Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Allusions Confirmed

Since most of my woefully small readership are friends and family, I suppose I owe something of a "what's going on" update at some point. Of course you've heard of my impending wedding on the 21st of March, but odds are you know nothing - or close to it - of my coursework here at Stanford this (and last) quarter, except what I have alluded to in my posts.

Stanford's quarter system is different from what I am accustomed to, and the result is the proverbial "fire hose" that many graduates treat with nostalgia. While the environment here is not as immersive as that at St. John's - perhaps because not everyone is reading the same books at the same time - it is more hurried, more demanding. Most courses meet once a week - twice at most - for ten weeks. That's only ten meetings to get a whole curriculum across.

Fall quarter was exceptionally busy for me, this quarter has been even more so. First quarter I was enrolled in a somewhat ambiguous number of classes. By that I mean, I was enrolled in three "proper," 3+ unit classes, but also three 1 unit classes and a 2 unit class. Seven classes in total is a lot, but since four of those did not ask for much work outside of showing up every week, it was a manageable load, and on the whole I logged 16 units (which put me comfortably below the 18-unit maximum). It would have been more manageable had I not been simultaneously applying to the PhD program that links to my Master's program.

This quarter is different. I'm enrolled in fewer classes, but my units add up to 18 even. I'm noticing that 18 units is quite a lot, especially because 17 of those come from classes, and only one from my 10-hour-per-week internship. Ten hours of internship to one unit of credit is not a favorable ratio.

Besides my internship - which is split oddly between a local private, Catholic high school and Stanford's own charter school - I'm taking four proper classes. One of those classes is in the English department, and I am happy to visit twice a week with a collection of students who are, without exception, English or Modern Thought students. The course is called "Biography and Life Writing," a source of amusement for people like me who know some Greek. The Professor - Carol Shloss - is a Pulitzer finalist and National Book Award winner, and so the experience has been tremendous, if different from what I'm used to (the discussion is heavily weighted towards our professor). This class, however, constitutes five units of my 17, because it requires essentially one book's worth of reading each week. That's not so much that it's undoable, but it has certainly been more than enough given my other courses.

My most enjoyable education class - and my 3 unit, and therefore "least work" class, in theory - is called "Understanding Learning Environments." Co-taught by Ray McDermott and Roy Pea, it's a romp through the modern history of learning theory. Of course, in ten weeks we can only go into so much depth, but the actual point of the class has been not so much to digest and debate the history of cognitive sciences, but to understand Ray's peculiar characterization of culture, what learning really is, and why we education students bother at all.

I am also taking a four unit "Introduction to Data Analysis" course focusing on the use of statistics in education and social sciences research. On the whole, the course has been more or less a review of my AP Statistics class from high school, but seeing as it has been a while since then, the course has been worth the time its lengthy assignments require. From a professional standpoint, at the very least, it is valuable to have taken a quantitative research course (I took an introductory qualitative research class first quarter).

Finally, I'm enrolled in a course taught by Denise Pope for the second straight quarter. Denise is the author of Doing School, a phenomenal piece of research that blows up a number of assumptions our culture makes about high achieving students. On top of being an excellent researcher, Denise is an excellent teacher as well. Her course this quarter is "Curriculum Construction," which is, of course, at the heart of the educational process. What makes the course great, however, is the active meta-cognition that Denise and her TAs engage in. Her course is a living example of curriculum construction, and as we strive to build our own curricula - the capstone project for the course - for a real-life site, we are encouraged to reflect upon the curriculum of the course itself, as well as other courses we know of, are taking, have taught, and so on.

Of course, all four of these courses assign a significant amount of reading, and so I'm spending a significant portion of my time pouring over biographies, old psychology articles, and academic debates about curriculum design. On top of that, there's my internship, which, early in the quarter anyway, involved some politics that I think I had better not speak of too loudly. Beyond even that, I've taken on writing two curricula (in addition to the required one for my Curriculum class) on the side for summer workshops I'll be teaching come June. I'm actually quite excited about those curricula, because one is a kind of Johnnie-esque writing curriculum designed for high schoolers who are interested in diving deeper into their own experience with language, and the other is an introductory sabermetrics course designed for, well, nerdy baseball fans. Exciting though those are, they remain an added bit of work on top of an already full plate.

If you've done the math, you'll note that I haven't mentioned one unit of my 18 yet, and that is because I haven't mentioned my LDT Seminar. Seminar is not much work, for the most part (occasional readings, and a lot of housekeeping), but it is also worth mentioning that by the end of this quarter I have to write a draft of a proposal for my Master's project. Drinking from a fire hose indeed.

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