Cyborg

I wish I could become a cyborg and assimilate all the knowledge of my university’s library into my brain. The library is one of the few things I like about this school. It is an impressive collection. There are shelves upon shelves of Russian history books.

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Isn’t that amazing? And that’s just one small part of a shelf (keep in mind there are many such shelves).

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College: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Tom has a blog post about whether you should go to college. Overall, it’s funny and pretty good and he says pretty much what I think about the subject. The only thing I take issue with is this paragraph at the end.

College should produce an educated, literate man or women who are capable of clear expression in English, who are well read in a spectrum of literature, who possess a grasp of Western civilization, who have learned at least one foreign language (no, not Spanish, one that’s in demand), and who are competent in at least a baseline amount of social and scientific knowledge.

The emphasized part is mine because that’s what I want to focus on. Pretty much every college in America fails on that account. I’ve met people from all sorts of schools: Ivy League schools, wannabe Ivies, state schools, and everything in between. Some schools have a foreign language requirement; some don’t. The point is this: to this day, I have met maybe five people, if I’m generous, who have successfully learned a foreign language to a decent degree at university. It just doesn’t happen that often. Foreign languages are hard (I’m the first to admit this) and you have to really, really want to learn one in order to successfully do it.

Basically, we need a major overhaul in university curricula in this country. And the first thing I would do (were I in charge of such a thing) is stop having TAs teach classes. (The second thing I’d do is make the curriculum intellectually rigorous—there’s no slacking off in Natasha’s world, you know?)

Incompetent Professors

There’s nothing I hate worse than incompetence and today I want to focus on incompetent professors, who are especially galling (because you basically have to pay money for the privilege—I’m being sarcastic here—of being exposed to their incompetence).

Everyone in my investments class is perpetually confused. That’s because this class, which started this semester, is a direct continuation of an investments class we took last semester. Apparently, we didn’t really learn very much last semester. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that I’ve learned more in four class periods of investments this semester than I learned in the entire investments class last semester.

If you divide it out, my parents basically paid $2,800 for me to learn… nothing. Nice, right?

(Actually, let’s look on the positive side. I could argue that it will all even out because I learned a lot in my other classes last semester, and am learning a ton right now. In fact, the energy class I’m taking is well worth the entire year’s tuition for my program.)

Accounting

Lord Almighty, it’s a miracle, everyone: I sat through my two-hour intermediate accounting class today and I think I actually understood everything. This is a huge accomplishment for me, as accounting has been my worst subject so far in this program.

Second Semester

So, I’ve had a grand total of two days of class so far this semester. Two of my classes have been not so great. I’m hoping they’ll get more interesting as the semester goes along (because, to be fair, the first two days have been review). My favorite class so far is an energy class, covering energy policy, finance, and that sort of thing. We jumped right into the material today and I love it. Although I admit, I did not expect to talk about the first law of thermodynamics in business school.

WSJ Opinion Piece: ‘The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

I was all cozy in bed and reading, then I stumbled across this excellent article on Twitter called The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity. This article is so excellent that I immediately leapt up to blog about it so that I wouldn’t forget.

The author, Heather Mac Donald, laments about the dismal state of the way humanities are taught at universities today. As someone not even two years out of university, I agree wholeheartedly.

Until 2011, students majoring in English at UCLA had to take one course in Chaucer, two in Shakespeare, and one in Milton —the cornerstones of English literature. Following a revolt of the junior faculty, however, during which it was announced that Shakespeare was part of the “Empire,” UCLA junked these individual author requirements. It replaced them with a mandate that all English majors take a total of three courses in the following four areas: Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Disability and Sexuality Studies; Imperial, Transnational, and Postcolonial Studies; genre studies, interdisciplinary studies, and critical theory; or creative writing.

In other words, the UCLA faculty was now officially indifferent to whether an English major had ever read a word of Chaucer, Milton or Shakespeare, but the department was determined to expose students, according to the course catalog, to “alternative rubrics of gender, sexuality, race, and class.”

My friend B. was an English major at my alma mater. She took only one Shakespeare class and no courses on Chaucer or Milton (if I remember correctly). These courses were offered, just not required. I encouraged her to study Chaucer but she did not.

In my own major, history, there were courses that I deemed stupid and I did my best to avoid those. I graduated after taking mainly 300- and 400-level courses that were actually rigorous.

I’m not going to quote the entire article (because I want you to go read it!) but I’m just going to close with a short selection that speaks for itself.

