From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Writing and Time (1a)—Reading Logs

One year ago on Round and Square (17 September 2011)—Remonstrance: Filial Nourishment
Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Writing and Time."
[a] Dogged RF
What follows in the next two posts is an assignment I have been handing out in my advanced seminars for the past fifteen years. Although most "class-related" posts appear under a topic linked to a course I am teaching, this one seemed to fit the "Writing and Time" series that I introduced on RSQ a few months ago. Part of my teaching schtick is to start every assignment with definitions. It started many years ago with a definition of the word "essay." After that, I couldn't resist defining everything.   

I have broken the assignment into two posts, followed by the logs themselves. It has a story to tell about Writing and Time. 
Reading Log 1                  Reading Log 2                  Reading Log 3
NOUN: 1. The act or activity of one that reads. 2. The act or practice of rendering aloud written or printed matter: skilled at forensic reading. 3. An official or public recitation of written material: the reading of a will; a reading by the poet of her own works. 4a. The specific form of a particular passage in a text: an unusual reading of the old manuscript. b. The distinctive interpretation of a work of performing art given by the person or persons performing it. 5. A personal interpretation or appraisal: He gave us his reading of the situation. 6. Written or printed material. 7. The information indicated by a gauge or graduated instrument.  
[b] Logged RF

NOUN: 1a. A usually large section of a trunk or limb of a fallen or felled tree. b. A long thick section of trimmed, unhewn timber. 2. Nautical a. A device trailed from a ship to determine its speed through the water. b. A record of a ship's speed, its progress, and any shipboard events of navigational importance. c. The book in which this record is kept. 3. A record of a vehicle's performance, as the flight record of an aircraft. 4. A record, as of the performance of a machine or the progress of an undertaking: a computer log; a trip log.  VERB: Inflected forms: logged, log·ging, logs  TRANSITIVE VERB: 1a. To cut down, trim, and haul the timber of (a piece of land). b. To cut (timber) into unhewn sections. 2. To enter in a record, as of a ship or an aircraft. 3. To travel (a specified distance, time, or speed): logged 30,000 air miles in April. 4. To spend or accumulate (time): had logged 25 years with the company.  INTRANSITIVE VERB: To cut down, trim, and haul timber.  PHRASAL VERBS: log in (or on) To enter into a computer the information required to begin a session. log out (or off) To enter into a computer the command to end a session. ETYMOLOGY: Middle English logge.
***  *** 
I expect twelve hours of reading and writing for this seminar—every single week of the term.  This is a standard expectation (three hours of study for every hour in class) in the higher reaches of higher education (and this is a “capstone” course intended to introduce you to the seminar format in the disciplines of history and anthropology). But instead of thinking of this expectation as a burden, I encourage you to let your imagination stretch far beyond the borders of academe and dream of being…an attorney.  My irony should not be mistaken for levity.  There is much that academics can learn from people who work for a living, and one of the ways that workers count their time is the time clock.  Although we will not be concerned with punching a time clock, I wish to tell you a story here about time…and clocks—and the humble fifteen-minute increment. 
[c] Sunday reading RF

Once there was a diligent college student who turned in all of her papers on time, organized her schedule well, and graduated with honors.  She breezed through law school on the same tightly organized schedule, and only had the slightest sign of a problem when she had to study for the bar exam, a more open-ended commitment than she had confronted up to that point.  No worries; she was bright and well trained.  She passed with distinction, and joined a fine law firm in her state’s capital city. Now there was one goal left—becoming a “partner” in the firm. She learned quickly what she had not known when studying for the bar exam. 

Minutes matter. 

Wishing desperately to rise to the status of partner in her law firm, she learned to cherish the quarter hour, and to monitor her use of each such segment throughout the day.  She did so because that is the basic way her work was to be assessed (quality eventually played a role, but in the initial estimation it was all about quantity).  She kept studious records, and was surprised that her quarter hour totals added up to over 2,000 hours in her first year. Those hours have a far more serious purpose than she first realized, and that is because law firms bill clients on the quarter hour.  And so it went on (and goes on today). Every time that an attorney sits down with a pastrami sandwich and a client’s file, she is billing the client for her time, so long as the bulk of the time is spent on the file and not the sandwich (and the lesson there is more important for our work lives than we might initially realize). In several years, our legal star had billed tens of thousands of hours, was named partner in her firm, and became a legend in the Greater Laramie legal community.
***  ***
[d] Legalities RF
Academics often work on a different time scale.  It all begins in college, when serious students look forward to weekends (or the occasional free weekday) for serious study.  Some have even been heard to say things such as “I have all day Sunday for reading” or “I’ll catch up on my seminar Thursday night.”  It progresses quickly to the hope that autumn or winter break will lead to “study” so that they can catch up on late work or begin preparing for seminar papers.  By the time many students are juniors or seniors, they look forward to large swaths of “open” time, and regard small units—such as an hour between classes—as unworthy of serious use.

And that is only the beginning.  In the coursework phase of graduate school, students often plan their schedules so that they only have seminars two or three days a week.  The other days are free for “reading” and “studying.”  When they enter their exam phase, they have no classes at all.  Every day can be spent “reading” and “studying.”  You may have begun to wonder why those words need to have quotation marks around them.  Wonder no more: the students are very often not really reading or studying.  Much of the time they are watching CNN or Sports Center, petting the cat, checking e-mail or social networking pages, imagining how many people would be interested in tweets about their graduate fields, or thinking about what life might be like after they finish their exams. This is bad. 

But it gets worse.    

If they pass their qualifying exams, graduate students enter a phase of education unlike any other.   They have nothing to do except write a 300-page dissertation.  They have no more classes; they no longer even have terms.  What used to be autumn term or spring term now becomes interminable—day after day of working on the dissertation.  It takes real effort to get up in the morning and find ways to procrastinate until dusk but many graduate students manage to do so.  Some, indeed, learn to excel at it. This is bad. 

But it gets even worse.    

More on that tomorrow. 

I have broken the assignment into two posts, followed by the logs themselves. It has a story to tell about Writing and Time. 
Reading Log 1                  Reading Log 2                  Reading Log 3

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