23 September, 2009

Victi sumus

My first big obstacle has appeared. I'm not really sure how to try to Write a Post about it, because I don't know whether I will succeed in what I want to do or not, and I don't know how to characterize the nature of the obstacle. To me, it seems indicative of the difference between UK and US attitudes towards learning. In some ways, the UK version is better for an Autism Spectrum Disorder person, and in some ways, the US version is better.

One of my two majors is Latin Language and Literature. I started taking Latin when I was in tenth grade, because I liked the idea of it and I wanted to take something I wouldn't have to speak. My teacher in tenth and eleventh grade was an extremely eccentric woman who played favorites to an insane degree. I got in her good graces early on, because my writing ability produced translations that she thought were "extraordinarily sensitive." In twelfth grade, I got a new teacher, and had to deal with the fact that after two years I had almost no knowledge of Latin grammar. But he was really easy to relate to, and willing to give me extra help. Even though I now did worse in Latin, I still liked it and started to consider the idea of being a Latin teacher. It was more interesting than math or science, but more objective than English or history.

In college, I decided to start again at the beginner level because I felt I still had such a bad grasp of grammar. I learned a lot more, but my professor was so good that I decided I could never be a Latin teacher. But I kept taking Latin courses. I liked the classics department at my school--the office, the professors, how small and friendly it was. For these not especially great reasons, I declared a Latin major in my second year. (My other major is Creative Writing and always has been; it's why I chose to go to the college I did.)

The problem is--and this is my big problem with the college I go to, and probably most colleges in the US, except Colorado College, which I wish I'd considered more seriously--learning is interesting. Professors, by and large, inspire respect. And every professor tells you to read a chapter of a really dense book, or read almost all of a really dense book, or translate a certain quantity of Virgil or Horace. And they tell you to do this by the next time class meets, which is usually in about two days.

But how can you do all this reading and translation in two days? Especially when, besides that, one or two or three of your teachers has sometimes charged you to produce a paper, a story, or a passing grade on an exam? Well, the short answer is, you can't. They tell you to do things that you simply can't do. I have never found a solution to this problem, and frequently, in the past two years, I have just ended up putting the measurable first--papers, stories, and studying for tests. I have gotten bits and pieces of reading done, and on lucky occasions I have finished a whole book, but that only happens half the time, or less.

A really unfortunate result of this is that I often end up working less hard in the courses that relate to my majors. Most of the time, last year, I got away with not always doing the Latin translations; I'd translate frantically in class, trying to catch up by the time I was called on to speak. I didn't revise my plays and stories as much as I wanted to, because I was writing papers and studying, and my teacher couldn't exactly fail me for not revising enough.

This makes me really depressed. I like my school, but I feel like I don't get to concentrate on the things I really love. I wish I could take one Latin course and one creative writing course, and have both courses every day.

In the UK, people only take three classes a term, and they only take classes related to their majors. So in my third-year Latin course, everyone else is a lot more advanced than I am, because they've been able to focus on Latin much more. I think I'll be able to keep up, because this is the only third-year course I'm taking. It will take a lot of very intense extra work, but I would really relish the experience of putting Latin first for once.

Now, in the US, if the professor expressed doubts about me taking the course because I didn't have as much experience as other people, and I told him really sincerely and passionately that I wanted to take the course and would work really hard, then that would be it. I'd get to take it.

In the UK, this is not the case.

In the US, you would never give someone a test without telling them first. You would never, ever tell someone to come to your office to talk to you about whether they were qualified to take a course, and then hand them a placement test and make them take it right then. What if I had ADD and needed extended time? What if (as happens to be the case) I get very anxious when I have to do something I haven't prepared for emotionally? What if I need to follow the schedule in my head telling me "this is what you're going to do today" or I get so overwhelmed that I just guess on a lot of the test answers because I want it to be over?

Well, fuck me, then, I guess.

The professor invoked the difference between the US and UK educational systems to prove that I wasn't as advanced as my classmates, and he was correct. But also, the difference between the US and UK educational systems means that I will have much more time than I am used to, and have much less trouble worrying about which homework to do and which homework to pretend to do. I really think the relief that this will cause will make it possible for me to work really hard to keep up in a class that is very challenging.

Right now, I'm at a loss for what to do. I might delete or edit this post because it isn't very organized and is overemotional. I'm waiting for an email from my Director of Studies, a professor from the US, who will hopefully be able to help me make my case to the professor. I don't know to proceed in the meantime--whether to go to his class, the class he wants me to take where they're reading something I've already read, neither, or both. Why did this have to happen? I did everything I had to do before classes started, because I didn't want to be caught off guard. Now I have this huge, baffling problem.

1 comment:

  1. Not sure if advice is still relevant, but if it is: The way UK tuition works, if you've paid/are in the process of paying your tuition fees, you're allowed into any of the lectures offered by that university - so I'd say go to both if your timetable will allow it.

    (I'm in my third year currectly, and last year I did a fair bit of attending first-year lectures that covered stuff I hadn't practised much at the time.)