This is the one to respond to. . .

Ok, since we’re already in the home stretch a bit, I do want to push you to write a bit about the writing you do here itself. I’ve tried to talk out loud for you about the theory behind what we’re trying to do here, and probably with mixed success. As we’ve discussed, its a very different game from sitting in a room where someone has all the answers and hides them behind their back… and eventually sends you off to guess what they’ve been keeping from you. And then you take a test…

The invitation here has been to exploration and expression: No one has been told all semester that they were wrong about the beauty or lack thereof of a particular art piece or performance. . . No one has been told that smart people like classical music, or that the most successful folks understand modernist painting. I’ve encouraged you to play a hunch that I have: engaging the arts on your own terms can produce a surprising number of . . . moments of insight, peak experiences, good laughs, and “useful” doses of anger, joy, disappointment, and happiness.

Part of this exploration has been participatory — go and do. Part of this exploration has been “try to write down reflections on arts events and issues surrounding arts events.” A final part of this exploration has been “try to respond in a meaningful way to what others have to say about arts events and issues surrounding arts events.”

So two opportunities for big reflection here:

(a) A goodly number of you will find yourselves working more and more in digital environments where one of the key struggles will be to manage a version of your self that exists online. You need to sort out how to be forceful, interesting, ethical, and true to the self that exists in the real world.

How are we doing with this? Why is it hard? How could we make it easier? better?

Here’s one reflection on the value of this kind of online exchange: Teaching Virtual Teamwork

(b) There are lots of different ways to conceptualize the value of a higher education. . . to understand the quality of investment you are making at this life moment in terms of time, money, opportunity. Alas, I think fewer and fewer folks will tell you but a key part of this moment is and remains self-knowledge. We know from the current economy what can be taken away from us. We need to remember what can’t. . . I think what the arts (and reading and writing) provide is the great privilege — and privilege that 99% of the world will never experience — to engage the meaningful task of answering the question “who am I and what do I believe?”

Here’s a challenging reflection on this dynamic:
Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here?

How can we better shape the writing we do in this class to more urgently get you to the task of of simply preparing you for the life ahead?


About jchall1960

I'm the instructor for FA 200, Introduction to the Arts at the University of Alabama
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30 Responses to This is the one to respond to. . .

  1. kaylaann393 says:

    I can’t really think of anything to complain about so far with the way this class is set up. I love and feel like a benefit from getting to choose from such a variety of arts events. I also really appreciate that when we reflect on an arts event in our blog the response is not graded harshly. This way, I feel more comfortable and am more encouraged to say what I truly got out of the art event instead of making up a different answer just to try to get a better grade. I also feel like getting to choose an event on my own out of the types recommended gives me a better chance of relating to and appreciated the art instead of feeling forced into it and not allowing myself to get anything from it. The only problem I have had so far is remembering to make time to go to an arts event and blog about it every week. Although I’m totally contradicting what I just said, it might have helped me stay on track if we met at a specific time each meet to do an arts event together that I could blog about. Overall, I feel like I’ve been getting a lot out of the class so far though.

  2. jchall1960 says:

    Thanks much; a few folks have talked to me about realizing how poor their time management skills actually are. . . or so they’ve discovered. I’ve tried to encourage folks pretty consistently to block off time — especially the Tuesday parallel time slot — to commit to writing.

    On the other hand, adulthood looks a lot like this class — general prompts to action, only occasional affirmations, and being left with the struggle how to manage choices and responsibilities.

    Any thoughts on either of the two articles?

  3. The article “Who are you and what are you doing here?” was an eye-opening piece of work. The point that really struck me the most was when the author said that, “if universities stopped issuing credentials, half of the clients would be gone by tomorrow morning, with the remainder following fast behind.” What this means to me is that college students lack the passion each person should have for what they want to do with their life. If we are simply here to rush through our college years to get to a job that we hardly care about, then we are all in for a rude awakening upon graduation of college. We need to find enthusiasm in what we study, and I feel like we as a generation is simply are too lazy to find what that is for each of us individually.

