Thursday, June 28, 2012

Post class debriefing

As I have written about earlier, I am sampling two graduate classes, one from the online Applied Linguistics program at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and the second from Rhode Island College's Masters in Teaching English as a Second Language.

The first summer session at Rhode Island College is over, and I now feel ready to begin digesting my experience. Three issues seem the most salient.

First, my physical absence from my house, both from transit and from class time, was significant. Beneficial to me as a student, in that I did not have little distractions running around, biting each other, screaming my name from the bottom of the stairs. Detrimental to little person equilibrium, in that they both have become more clingy than before, and complain loudly when they see babysitters arrive. Plus the house is a mess. More so than usual.

Second, the teacher modeled good teaching brilliantly. He (Professor Jaime Ramirez) deployed some really inventive teaching tools, having us circulate in very useful problem solving groups, having us reteach to each other, theorize as teams, etc. He scaffolded (how I hate this jargony word. So I will change it) He guided us through the stages of our final paper very effectively throughout the semester, giving us a continuously solid work load, rather than one impossible avalanche at the end, and both my output and my learning benefitted from this.

Third comes the downside. I received high marks on all of my tests and papers – not normally a thing to bemoan, but this time it was strange, in that there were a small number of us who did very well, and the rest did so poorly that the teacher, doubtless to protect us from scrutiny, hid our scores from others. It is usually the low scorers who are given anonymity, but not here... I don't really take this as a good sign, for my sense of belonging, for the department's standards, or for the quality of the students.

Okay, there is still the fourth point. If I did this program, I would have to stay in Rhode Island for at least one more year, possibly two. Rhode Island has its merits, but winter isn't one of them, and I'm ready to leave that behind.

Whistling in the Wind

As for the class at Umass, I have mixed feelings there, too. We write online responses to our readings every week, but they are not always read by someone... And the teaching being modeled is all about the software, which is buggy...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


I participated in the Rigden Weekend, taught by Acharya Eric Spiegel, at the Boston Shambhala Center this past weekend.

Their gong is bigger than ours is.

But back to the weekend... We received teaching for the lungta, or windhorse, practice. I'm trying to practice it on the fly, but it isn't so easy. Still, I really appreciated Acharya Spiegel's clarity. There was no nudginess, no nuts, no preciousness, no excessive claims of knowledge. And I came away feeling like this was someone who knows of what he speaks.

Lucy, coincidentaly, serendipitously, made me this drawing while I was away.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Form and space

I am supposed to be sleeping, but instead I am thinking about Japan.

I started musing about what it was I learned while I was there, as a very raw 16 year old. I thought of space, and silence. Japan can be very loud, and very busy, full of tchotchkes. But there is still usually space in the form, and often you can only hear what is being said by ignoring what is actually being said, and listening for what is not. That sounds awfully mystical, but you only have to think of the stereotype of the perpetually nodding, acknowledging, supporting Japanese conversation, and remember that "hai, hai, hai" often means no, rather than yes.

And the game of Go? Empty territories.

Tea ceremony? Silence, then the "toc" of a bamboo ladle, and waiting.

Of course, the ultimate example of calligraphy, with space in form and form in space...

Sounds ideal, as a society, except that I don't remember much true individuality. More like comic book sketches of individuals. Which I'm sure allows for more space, as a mask permits you to make whatever face you want. Still, I like the bravery of honest individualism.

Which the US has. But it isn't very elegant. The form of our dialogues, and buildings, and infrastructure, is not usually beautiful. And we have space, but that often bleeds into neglect, and numbness.

France, on the other extreme, has very precise, energetic, frequently elegant form and activity, but zero interest in spaciousness. Fill that pause right up. Sattori, gap moment? Fill that sucker up.

Sleep, now? I hope so. I have an exam tomorrow.