Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Devotional Lyric

This class intimidates me: senior capstone class, smart classmates, academic superstar professor. And it freezes me into inaction on any assignment. I vacillate between several different topics, unable to choose and when I get to writing it I wonder if it's any good at all, put it off too late and generally panic.

M'Kayla has suggested that part of it is this toxic culture of academic competition. We all want to be top of the class. So why does this class scare me while the honors class where I am as like to hear "What's the difference between a novel and an essay?" as "Didn't some of the Greek comedians like Philemon have a similar telological approach?" drives me to check my email and blog during class?

Probably because I have to care about my Senior Capstone Of MY MAJOR BEFORE GRADUATE SCHOOL WHERE I WILL BE TESTED TO THE LIMIT TO SEE IF I HAVE THE ACADEMIC METTLE TO MAKE IT IN THE WORLD OF THE UNIVERSITY AND THE MLA CONFERENCE and not just a civilization course I need to graduate.

Good grief.


dkm said...

The class might be scary, but your superstar professor thinks that you guys are great. Here’s what she posted about the devotional lyric assignment (and you know how sparse she can be with praise . . .):

"Stunned, exhilarated, gratified, vindicated, proud like a mother hen

A few days ago (Feb 19), I posted about an assignment I'd given my devotional lyric students: to write a devotional lyric, and an essay explaining why it was a devotional lyric. And I am eager to report that their poems are SO JAWDROPPINGLY FANTASTIC that I may do a toe-dance in class next week. The poems are smart, sometimes metaphysical, sometimes heartbreaking, revelatory, and more sensitive to the theories of lyric and of devotional writing that we've been studying for lo these many weeks than I could have hoped. Each student's essay indicates that the successes of the lyrics--the stuff that works really well poetically and argumentatively--is totally intended, and has arisen out of our discussions. In short, I'm feeling very, very pedagogically hot- rocking right now."

It’s nice to know what professors say to your face. But sometimes it’s even nicer to know what they say behind your back.

Dan Muhlestein

Makayla said...

Well... THAT was a unique way to spell my name... haven't seen that one before (I've had this discussion twice today with people- about the spelling and pronunciation of my name... odd). Anyway, if it makes you feel any better, I don't think I've ever heard poems by any of my other friends or classmates that I like as much as yours. Since I'm not poetically inclined, it probably doesn't make you feel better - but it's true.

I still hold true to what I said this morning; I've been thinking about it for weeks, and you got the readers digest version. Probably because the long version would have overwhelmed you - and made you late for class to boot. Next time I see you, I'll give you the readers digest version of my bizarre take on compliments.

mlh said...

But what about the earlier post about how her senior English majors can't write analytical papers?

Okay, I'll just focus on the good.

dkm said...

Tricky, tricky, tricky, changing the baseline like that! And you an econ TA, too :). Because of course her comments addressed two related but distinct issues: the devotional lyric assignment specifically, and analytical papers generally. Since your entry was about that particular assignment, her comment about that assignment trumps her comments about writing generally (lol).

Seriously, though, it sounds like a case of progression to me. Earlier in the semester, she was unimpressed. Now, she is. She hasn’t changed, so you must have.

taylor310 said...

academic superstar professors CAN be a little intimidating. but isn't it also possible that her earlier post wasn't referring to you or your class? i mean, she probably teaches more than one class, and it sounds like she thinks highly of yours. the graph from her blog doesn't sound like "sparse with praise" to me.

on a different note: dr. muhlestein, i don't know you, but it strikes me as strange that you'd be willing to discuss one of your colleagues with students in such a public forum--and in a way that could cast the professor as harsh or inflexible, which i think your comments do. it seems to me that it's one thing to give individual advice in a one-on-one setting and quite another to do so on the comment board of a student blog. i mean no disrespect to you, but to be plain, i think it's unprofessional.

dkm said...

Hi taylor310,

I certainly didn’t intend for it to seem that way. I think that she is a fabulous scholar and teacher, and I think that her willingness to push her students really hard is one of her greatest strengths.

I mentioned how sparse she is with praise because in an earlier post mhl talked about how hard it can be to interpret a professor’s complements. My point was that when someone as thrifty in her praise as this professor is says something really complementary in her blog, it can be taken seriously, at face value.

My emphasis on her rigor was not meant as critique, but rather as praise. I wish that more professors taught like she does. And believe me, she doesn’t need my advice (lol). She’s the superstar, not me.

taylor310 said...

i'm sure you're right—-both about her rigor and your intention to praise. my point (perhaps poorly expressed) was that a student's public blog seems an inappropriate forum to discuss a colleague's pedagogy with her students. i always appreciate frank, well-intentioned advice and assessments of the department given to me by professors, in private conversation. but if one were to talk to a group of students (which is apparently what you've done here, intentionally or not) about a colleague, whether in class or at some function, i would find it strange. it would seem, perhaps, a breach of collegial trust and solidarity.

dkm said...

Hi again,

I think that you’re absolutely right, at least if I were saying something derogatory about her or her class. But it seems like when you are saying something good about a fellow professor or her students, you ought to shout it to the rooftops. It also seems like a good idea to pass along praise when you hear it (or, in this case, read it).

It’s always hard to know how to react to student blogs. I don’t read many and respond to even fewer. In this particular case, since I’ve known mlh for years and have just finished up a second class with her, it seemed like a good idea to point out what a great job her professor thought her class was doing. It’s the tough part of the semester, after all . . . .

I can see, though, how someone might interpret the comment differently than I had intended it. That’s one of the authentic dangers of blogs, and one of the risks we all take when we comment in a forum that feels more private than it is. It really is a brave new world out here on the web, you know? And it’s good to be reminded of that sometimes.

mlh said...

Wow! My blog has reached Slate Magazine-level controversy!

Maybe I can be called a "pundit" now.