Natasha’s Seminar Participation Guide

Amen to the following:

Natasha’s Nice and Easy Guide to Seminar Participation

After three years of clandestine snooping and scavenging, I have had an epiphany.  I have discovered that (gasp!) sometimes other people don’t get the theory either.  What’s that, you say? Theory? Yes.  Theory.  That nasty stuff that we have to read when we’d rather be reading something else.  Sure, it is occasionally interesting.  Yes, it is potentially helpful.  It is even, some would say, important, at least in the literary universe.  But does that mean we feel good about it? No.  No, we do not.

It has taken me six long semesters to come out of the theoretical closet and utter these confessions.  Why so long? I’ll tell you why.  Because I thought everyone else liked the stuff, and that I was the only one in the academic cosmos who, more often than not, stared at the mountains of what appeared to be philosophical drivel, scratched my head, and said, “Huh?”

I come before you today to pronounce that it is not so.  It is just possible that other people enter the same seminar, thinking the same thing: Who comes up with this stuff? Surely they have too much time on their hands.  Does the distinction between the “real brain” and the “cognitive world” really matter? Does it? Sometimes I ask these questions because I really can’t wrap my real brain around my cognitive world, and sometimes I understand the ideas with pristine clarity, but just don’t care.  Usually, though, my stance is something like this: I get the gist of this.  I’m not sure I follow every sub-string of every sub-argument, but I see what the author is saying.  I even see how it relates to the literature I’m studying.  I just hope that in the next two hours, I can prove it.

Prove it.  Prove that you know what you’re talking about.  Prove that you know what everyone else is talking about.  Above all, do not (I repeat, do not) allow yourself to appear in any way unintelligent.  And how do you succeed in this feat? Easy.  You don’t talk unless you’re pretty sure that the thing you’re about to say isn’t completely moronic.  Then you try to wedge a sentence or two in between the locutionary acrobatics being performed with such ease by everyone else around the table, and hope you’ve said enough to earn the requisite participation grades.  This, I confess, is how I have survived the last five semesters (and no, I haven’t just failed the same courses over and over for three years running.  I’m part-time.  I’m allowed to spend three years doing a one-year degree).

Let it be known that there is another way.  It’s called learning.  It means that you come to class not with the intention of “proving” that you’ve mastered the content, but with the intention of increasing your understanding of the content.  It means that you take what you do get from that stack of readings, and put it on the table to examine.  And it means that you take what you don’t get, and you put that on the table, too.  And then what? You ask.

Ask?!? Never! That would be an admission of my own imbecility! No one must know that I have questions.  Everyone must know that I have the answers.  It’s all about what people think I know.  Right? Isn’t that what higher education is all about?

Nay.  It is all about knowing more when I leave the room than I did when I came in, and that is not an exercise in proof.  It is, at times, an exercise in honesty, and sometimes in humility.  But, if only as an experiment, it’s worth trying.  Don’t believe me? Ask your professors.  See what they say.  Ask!

Natasha Regehr

January 31, 2012  

About dontpanictrent

DON'T PANIC: A Trent Graduate Student Blog

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