Sunday, January 16, 2011

In love with the problem problem:

Why I <3 my classes.

As a freshman I took a class called Intro to Academic Writing, because I was naive and listened to my previously-unknown-to-me Honors adviser, who said that since I had already completed my English requirement with AP classes I should take this intro class to help me write papers in college. I unwittingly signed up, and did not realize until the first or second week of classes what "Introduction to Academic Writing" actually meant. It meant reading journal articles, analyzing "academic" writing styles and teaching me a trick called the "quote sandwich," which I still use in all my papers to this day. However, the most important thing I took from this class was "the problem problem."

In an article by Gerald Graff, he describes the "problem problem" in the academic community as the "tendency to make seemingly obvious assumptions explicit" and a "general obsession with searching for problems where often there do not seem to be any." I was relieved in reading this article that someone else had noticed how "academics" tend to create issues where there don't seem to be issues simply to have something to write about, and thus securing their employment through "searching for problems where there don't seem to be any." While in this class, I discovered a resentment towards academics, or perhaps my professor, for writing things I had to read about which did not need to be read about at all. Perhaps this is more the case in liberal arts disciplines, perhaps not. I just knew I was fed up with reading articles and writing papers about “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adults." Do we really need to analyze how people revise their writing? It happens, it's over, move on.

More recently, however, as I began seeing the problem problem as the underlying architecture for every college course I have ever taken (and therefore higher education in general, I believe), I realized that I do not hate the problem problem as strongly as I thought. In fact, I LOVE it.

Case in point: Happiness.

This semester, I am taking a class called Happiness. That's it. That's the whole name of the class. It is a Psychology class AND a Philosophy class, so we have two professors, 70 students (which is about as big as it gets at CofC) and a whole curriculum of the problem problem.

I noticed in my Family and Childhood Issues class that Psychology is about a lot of unknowns. Most things can not be measured in this discipline, and most of the things that can be measured can not be measured reliably, like happiness. We spent most of the class supplying questions as answers, discussing what influences a child's development: "What about his SES?" "Maybe there is a history of illness?" "Parental discord or harmony?"
My Happiness class is slightly more concrete, but only because Philosophy is a different discipline. Instead of inventing questions to define the situation, each person invents answers. That is why each Philosopher has his own "ism" or theory he is associated with.  There are dualists, idealists, hedonists, and anarchists. So when you get a group full of Question majors in a room with a group full of Answer majors, interesting things happen.

I love this class. I love all my classes because of the problem problem. When there is nothing left to write about, make something to write about.
And read that book, because so far it is excellent.

No comments:

Post a Comment