Sunday, November 06, 2005

Trying to be a Better Advisor (Part III)

I had a couple really good advising sessions this past week.

In one of them, I basically got fired. It was nothing personal. The student is thinking of changing majors and will get a new advisor for his new major. Still, that student had to come talk to me to get his registration code, and since I can't ethically give out the code without talking to the student about his course work and such, we talked about coursework and such. I had one last go at advising him.

He's changing his major to Creative Writing, which is one of the majors within the English department, but not one I advise, since I advise only English Literature majors. We looked at his degree printout, and talked about what classes he should think about taking next semester. We decided he should try to take Creative Writing for sure, and another English class he wants to take, which will be good for his writing, interesting, and contribute to his major.

We looked at his general education courses, and realized that he needs a non-English department humanities course, and that an upper-level course will help him meet the GE requirements best, so we flipped through the possibilities together.

"Art History?" I asked him.

"No. I hate Art History."

I was shocked, shocked I tell you! How can someone who wants to do creative writing hate Art History? How can anyone not be fascinated by how people try to represent human experience? (It's not that I have anything against all the other fields he could have looked at, Philosophy, History, all those fun fields, but rather that for someone who wants to write, Art History seems especially helpful early on. Sure, he should take some philosophy at some point, and history. He has a lifetime of learning ahead!)

"Ummm" (So much for being articulate.) "Have you ever taken Art History?"

"Yeah, in high school. I hated it."

"Why did you hate it?"

"Because we just had to memorize when pictures were painted and stuff."

Ugh. That does sound boring, doesn't it? But it doesn't sound at all like college level Art History, so I told him that he should reconsider. After all, if part of the problem of writing is figuring out how to best represent some aspect of human experience, then learning and thinking about how other artists try to represent human experience would help, wouldn't it?

My soon-not-to-be-advisee looked at me skeptically. I get this a lot. (I got it in my writing course the other day when I said kidneys are fascinating. But I digress.)

I said, "You've read Virginia Woolf? You know about stream of consciousness writing?"

He continued to look skeptical. He'd heard of Virginia Woolf and stream of consciousness, but hadn't read any. So I tried to explain a bit about stream of consciousness, and the reaction against the "realistic" narrative styles of the 19th century novel.

"You've seen Picasso's paintings? You know, the weird cubist ones?" I asked. (I'm in touch with my inner nerd. And I have some Art History texts in my office, so I was going to pull out some pictures if he didn't know what Picasso's paintings looked like. Art is great that way. You can pull out a picture and give someone a quick sense of something; it's a heck of a lot easier than trying to give someone a quick taste of Spenser or something.)

He nodded.

I waxed rhapsodic, at least as rhapsodic as an early modernist can about modernism and the 20th century, talking about cubism as an attempt to do a better job of representing human experience than photographs and earlier painting styles could do. And then I likened it to the frustration of writers with so called "realistic" narratives.

Believe it or not, it clicked. I actually talked him into wanting to take an Art History class. Fortunately, we have a couple attractive offerings this semester that should be really helpful and interesting, so I hope he gets into one of them. His schedule plan now looks great for next semester. It was especially gratifying that he said he'd come in pretty confused about what courses to take and now was excited about his courses.

One of the things I really love about the university is that so many fields complement and speak to each other. I don't think our students understand that very fully when they start their lives here, but if we do our job well, they should have a fuller appreciation by the time they graduate. It's a blast to get to try to open someone's eyes just a little bit to the wondrous possibilities.

No comments:

Post a Comment