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Know-How is Harder to Teach

Posted by Bob on May 16th, 2007 under Coaching Session

Today a seminar is just another course. You read the stuff, you say something about it to prove you did, and then Mommy Professor tells you what you SHOULD have said about it at the end of the session, while you take notes.

At the end of the course, Mommy Professor tells you he is proud of what Independent Thought came out under his leadership, and then you take a test on what he told you to say about the readings.

In other words, a “seminar” in grad school is really just another course where your job is to swallow and regurgitate the Party Line.

This makes it hard to explain what a REAL seminar used to be and what makes this about the only real seminar still extant?

Back when there were real seminars, original thought, even eccentricity, was the hallmark of an “absent-minded professor.” Today if you are absent minded you get the same treatment in academia that you do in any other bureaucracy. You dress according to code. The code sometimes specifies that you be “with it” by wearing a coat and tie with jeans or even a hippie outfit, but the lines are as clearly drawn as they are in the Marine Corps.

Go to a convention of professors and you will people who look exactly like those in any other bureaucracy. They produce a standardized product, like any other bureaucracy. Our seminar is a throwback.

A real seminar is entirely different from a course. Being “allowed to participate in,” not “take,” a seminar used to mark when you were on your way to being a thinker YOURSELF, not just someone taking notes and regurgitating what you heard. In other words a seminar was that transition period between when you were a student and you became a professor with orignial ideas. Few professors today could conduct a real seminar, and those who could keep it to themselves if they want tenure and promotion.

When I do this seminar, as I keep emphasizing, I am not just giving you knowledge. I do not have a Whitakerism where you just memorize my book like The Thoughts of Chairman Mao and chant them back.

A seminar doesn’t teach you how to REACH my level. It teaches you how to START AT MY LEVEL. The course is successful when someone BUILDS on my thinking, as Al Parker did with his “One True Way man!” comment below.

In a world where real seminars no longer exist, it is a major job just to explain what one IS.

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