Posts Tagged ‘university’

Morning Coffee with Dave and a New Semester

January 9, 2019

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. . . within you there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself . . .

Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

This bright winter early morning finds me preparing for classes. College begins in a week for me and I just about have everything ready to load online. This will be my first semester to teach exclusively online. I’m curious to find out how it feels, not having to report to a classroom schedule.

For years, I laughingly told my students that teaching was my karma. That would make sense. I hated public school and was extremely lazy regarding assignments. I was bored beyond description in classes. But there was a poster hanging on one of the walls of a high school English class that I never forgot, the quote is posted above. A few years back I found out that it was a quote from Siddhartha, so I just now got around to reading it. Last night at bedtime, I came across the quote and felt the same soothing calm I felt in those lazy school days when I drew sustenance from the poster on the wall.

The Julia Cameron book I am reading has me writing my memoir for the first time, and there is a fulfilment I feel, getting the words onto a page. Currently, I can only describe my years from childhood through high school as years of listlessness. I felt lost and clueless. I had no identity, and knew of no skills except as an artist. And I felt that artistic skills would not find me employment as an adult. I’ll likely write more of that in future blogs once I get it written out more clearly.

The bottom line: I did not care about reading and pondering Ideas until entering college. Fifteen years later I graduated with a Ph.D., and after working blue-collar jobs a short time, decided to enter the teaching profession. Now, as a semi-retiree, I choose not to leave the profession totally; I have more to share with students than ever before.

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Our month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, who was depicted as two-faced–one looking ahead and the other looking backward. Knowing this changed my attitude about the New Year. Since learning that, I have enjoyed January periods, finding time to write more, evaluating my own past and projecting where I wished to go next. I also find more meaning teaching when the New Year commences than in August when summer is still scorching us in Texas.

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This is a famous drawing of G. W. F. Hegel lecturing his students. I have it at my desk, because this semester I will be teaching the second half of Humanities at Texas Wesleyan University, covering philosophy, literature and art from the Age of the Enlightenment to the present age. January, for me, is a great month for rehashing the eighteenth-century Age of Enlightenment. I will be sharing with the students online an essay from Immanuel Kant: “Was Ist Aufklärung?” (What is Enlightenment)).  My favorite portion of the essay follows:

When we ask, Are we now living in an enlightened age? the answer is, No, but we live in an age of enlightenment. 

In many ways, times have not changed since Kant laid down those words in 1784. In 2019, I personally do not feel that we live in an enlightened age, despite all the technological advances that have provided for us an age of enlightenment. I am preparing to instruct students enriched with smart phones, computer, Internet, email–all the gifts making possible a college-level education without leaving their homes. Yet we still in many ways live in a culture more fitting for donkeys than humans, with little respect for the quality of life and community.

When the curtain goes up next week and I type out my first words to the new students coming in, I will do it with the faith that improvement is still possible with education, and I shall earnestly strive to impart to these new minds life-changing truths gleaned from some of the best creative individuals from our past.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

The Sublime in the Pre-Dawn

September 6, 2017

Hegel

Like a bird which alights nowhere, but hops perpetually from bough to bough, is the Power which abides in no man and in no woman, but for a moment speaks from this one, and for another moment from that one.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

I could not resist pushing aside my morning’s work for a moment to hang out another blog entry. While looking for an Emerson reference to illustrate one of my points in this morning’s lecture, I came across this one that I underlined in my book about a week ago and forgot, until this morning’s reminder. What a wonderfully poetic way to describe what I’ve known for decades–that the “power” of ideas is always flitting from one voice to another, and we can never pin it down in one place to stay put for us to dissect. I recall the theologian Karl Barth saying that attempting to describe God was like painting a bird in flight; you can only follow it with your eye.

My semi-retirement rhythms have found a nice pattern, despite the flitting of ideas from branch to branch. I’m teaching a course at the university that I’ve never taught before, yet as I research the themes necessary, I continually uncover thinkers I have studied over the years, and synthesizing my old knowledge with the new discussions keeps me fresh (I hope) and certainly enthusiastic. My pattern has emerged thus: I teach on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9:00 and 10:00 (same course, twice). Preparing one fifty-minute lecture every forty-eight hours has not been as difficult as I had imagined. I’m only sorry I couldn’t do this over the past twenty-eight years. My routine has been to write out the lecture and power-point it the night before. Then, rising at 5 a.m. the morning of, I go over it one more time, always refining, consolidating, rewriting, cutting, adding . . . with coffee steaming in my mug. By the time class arrives, I am ready and enthusiastic. I cannot express the contrast of this newly-found university freshness and joy against the high school treadmill of a four-or-five subject load, Monday-through-Friday delivery, with grading and paperwork and deadlines stacked atop all that. I had no idea how difficult my past was. I know I am older, but feel much, much younger now. The feeling of hope and enthusiasm often borders on euphoria.

I have always enjoyed working at my desk, when I knew that I could put quality time into the work. My routine now often entails extensive reading and note-taking through the daytime hours. As night descends, I draft the lecture on the laptop, then reshape it in a powerpoint presentation. Later, as I sleep through the night, I believe that my mind has its way of composting all the raw materials I have poured into the class lecture. Rising at 5 a.m., knowing that I have another four hours before class time, I re-open the lecture, and as I re-read it, I find all kinds of ways to tighten it up with revisions, and the structure of it firms up. All the while, I find myself smiling inwardly, enjoying the work as it grows in me.

Today we focus on Machiavelli and Hobbes, and I’m using the philosophical framework of the later Hegel to package the discussion. I’m loving this because the final form of my lecture is not copied and pasted from someone else’s textbook, yet the subject I’m covering is congruent with the chapter of assigned reading from the class text.

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Cartoon of Hegel lecturing his students

Before my re-writing session this morning, I found this image on the Internet that I have enjoyed over the years, printed it and placed it in front of me as I worked.

The light is finally coming up at my window, reminding me that it is time to finish up my classwork and get to the university. I have a job to do, and I am loving it.

Thanks for reading.