ENG 420 6.2: Nathan’s My Freshman Year

Today’s Plan:

  • Some paper feedback
  • Nathan
  • Homework

Paper Feedback

I wanted to address two comments I left on papers. Here was a passage dealing with Isocrates and Emerson:

There is a clear dissonance here between Emerson and Isocrates. Isocrates teaches by modeling, while Emerson is completely opposed to imitation. The solution here is not to think of modeling as imitation. It is possible to teach students to think for themselves and focus on their own learning and meaning making, while also giving students example of what good thinkers, good writers, and good people look like. In other words, modeling should only be used as a guide for students, not as something to imitate and strive for. The idea is to give students a starting point and a reference while they work towards growth. Teaching students in the way Isocrates would like is essential to giving students the skills and knowledge they need to be autonomous and competitive in the job market. For example, one of the best ways to help students grow as writers is to show them mentor texts and have them analyze the techniques used by the author. The goal, then, would not be for them to imitate that author, but rather use their own critical thinking skills to apply those techniques to their own writing.

There is another clear dissonance between Emerson and Isocrates. Isocrates believes civic involvement is an essential end goal to education. Emerson, on the other hand, believes people should simply focus on their own betterment and success. The happy medium here speaks more to Emerson’s idea of individualism. Give students the knowledge, tools, and skills to decide for themselves. Some students may choose to become directly involved with politics, while others may choose to keep to themselves. The argument may be made, however, that those who choose Emerson’s way of self-reliance, are bettering the nation by bettering themselves. When students have the wide knowledge range, the critical thinking, and open-mindedness that comes from exposure to many different topics, ideas, and opinions, they are likely to all be civically engaged in some way or another. It just may not be as directly as Isocrates believed it should.

Here was my response:

I think you and I have one particular disagreement–and that is likely both a philosophical and political disagreement. I tend to be very wary of philosophies or politics based on individual agency, the idea that each individual is responsible for themselves. I think that individualisms tend to downplay the importance of environment on shaping both what we can do and what we want to do.

If we look at America’s development, we see a history of communal dedication–by that I mean a series of commitments to developing social institutions that provide fundamental necessities for individual action. For education, we develop schools so individuals don’t have to educate themselves. For safety, we develop police departments and fire departments. For transportation and business, we develop roads. For health (and convenience), we develop water departments. And we collectively regulate other utilities (electricity, telephones, and maybe the Internet depending on the future of Net Neutrality laws) to ensure that everyone has fair and equal access.

So, unless someone really is going off Thoreau style into the woods, digging their own sceptic system, I think they are still benefiting from our *ahem* socialist arrangements. It isn’t that individuals don’t shape their destiny, or that individual work ethic isn’t important; rather I would say that those things aren’t everything, and there is a general tendency to overlook the social commitments that allow individual agency to emerge. And, we often fail to recognize that not everyone has equal access to those social commitments.

One Last Problem with Plato and Universal, Objective, Abstract Truth (Or, When Everything Becomes Math)

The problem is when we frame *all questions* like math questions. We teach students the syntax X is Y. America is a land of justice. Or Good people work hard. Or Marriage is between a man and a woman. Etc. We teach a structure of knowledge and truth that corresponds to mathematics–that for each question there is one right answer, and that their teacher can supply them that answer.

ZeFrank on College

Some classic Internetz:


We will all read chapters 5. Additionally, you should read any two other chapters:

  • Chapter 2: Life in the Dorms (dorm doors, “social” time/community)
  • Chapter 3: Community and Diversity (difficulty balancing individuality and community, measuring *actual* student diversity on campus; the lunchroom study)
  • Chapter 4: As Others See Us (how international students perceive America and Americans)
  • Chapter 5: Academically Speaking
  • Chapter 6: The Art of College Management
  • Chapter 7: Lessons from My Year as a Freshman

In terms of your blog response, I do want you to focus attention on the chapters you select to read–attempting to isolate Nathan’s argument. But I would like you to think about one particular claim Nathan makes:

Taken together, the discourse of the academe, both in and out of classes, led me to one of the most sobering insights I had as a professor-turned-student: How little intellectual life seemed to matter in college. This is not to say that no one cared about her education or that everyone cut all his classes. Rather, what I observed was that engagement in the philosophical and political issues of the day was not a significant part of student culture. (100)

Does this seem like an accurate observation? Rather than simply agree or disagree, tell me about how your experience matches up with this characterization and how it defies it.

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