  4. mdetter says:

    After reading “Who are you and what are you doing”, I’ve come to the conclusion that this class is preparing us for the life ahead. I agree that it doesn’t make sense to go to college and pursue something with a high paying job, steering away from what our heart is really telling us to do. I feel like taking this broad fine arts class allows us to explore different sides of the art to see if it’s really something that our heart should pursue for the future. This class also doesn’t limit us; There’s no right or wrong answer and we are free to express ourselves and choose our own activities. As for improving the writing, I don’t see it as improving anymore. You’ve given us the freedom yet also the requirement. The only thing left is the effort put in by us the student to get the most out of this class.

  5. This class has made me better with time management. I am able to set aside time every week to go see an art event. This has helped me with all my classes because i am able to plan when i am going to study for all of my other classes. I like this class because there is not a right or wrong answer and everyone is able to do as they wish freely. I think this class is preparing us for the future and i am glad i took this my first semester to prepare me.

  6. jchall1960 says:

    Thanks for all the comments; did you have a chance to read the Mark Edmundson piece? Did it resonate with you?

  7. I dont entirely agree with the article “who are you and what are you doing here?”. I do not believe that the college education system is as dysfunctional as the author describes it as. I believe that the places like the University of Alabama is all what you make of it. Its up to the student to utilize the resources and opportunities here. For example, if I never took this class I would have never known about all the amazing opportunities that the university offers for the arts. I probably never would have gotten the opportunity to go to see Dance Alabama, or take the time to actually look at the art galleries in the Gorgas. This fine arts class gave me exactly the push I needed to go out and get involved with things on campus. With a little bit of effort, I think all the students in this class can really become apart of the arts here at Alabama.

  8. I think that this class has made me more responsible in the fact that I have to go out and do what needs to be done on my own schedule. It is up to me to get an A in this class and that has taught me valuable lessons that I’ll need later in life. I also think that the blog is a great way to connect the digital age with artistic opinions. All around the curriculum is different from most college courses’ and really tests the student’s motivation and responsibility. It truly helped me get to know my way around campus and made me realize that there are so many diverse forms of art right on campus that I did not know about before. It opened my eyes to so much.

  9. I can not complain when it comes to this class. It has made me step out of my comfort zone, and venture into the artistic community. It also has created the opportunity for me to decide what my grade will be by how much effort I put forth. This class really test the amount of responsibility and dedication I have as a student. Through this class I have learned the importance of time management and progressively getting better in this area. Finding time to sit and blog throughout the week has made me a better student because I have to make the time. This allows me to also complete other assignments as i set time aside in my busy schedule to complete my school work. This class has really helped me in many ways to become a better student.

  10. elgernert says:

    I think this class is opening students eyes to what art is out there. Ill admit that i wasnt much into art at the beginning of the year. But now that we have to go to an art even each week it has really opened my eyes to what is out there is what is going on on campus. I think that students should just go to college in order to get a high paying job. In order to be successful and happy you need to do something that you love and will be woking for.

  11. srlewis3 says:

    I can not agree more with the Who Are You and What Are You Doing article. I have multiple cousins with degrees who work at Wal-Mart. They went to college because that is what society (not to mention my aunts) expected of them because they are smart. Another thing that played a role in my cousins staying in college is society embedding the though of acheiving the “American Dream” into their head . They thought about a house with a white pickett fence, nice cars, and long vacations to get them through every semester. Which makes me think of the sentence in the article about how society using you to get what it wants. Society used the “American Dream” thought to get their money. The money the spent on college and fancy cars to try to live up to society’s interpretation of what happy living is.The though of acheiving the American Dream got them out of college with degrees, but I guess it wasn’t a good enough vision to get them to use the degrees.

