The Botereid

Sunday, November 07, 2004

The Hard Time Changing

I've been at Yale for two months now. I'm deliriously happy here, and tired. Let me speak of the latter.

Miami-Dade Community College was well worth my last two years. When I was ready to square off with my indolent ways, it was waiting with open doors, not to mention decent prices. It was the opportunity I sought. The teachers were wonderfully supportive. The atmosphere was congenial to my nascent philosophy. And so on.

Yet, as I foresaw but couldn't admit, MDC couldn't prepare me in full for the next step. Despite my independent travails -- my pursuit for knowledge beyond the campus gates -- I have had to brawl with the schoolwork here. It's winning.

I'm no longer working fulltime; in fact, I don't work at all. I'm taking only five classes. The subjects don't feel overwhelming. And yet, I'm not sure that I have a single "A." This is remarkable and frustrating, for it isn't for lack of effort. I toil sunrise to sunset, but I progress at pedestrian speed.

I've narrowed it to two poor study habits: (1) Bad reading and (2) inefficient attention.

The first shocked me. I knew that my interest, philosophy, was no home of light reading. In fact, I was fairly well-read for the time I had to give it in Miami, I thought. I knew what these texts were like. But the mammoth attention to detail that I've been forced to teach myself has been incredible. To survive, I've had to give "close reading" an entirely different meaning in my months here.

But it has been rewarding. Only when I began to creep over the page did I begin to glean real understanding from these works. I believe that I'm finally becoming adjusted to the pace; the difference between now and the semester's start in terms of how much time I need for, and how much I comprehend of, a philosophic work astounds: I am spending less time now and gaining far more. In the first week I must have spent ten hours reading Charles Stevenson's "The Emotive Meaning of Ethical Terms." It's a fairly clear piece, and still I struggled for weeks to grasp its general points. Last week I read "Values and Secondary Qualities," by John McDowell (famous for his esoteric style); it took two hours, and I came away from it with great confidence. As they say in Spanish, "Dress me slowly, for I am in a hurry." (Damned aristocrats.)

My second cause for being ill-prepared, "inefficient attention," is a curious one. What I mean by it is that I was putting too much attention on certain harder classes at the expense of others. At MDC, I could spend two weeks working on an essay for one class, then spend three days catching up for a test in another, then switch to a third to write another paper, etc. At Yale, this resulted in fruitless and numbing embroilment in one subject while falling far out of touch in others. It was a disaster. Juggling doesn't work here; everything must be carried together. It was as if I stood in one place as I juggled at Dade, but as soon as I had to walk and maintain the act, I dropped all the pins.

My new study method is a combination of what has worked in the past and the adjustments I've had to made. I'll go into it further tomorrow. Hopefully someone will find it useful in their own transition up from community college.

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