The Optional Re-Write

Back in December I had a one on one interview with a professor to discuss my final paper in the class. It wasn’t anything special, he required these in lieu of a presentation in the class. I didn’t like this requirement because without sounding too boastful I completely rock at giving presentations. Yet, a face-to-face interview is still nice because I’m a much better speaker than I am a writer. As long as the paper was adequate I could better explain the concepts in it orally rather than through the writing itself. I’m not sure what the difference actually is in my head, perhaps it’s the immediacy of the conversation and the opportunity to correct myself on the spot rather than having a written paper which is complete and final.

I walked into the professor’s office, which was completely Spartan by any definition of the word, and after introducing myself again to him he remarked that he didn’t like my paper. I didn’t blink at the comment, because it didn’t matter whether he liked it. Academics are about what you can prove not about what a person likes. If, for instance, a person wrote a paper I hated (which happened more than I would have liked–basically any pro-Marx paper I received) they could get a good grade if their argument was good. I knew the professor wasn’t that into American Pragmatism and my paper concentrated on John Dewey with respect to Martin Heidegger. He could not like it, but it could still be appreciated.

The problem was that the reason he didn’t like it was exactly for the reason that I feared the most: I had made a mistake. Heidegger has these concepts of ready-to-hand and present-at-hand. Because he’s German he likes to hyphen, don’t ask me why but I’ll bet it has something to do with the German language which I don’t speak. In basic definitions present-at-hand is the theory of an object. If you need to pound something you think of the idea of an object for which to pound and that object is a hammer. Present-at-hand is the idea of a hammer and its possible function. In this respect as well, it is any object that could possibly be used to pound things. The second, the ready-to-hand, is the object as you are using it. We tend not to think of the objects that we use while we are using them. To do so would severely impede our abilities to perform actions. My typing is me using the keyboard without thinking of the keyboard or the location of my fingers. If I did so, my typing would completely slow down reverting possibly to the hunt and peck method of writing. Even now, in writing these sentences I am having trouble not thinking of my fingers while typing. More to the point is walking. One of the most difficult problems in robotics is getting a robot to do everyday tasks that we perform without thinking of them. Walking was the first hurdle, which is why that 1950s looking Toyota robot (from the late 90s early 00s) moved so slow, it needed to compute weight balances and such just to take a couple of steps.

That makes sense right? The problem I had was that I had messed up the definition of the ready-to-hand. I had written the paper as though the object being used was still considered an object. To do this would fall into the consciousness trap that I had just previously mentioned. Since the whole paper was built around this it essentially collapsed under this fault. Not good, what saved the paper (and my subsequent grade) was the section on John Dewey after the mistake which was independent of the mistake–until I put the two together–and my explanation of some of the concepts in the paper.

I re-read the paper and huffed. I tried to turn the paper in early so I could get some pointers on it as Heidegger is notoriously difficult to read, comprehend, and enjoy (although people like the Nazi for some reason). Yet the professor stated that he didn’t do pre-reads of drafts. A policy that I am unfamiliar with and disagree with, but that’s his policy so I just have to deal with it. A reviewed draft would have saved my grade, but I stress that I should NOT have made the mistake in the first place. So today, sans conclusion, i have just re-written the paper making the changes necessary.

Here’s the thing: it probably won’t be accepted for a change of grade. If the professor in question won’t even look at them early the odds that a grade change for a better paper are pretty slim. None of this really matters to me though. My other class grades are sufficient to bolster what I received in the class. Why am I doing this? Because I feel terrible for having turned in a bad paper.

Statistics rule society. People need things that can be measured, because as Calvin said (the comic character not the theologian) when the numbers go up you are having more fun. We know things are effective when the numbers increase or decrease depending on what the numbers are attached to. Thus an effective student has good objectively defined grades. This doesn’t take into consideration whether or not that student can teach, speak, or perform only that the student is technically proficient. This goes for any subject. Good accounting and the focus on the numbers are what got us into the banking collapse. The numbers went up so the business was doing well and this focus is inherently dangerous because it removes any focus on the individual or on ethical considerations.

I want to turn in the revised paper because I want to show that I can write without making a mistake. Nothing in the paper was that groundbreaking but the mistake burns in the back of my head. Even if I had gotten a good grade in the class overall, I would still have rewritten this paper because I care about more than just my grade. Education is supposed to be about more than just grades and numbers, we are supposed to be learning something and I cannot without hypocrisy let the paper slide and still hold that opinion. In all the requirements of passing classes in graduate school should go way up and everything should just be a pass/fail. We would probably turn out better doctoral (Ph.Ds and Mds) and Master’s students that way.

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