  12. jchall1960 says:

    thanks to everyone for extending this conversation; I’m not sure Edmundson means to leave you with the impression that the University is a shambles (he teaches at U of Virginia, btw), but rather that too often students, faculty, and administrators misperceive the real opportunity that is there. It’s absolutely the case, for instance, that a college degree makes it more likely that you will end up in a higher salary category than not having a college degree. . . (although increasingly more and more folks are recognizing that certain trades provide more security) . . but, I think he wants you to recognize that the absolutely distinct privilege you have is the opportunity to think and reimagine yourself. There are few societies in the world that give more 18-21 year olds the chance to separate from their parents and reinvent themselves. . . In Europe, for instance, students are tracked very early into vocational pathways, and only a small percentage of students get post-secondary education as you would recognize it.

    College creates an economic likelihood for you but no economic guarantee. The sure thing, Edmundson would argue, is that you can’t lose when it comes to taking intellectual risks, putting yourself in situations outside your comfort zone, and taking full advantage of the opportunity to think, to imagine, and especially to push back at all the ways in which social forces conspire to push you into an expected roles.

  13. I personally really enjoy this class, it is neat to find different ways to interact with the arts, and I have been to many really neat events in the area recently but I do find it tough to be able to balance my other work and find time to be able to go and see these. I think that an event once a week can be a bit tedious, and sometimes i’m not sure what we are supposed to write about, are we supposed to write what the event was about, how it made us feel? I’m just not sure, i try to combine both and just hope that its what you want. I know that you are providing us with an opportunity to go out to events on Thursday, but I am not able to because I have other school work to tend to, I guess when i signed up for the course i thought that we would be going to a lot more events as a class, not on our own time. I think that might make it easier for students to keep up. But i do really enjoy seeing different perspectives have on art.

    • cgadrian says:

      I personally really enjoyed it when we got to see the dance performance as a class. I would love it if we had more opportunities like that! I agree with your point that this would make it a lot easier to manage. I have a lot going on during the week, and it is often difficult to make the time to go to events. When there is a specific event as a class, it is much more likely that students will attend because it is a time and place that is already set up for us. Although this should be our responsibility, it might be a better way to get students in the swing of things – especially at the beginning of the year when we don’t know where the galleries or theaters even are located. I would definitely attend optional class-wide events during the week. Maybe we could have a few specific events per week, and students could try to attend one of those to blog about.

  14. jchall1960 says:

    Thanks for the comments Alex; I love going to events as a group. . . but the logistics of getting 100 people anywhere is almost troubling. One thing we experiment with in the future is using the small groups of blogmembers to get themselves together and take in an event. . .

    Yes — the real challenge of the writing is the openness of it all. (although we did at least put a structure on the table : relationship to self, description of the art, relevant comparisons, and interpretation) But I’m still convinced learning to manage that openness is a fairly crucial job and life skill. More work than you would expect involves justifying your presence and necessity, and you just need to be creative to present yourself as a compelling person to keep around.

    The once a week. . . is how we justify the 3hrs of academic credit. Since we only meet together for 90 minutes. . . the rationale is that your other 90 minutes is spent at an event/performance/exhibit, etc.

  15. ashtown11 says:

    I enjoyed reading the ‘Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here?” article. One of the parts that stuck out to me most was when the author was talking about how were always living in the future, and always looking ahead. That is how all of America works. It is always about how can we get further in our career, how can we one day make more money, and the list goes on. I as well, am focused on the future most of the time, which is a habit I would like to work on changing. Although I agree some, maybe most, under graduate classes and prerequisites are important, I am itching to get on to more practical nursing classes. Right now I don’t have a job and don’t do much else besides go to class, the Rec center and church. I’m paying all this money and becoming a slave to my student loans just to simply receive a piece a paper. Although that piece of paper is usually the gateway to the average American’s success, I am already bored in college and ready to be in the working world!

  16. sbusby2015 says:

    I also can’t think of anything to really complain about when it comes to this class. I have enjoyed the oppurtunities it has opened up for me. Before this class I probaly would have never looked at dancing and other things like I do now. Like in an artsy way. Our in class lectures are pretty down to earth and entertaining. However, I have to agree with some of the comments above. Even though I said I couldn’t really complain, I have also really had a hard time remembering to attend an even every week and blog about it. I feel like if we were set up in these groups from the very beginning and assigned an event to all attend every week that there would be more responses, and even better responses.

