick.

The problem is that I know I can grasp this stuff. I can, I swear. I understood, at the very least, the plot of The Aeneid, even if I can’t exactly give you a rundown on the relevant motifs or symbols or epithets or what have you. To some extent, I think I really did understand the main points of Rousseau’s argument, and Kant’s was frankly one of the easier philosophy texts I have encountered in my career as a humanities student.

But the only reason I understood a lot of The Aeneid and Rousseau was because I attended Dr. Short’s seminars once a week. I understood Virgil but I needed the seminars to understood how to connect Zissos and the text. I did not understand Rousseau at all until Dr. Short basically spoon-fed the students and me relevant passages from his text, and from those I mapped out a sort-of summary of his points.

Thank god the students did not have an essay about Rousseau’s theory, because if they did, I would have been beyond useless.

It’s difficult trying to understand a text (especially when you know it’s a genre you suck at) when you have no one to guide your reading or no peers to bounce ideas off of. Going to section helps, definitely. However, I only go once a week and I don’t actively engage with the students in the same way that I would have were I actually a Humanities Core student as well. I want them to think on their own, so often times I sit and listen and ask pointed questions to get them to elaborate on things– I don’t ask questions like “what the heck did this mean???” (This also makes reading so much less fun. However, I don’t want to imply that I hated the readings or did not enjoy my time in section; I did, just less so than I know I would have were I a student in the class as well.)

I don’t think that the solution is that we should attend every section. I think this might be a reality that I just have to deal with, one that forces me to acknowledge that I’ll never fully understand the text and that’s okay. I have to try more to understand the works as much as I can on my own, and I have to accept that if I don’t get it, at least I tried. It just makes me uncomfortable to settle. 😦



2 thoughts on “Ode to Discussion

  1. mlnguye7 says:

    Nikki, I just want to say that I love the way you write – it’s a joy to read. I quite agree that these texts, being the first time we’ve read them and with no students to rely on to help me understand them, are difficult to comprehend without the aid of the seminar leaders. I wonder if they feel the way we do?


  2. Rachon says:

    I like the points you raise in this post. Discussion sections are a necessary evil for us students. I think it’s a good thing that HumCore requires us to go to discussion – especially considering that classes that don’t require them students never show up. Seminar leaders are a good beacon of guidance for students as they enter the field for the first time, but it’s also important for students to put in the mental effort to understand and contribute their own unique perspectives to the material and to the course.


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