Compare the humanists’ hunger for learning with the resentment of a Columbia University undergraduate, who had been required by the school’s core curriculum to study Mozart. She happens to be black, but her views are widely shared, to borrow a phrase, “across gender, sexuality, race and class.”

“Why did I have to listen in music humanities to this Mozart?” she groused in a discussion of the curriculum reported by David Denby in “Great Books,” his 1997 account of re-enrolling in Columbia’s core curriculum. “My problem with the core is that it upholds the premises of white supremacy and racism. It’s a racist core. Who is this Mozart, this Haydn, these superior white men? There are no women, no people of color.” These are not the idiosyncratic thoughts of one disgruntled student; they represent the dominant ideology in the humanities today.

Yes, obviously we only study Mozart because he was white, not because he was the one of the single most brilliant composers ever to have lived, a composer who wrote fully mature works as a teenager, a composer who transformed the way piano music was written and played, a composer who wrote one of the most brilliant double concertos in existence.

(I take particular exception to that last bit I quoted, since Mozart is my favorite composer whose brilliance I hope is recognized by everyone.)

Why I Started Studying Russian

Twitter user Jennifer (@Jen_Niffer), who’s also a fellow student of the Russian language, asked me why I started studying Russian. I had asked her the same question and she replied on Twitter. However, when I started to formulate my answer, I decided it was way to long to describe in 140 characters. I don’t think I’ve ever blogged about why I studied Russian at university, even though I write a lot about the Russian language itself.

Growing up, I read a lot of historical fiction, including books about the Romanovs. The Romanovs were my first introduction to Russia and my affection for the doomed imperial family influenced my perspective when I studied Russian history (and still does influence me, as I am still very anti-Soviet Union).

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Anyway, one of the books I read was a fictional diary of Anastasia, the youngest Romanov daughter. It was part of a series called “The Royal Diaries” (and I read almost all of them) that focused on fictional accounts of real young women’s lives. The nice thing about these books is they’re quite historically accurate and contain a ton of useful facts in the afterword. The afterword for the Anastasia book had a short write-up about the Russian language, and I was equal parts fascinated and intimidated. I didn’t think I could ever learn a foreign language, especially one with a different alphabet.

Fast-forward to the month of August, three months after my high school graduation. I moved into my dorm room at university and registered for classes. Russian was still on my mind (I taught myself the alphabet and a few words the summer after high school graduation), so I signed up on a whim. I met my professor before classes started. Once I started taking the class, I was addicted. That was in 2008 and I’ve been studying Russian ever since.

What about you, dear readers? Do you study a foreign language, or some other cool, random hobby? How’d you get started?

Rebel

I’m being such a rebel today, everyone. I skipped my economics class. I’m not overly fond of this class right now. Not only have I not learned anything new so far (in the second half of the semester; the class is split into two parts and I learned a lot in the first half), but it is scheduled very late. The professor was sick for the last session, so a “double session” was scheduled for tonight.

I didn’t want to deal with a double session, so I skipped. If I had gone, I wouldn’t have learned anything new (I can do supply and demand in my sleep) and I would not have come home until 9:30 or so. I didn’t sign on to have a night class, plus I have an interview coming up tomorrow.

I actually got a lot done this afternoon. It was nice.

Career Week

It’s career week at my university, so right now is a really miserable time for me. I am in a one-year masters program, and balancing all this career stuff with five (!) classes is rather difficult, annoying, and very near impossible. At this point, I would advise anyone considering a one-year masters degree to just not do it (though I may change my mine if I get an awesome job from attending this program).

Anyway, today was no fun. I had one of my hardest classes late in the day and I had to lug all my stuff to the building where the career fair was held in the heat while wearing a suit. Not fun. So I think I’ve deserved to have the night off. I am not studying at all. I’m just going to write blog entries and my novel and do some reading.

An Observation

After spending an entire weekend doing homework, I have realized something: professors employed to do research, as opposed to those hired solely to teach, are severely lacking in teaching skills. This weekend, I have been working on problem sets full of concepts we simply did not cover in class. It has been extremely frustrating. On the bright side, I know a lot about bond pricing after spending hours researching it. On the downside… I still haven’t finished the bond-related problem in question! (After working on it for several days.)

Another professor made a last-minute change to the syllabus, so our lecture on Wednesday will have material that was originally planned for Friday. I spent a lot of time reading for that class, only to realize now that I have yet more reading to do due to this change.

Frustrated doesn’t begin to describe my feelings right now…