  17. Nure Kassas says:

    I am enjoying this class so far. I generally like going to arts events like plays or musicals, but I am not a big fan of museums or art galleries. This class forced me to go to a wide variety of things so far, and I actually enjoyed the Willie Cole art exhibit and the reading of a MidSummer Night’s Dream a lot more than I thought I would, so I am glad that I had to attend those events for this class (I would have missed out on some very enjoyable moments if it hadn’t been for FA200).

    I thought the article “Teaching Virtual Teamwork” was very interesting. While I do agree that people need to learn how to communicate with others in their work environment and part of their group in person, I also think that teaching virtual teamwork is an excellent idea for a very specific reason. The reason is this: this world is becoming more diverse, companies are branching out all over the world, and people are no longer just working with people in the same city, state, or country anymore, but all over the globe. Additionally, people who are apart of different cultures may have unique perspectives on how to solve whatever task the company has put forth for the group to solve together. Some people don’t have the benefit of experiencing other cultures growing up , so it may end up being very difficult for them to work and communicate with people who live in other countries. I think at least getting some exposure to other cultures will help solve this problem. (Because let’s face it, a lot of people get the wrong idea about other cultures from the media, and as a result, may either accidentally end up offending someone or may be very biased against them. What better way to break these barriers down and educate ourselves than asking people who live in other countries directly about their culture).

  18. jchall1960 says:

    thanks again to everyone extending this conversation; much appreciate all the honest self-reflection. I want to see if I can steer folks back to the content, in particular, of the Edmundson piece. . . and to use it to reflect on the challenge of the online writing in this class. (I really appreciate the affirmations of the good work folks see in having their worldviews expanded and, as we’ve described it before, their palate extended.)

    The Edmundson piece — I think — urges college freshman to think about what the nature of the opportunity is that is staring them in the face. And, as I wrote previously, its an opportunity that few 18-21 year olds anywhere in the world get to pursue. The popular view (and not one to be dismissed with wholly) is that you are embarking on the earning of social mobility and foregrounding the gathering up of capital. [I tried to complicate it for you by noting that if everyone is doing it — and now about 80% of Americans do some post-secondary education — how distinctive can it be?] You all should take steps to ensure your future employability; would be crazy not to. . . [Keeping in mind Daniel Pink’s caution that many of the white collar jobs you are all training for are about to be offshored or automated.]

    So — in dramatic fashion — maybe too dramatic fashion — Edmundson argues that you are in a position to call into question the world’s perception of your prospects and capabilities. One does this, of course, by gathering skills, but also, he argues, by reading, writing, experiencing, expressing, and performing the new. You try on new ideas, you engage the ideas of others, you set your own agenda, you start to shape a self that is unexpected, unpredictable, interesting and distinct.

    The agony I think of the kind of writing I’m pushing you on here is that involves real risk: here’s a music with a long tradition, an art work with a pedigree, an idea that is unfamiliar. What do you think? It’s always easy to do the Facebook thing, right? Click the “like” button. (or don’t) Harder is responding in a way that reveals that you have particular values that others might not share. Harder is responding in a way that reveals that you tastes, fears, desires, enthusiasms that others might find strange.

    But — says Edmundson, says Hall — engaging that fear and risk with gusto is the most incredible thing you can and will do in your time at college.

    You’ll leave college with skills, a GPA, maybe another test score, some extracurricular resume lines; many tens of thousands of others will leave college with remarkably similar records. The thing that you will bring into conversation with that job interviewer, that graduate or professional school director — to say nothing of the little voice inside your head who will remain your most intrepid life partner forever — is an individuality that needs to be tended, challenged, encouraged, provoked. . . . and performed. Writing — in and to a public — remains one of the most powerful ways that you can perform that self in ways that helps it to grow. . . and become interesting.

