Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Syllabic Cycles"
|[a] Columbus...day...time RF|
|[b] Little Mac RF|
Let us not kid ourselves. No one is going to read, engage, and retain ninety books in ten weeks. It will not happen. Something (perhaps Thomas Henry Buckle or even William Edgar Geil) is going to fall through the cracks, left to be picked up by later readers, and further generations of anthropology students. Since it cannot all be reatained, then, what, exactly, is wrong with a professor who assigns such reading loads (and shall we call him/her assassin)?
I wish I could speak for Marshall Sahlins, but his iconic brand will just have to speak for itself. If forced to divulge an opinion, though, I would say that Sahlins, just like a whole barrel full of graduate school professors, pack their syllabuses full of readings and then proceed to teach their classes while never, ever, explaining just how a hyper-motivated and above-average student is supposed to handle seemingly impossible amounts of work. Really. Think about it. It is one thing to get a ninety-book syllabus. It is another thing entirely to get it, start following it, begin being buried by the sheer volume of expectations in it, and, all the while, never to hear even a hint at how to handle too much work, too many assignments, and even too much pressure.
Let me underline this as clearly as I can.
Marshall Sahlins (and others, with—almost—equally difficult syllabuses) taught me everything I need to know about how to handle miserable amounts of work as well as knee-buckling and soul-crushing loads of text. I love ol' Marsh (and don't think I ever would have dared to call him that at the time), but he never gave me one glimmer of indication about how to handle it.
I just figured it out on my own.
It wasn't easy.
It was terrible, painful, and demoralizing. Somehow, even after the heady days (for the approximately twenty-five Minnesotans on campus) after the Minnesota Twins were crowned champion had faded, I stuck with it. Slowly, a pattern began to emerge. Methodically (so to speak), I picked up the threads of the problem...and, eventually, not one, but rather two, or three, or four (or more) solutions. It started to cohere; it started to make sense.
|[c] Vibrancy RF|
It pains me to say it, but I must do so—with no thanks to the professors who handed out these monstrosities of paper and staples and titles and work.
Not one ever taught me anything about handling it all, even though these women and men transformed my life with their teaching and scholarship.
How can those two oddities go together?
How can not explaining anything important about life and work go hand-in-hand with creating energy and intellectual vibrancy toward a goal that would transform everything we have done up until now? How is it possible that terrible life-leadership can be combined with, well, unsurpassed...life leadership?
I'm not sure. Even to this day, I'm not sure.
I wish I could say more, but let's flash-forward to my goal in these posts. If you have missed the point about how brilliant and transformative these professors were in my life, you had better go back and read over these posts. I have overflowing gratitude for my professors (and their impossible syllabuses). There is just a little bit more, though. By not explaining any of the "hard stuff" to me (to us), they ended up, intentionally or not, giving me a swift kick in the intellectual solar-plexus. I had to figure it out—pretty much all of it—for myself. As the German historian Friedrich Meineke once stated, there is nothing like forcing the interpreter to interpret deeply...for (him)self...to create powerful new steps to the next levels of analysis. As Professor Meineke noted, only (relative) lack of guidance can create true engagement.
I'll address Meineke in a future blog post. As for my "cruel" long syllabus professors, I am grateful to all of them, and I will never forget them.
|[d] Idyllic RF|
But yet...still...there is just one more thing.
Damnit. Couldn't they just explain how to do it? Would it kill them to walk us through the why of the superhuman expectations, and to describe just how they might have handled these challenges in their own idyllic pasts?
Would that be too much to ask?
My task in these posts—and particularly in my classes (you have to come to class to understand this)—is to take that one, last, liberal arts college step, and actually to explain why impossible work-load syllabuses might have a role in changing your education and, more likely, your life.
Your future depends upon it. Even your past (if you are my age) might look a little more interesting if we bring this syllabic...sort of...context to our lives.
Now let's take a look at a syllabus...or five.
This is a multi-part introduction to the series "Syllabic Cycles." Click here for the other posts:
|[e] Context RF|