Talk

Socrates tells us that truth exists only in conversation, that once we’ve written it down, we’ve lost the thread of it. We only know he tells us because his student Plato wrote all that down, so there may be some value to the scribing, too. Even a society as small as Classical Greece or Classical Athens couldn’t preserve knowledge by oral tradition alone.

I’m a believer in the implied process of the Socrates-Plato duality—find the truth in conversation, in informed, exploratory, Socratic debate, and then write as much of it as you can honestly preserve. There’s a clarity to the Socratic dialogues that’s lacking in, say, the work of any given German philosopher. It exists because Plato preserved (or, maybe, recreated, or, maybe, invented) Socrates’ dialogic process in each conversation. If you look at the end result of The Republic, an authoritarian, communist, caste-delineated music-less society dreamed up in order to define ‘the good,’ it’s zany. If you were getting it from Kant, it’d also be impenetrable. But, through Plato, Socrates leads you there point by point. Revealed truth by talk.

Which is all to say that I think my brain is melting. Dying, frying, dribbling out my ears. For want of talk. Some of you might have noticed the blog’s been sparse for more than a month now. A symptom.

Let me roll it back. I don’t mean just any conversation. The summer after college, I worked as a waiter and lived with five guys a year my junior who I hadn’t met before I moved in. Five of the smartest guys I’d ever had the good fortune to know, as it turned. Once we’d warmed to each other, we discovered a mutual enjoyment of hookah and that one roommate had smuggled a quality pipe, coal, and tobacco back from the Orient. Two or three times a week after I got off work, we’d go out on the porch and breathe wreathes and talk.

Talk

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The Long Goodbye

These are sad times. End times. Graduation has come and gone. We’re in the grey valedictory, suffering through the anticlimax as friends and lovers drift back to from where they came. The end of college was the death of a family for me, and I’m wading through a second aftermath already.

There is a bar in Georgetown called the Tombs.

They made a movie about it

They made a movie about it

It’s a block away from campus, and it’s the only bar for almost a mile in any direction. My university is notorious for fake IDs and DC bars are notorious for taking them. Police crackdowns switch up the underclassman bar of the moment every couple of weeks, and there’s a constant trade in buybacks from bouncers and licenses from similar-looking older siblings. But The Tombs is special. By tradition, the earliest drink you have there is on your 21st, and sneaking one beforehand is bad form. You walk in after midnight with as many drinks toward twenty-one as you could muster since morning, they stamp your forehead, and you try to hit the big two-one with the cascade of shots and beers that pours in afterward. You’re carried out, and you feel like dying for a couple days. It’s a rite of passage, it’s the way you do it.

I was away, so they caught me on the cheeks for my 22nd

I was away, so they caught me on the cheeks for my 22nd

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Back from Hiatus

Hey Everybody—

Bit of a mea culpa here. I haven’t posted anything since August, and that’s largely because I haven’t written anything since August. The arrival and departure of a Mexican girlfriend, the All-Volunteer Conference, the Close-of-Service of some of my dearest friends, a trip to Istanbul to visit the much-mentioned-here Alex Guyton, and general laziness have kept me from putting key or pen to paper.

As a result of that, though, I’ve got kind of a lot of posts backed up inside of me, as it were, so I should be putting one up every couple of days, and I want to stick to at least two-a-week for as long as I should be in Mexico.

Friendly reminder since I think I’ve picked up a few readers by [my own] word of mouth since I last posted: you can subscribe to this blog by email, and it’ll poke you every time I put something up. So you can do that and never have to worry about checking this site or whatever. First new piece is coming down the pipe today.

Greetings from Mexico, folks.

 

Buckle up

Buckle up

The Collaborative

When did everyone go to the seminar on how to run a seminar? Since I graduated college, every class, training, conference, and workshop I’ve attended has run on the same lines and those lines are collaborative learning.

Collaborative learning (or teaching?) is what I call (maybe correctly?) the classroom technique where, at its most basic, a teacher becomes a ‘facilitator’ and learning takes place through groupwork with colored paper and constant mini-presentations. Along with it come all sorts of New Age brainstorms, notecards, markers, stickers, interactivity, storytelling, and everything else you left behind in elementary school.

This just doesn't say 'professional learning environment' to me

This just doesn’t say ‘professional learning environment’ to me

Peace Corps was the first offender, but it has some valid reasons for the technique that I’ll get into in a minute. The PC’s stated reasoning, or at least the reasoning our trainers gave us, was that adults learn fundamentally differently than adolescents (and, apparently, the slightly younger adults who learn like normal people in college). They backed up the methodology with a couple of learning-style tests that ‘proved’ that only about a quarter of our group (and ostensibly of humanity at large) learns through the tired old “teacher actually teaching” format.

Nearly every session we had ran on these participatory lines. Maybe three or four, all taught by outside educators on a one-off basis, were traditional lectures, and I don’t think it’s coincidental that those were clear favorites among the volunteers.  Many of the rest of our sessions had us dividing large packets on running workshops, community organizing, environmental education, etc, among ourselves, reading an assigned section in small groups, and then “reporting back” to the larger group what we’d read. Blind leading the blind-cum educational philosophy. Other favorites had us breaking into groups to fill poster paper with brainstorms, lists of contacts, commentaries on the training, and always “reporting back” to the main group, that is, “reading the poster verbatim to the class (who can read it from where they’re sitting and in any case has the same information as everyone else’s poster)”.

Which begins to take on a certain tone after awhile

Which begins to take on a certain tone after awhile

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Homecoming

I thought that coming back from the States was going to be hard. Returning to site after Early in-Service Training (EIST) was a nightmare. For all of us, I think. A full week of depression, malaise. Couldn’t get work done, couldn’t write, couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to see people in town. But the States has been easy. Leaving friends and folks was tough. Both times, riding the metro out to Reagan from DC and letting my parents go and checking in at Detroit International, all the way through to getting on the bus in the city to come back here, like I was toting a sackful of rocks behind my navel. But once I hit my house, my stifling room, and my sopping bed, not a pang.

It might be that during EIST you’re with people who so well understand your situation, or that you’re still it Mexico when it happens, that it’s part of service and so more keenly felt when you’re back in site, in service. Being in the US was another world. Something apart enough that it couldn’t touch me here. Not in the sense of reverse culture shock. The Peace Corps and volunteers will go on about that, and maybe when I haven’t been back for more than a year it will hit me too. But Mexico is too developed, too unlike a regular site for service to present a totally different culture. What I felt there was something subtler.

Part of it was coming back to college for a little while. I stayed with my uncle and aunt in Virginia for a spell, like I did every weekend the summer before I shipped out, and I stayed with all the guys I lived with that summer too. The people I saw in DC were all college friends, from the year before, my year, and the one after. Because my buddy Eric’s dating a year younger, I ended up going to her awards ceremony and through their largesse (and that Brian Baum had a spare suit) I went to Senior Ball a second time.

They've gotten prettier since I left

They’ve gotten prettier since I left

So a real repeat of what should have been an uncapturable past.

 

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