    (Not a writer? Post a podcast. . . post a video of yourself!)

  19. dakarothinks says:

    I disagree with parts of Edmunson’s piece, especially the fourth paragraph. I think that throughout college one amasses a large amount of their education through their classes. Yes you need that social aspect of college and learn about who you are and everything but to get an education you have to learn book knowledge as well. I think the first few semesters are more used for that social experience because you find your parties and all your friends and you put that before your schooling. This makes sense and is for the most part okay because the first semester or three are usually filled with your basic education classes. They hold the foundation for the rest of your college education but they are of little interest and the majority of people have taken almost the same exact classes in high school. I think that as we get deeper into our college education we learn more about our subject area and we will become more focused on our studies rather than our parties.

    • jchall1960 says:

      Would like to hear more about what part of the fourth paragraph bothers you. . .
      Couple of other thoughts; no complaints from me about folks finding friends and parties, I just worry sometimes that folks see them as incompatible with thinking and reading and writing.

      If you’re in classes that are simply a repeat of high school . .. I’d argue that you’re not getting good advising and you need to find good advising.

      Other concern about the two stage model of higher education you’re proposing is that in the current environment where we’ve seen credential inflation (about 60% of folks are going to off and do at least a Master’s degree) you’re shutting doors with each grade point you drop. I worry that students don’t recognize that they remain in the same competitive environment they were in high school. . . you’re still, alas, working to position yourself for the next game.

      And — the only way, again — to survive all that “positioning” I’d argue is take advantage of the only thing that folks can’t take away from you — your own integrity, sense of self, and your own curiosity.

      Make friends, network, attend good parties, just don’t lose out on the opportunity to think.

  20. This article attached is really a “realizing” piece of writing. And I agree with it. People really do need to learn to communicate with others better and even working with others better like in a group. I think that has to do with creativity or just ‘loosening’ up as a person. The world we learn in today is so structural and set. The arts are slowing becoming ignored and even disappearing in some schools. I believe that if we paid more attention to the arts and even participating in them we would work better with others. But this article pushes college freshman to look at the many opportunities that they have. The title itself explains it, “Who Are You and What Are You Doing”. I like how this article starts with the saying that “it takes a village to raise a kid” and that America is our village. But our country today isn’t doing the greatest job of raising kids sometimes. Many of us are around drugs, drinking, violence, wars and other troublesome things in our country.

    The article points out that education especially college education is the enemy. People will go to college only to get a degree to succeed in life, make it to Wall Street or wherever. The teachers of the college classes are just there for a raise, tenure, or to succeed in life. No one is really paying any real care to the actual information they are supposed to be teaching or learning. They are just there for the success in life.

    Overall, I liked what this article pushed about education. It is up to you what you get out of it, how hard you push in the system to succeed. It teaches you to find the work that you love to the point where it is not really work at all because you enjoy it so much.

  21. The second prompt really interested me mainly because I come from a similar situation as the student in the beginning of the story. I, too, came to the University of Alabama as a pre-Law major – dreaming of a great lawyer career, possibly with a clerkship at the Supreme Court – a job as the author would say in the article. However, I had a moment similar to the father in the beginning story, I realized that I could not treat education as a means to an end, but an end in and of itself. I realized that I could not waste my time at college trudging through boring class after boring class after boring class, but I had to find my niche, my passion and attack that with my whole being. Luckily, I have found that in Philosophy. In my opinion, the only major whose main focus is to make more questions than to find more answers. I find the artist’s suggestion that professors and students are disconnected from each other. I would take it one step further than the article, I feel like there are many students throughout all college campuses are focused just on the parties or the social life, the job and the education are completely thrown to the wayside. And this degradation of education and future-orientated thinking will further screw over (as the author would say) the current generation of students following the hedonistic view of college life that is prevalent today. However, I shouldn’t start pointing the finger of accusation without saying that I am one of those people too. I feel like this is a natural course for everyone to take before one can see that life needs the education that college gives. It allows one to truly find what one believes, especially at college where the previous pressures and obligations of home life constricted a person’s true beliefs. College is the key to unlocking true potential, and the classes and education are the key to college. In conclusion, I am like the student in the beginning story, I too thought I had to come to college to find a job. Now, however, I look forward to four years of Philosophy and soul-searching to find not just my true self. I will get a job once I graduate, but it will not be a job to me; it will be a passion.

  22. sonjapc says:

    I can agree with some of things mentioned in that article. If you come to college knowing what it is you want to do then give the courses needed and move on. These side note courses that has nothing to do with my major, nor do I see the use in everyday life is a waste of my time and the professor who is looking the other way, or so I wished they looked the other way when I turn im my papers. If a person is undecided then yes of course dabble here and dibble there, but that is only unti they find their calling. I feel that college is the work place. who do you know and how can you get ahead with the least amount of honest work. Who is to say that if I read this book and the professor understands it as this, why is if I read it and understand or don’t I’m wrong. There is just more than one way of seeing some things. I know who I am, a Mother. And I what I’m doing here is trying to get an education in my dream job, that actually is not all about the money, but helping others.

    • jchall1960 says:

      Thanks Sonya; I greatly appreciate and love your passion for your education and am so glad you are with us. There is no question that your are in a different situation than many other students in the class.

      It’s great to have a plan and a goal. . . and to pursue it vigorously. My worry is that part of what we have learned from the recent economy is that there are no guarantees and that its hard to predict what you are actually going to need in the future. The course that feels like it is outside your area of interest might turn out to be the most important course you take. The jobs associated with the courses that feel central to your course of study might not materialize. I know it sounds frivolous but I think — more than ever — that the real opportunity we’re all given in universities is the chance to think and make ourselves the most intelligent people we can possibly be. . .

  23. leahlarabee says:

    I agree with the article to some extent. Everyone either come to college knowing what they want or they find out what they want once their here. College really makes you do your own work and contribute your own thoughts, unlike high school where you could slide by while the teacher looked the other way. Obviously college is about the grades and figuring out what you are going to do with the rest of your life but it is also about finding out who you are through other people. The social part of college is just as important as the grades part in my decision. It shows how you will handle situations in the real world. I agree with most of the comments above. I think that this class is an unexpected eye-opener for the arts and i appreciate how it makes me notice things i never really payed attention to before. You get out what you put in in college just like you do in life.

  24. wnichols1993 says:

    One of my favorite aspects of this class has been going and doing. it definitely gets you out of your comfort zone, that is for sure. In your future one is most likely going to have to get out of their comfort zone every once in a while.

  25. fa200fall2011mollyfeltus says:

    This class has made me realize how horrible I am at managing my time because I was far behind in the very beginning. School is the time to find out who you are and what you want to do with your life. It’s scary to think about but it’s true and doing things you are not comfortable with.

  26. While reading “Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here” I realized how much I related to this man. Unlike most of the people in this course, I am not a Freshman. I am a Junior who has gotten a little off track due to changing my major. When I first began going to college I had always said I wanted to be a Pharmacist and there was never a question about it. As much as I love kids, I didn’t want to work with them because of the money issue. Basically I told myself so many times that I didn’t want to work with kids and I wanted to be a pharmacist that I believed it. After finishing several of my pre-med classes I needed and was talking about applying for Pharmacy school, I realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do at all. So now here I am getting close to graduating with an Early Childhood Development degree and couldn’t be happier. Reading this article just makes me realize you really have to do what makes you happy. You can’t look at things like the salary or even what classes you will have to barely make it through to do what you want. I have actually learned a lot about myself while attending college as well. This article does a really good job of explaining the fact that everything is on you in life. The teachers aren’t there to do your work for you and make sure you turn things in(like high school). The weight is on your shoulders. I guess that is part of the reason I really like this class because it sets you up very well for that later on in life as well as helping us notice the little things we wouldn’t have otherwise.

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