Darrel Cj

Darrel Cj

When I was about 19, I was attending a local community college and since I was raised as a conservative evangelical, I was growing increasingly disturbed by the arguments by modern, secular thinkers that I was encountering in my philosophy, literature and political science classes. I remember thinking to myself that it would only be sensible to understand why so many important thinkers disagreed with what I believed. So in my free time, I went back to some books that I had had to purchase for a recent political-science course, but which the class had ended up reading very little of: a collected-works edition of Nietzsche and a similar book of Rousseau's main works. While reading through them, somehow I ended up at a section of Rousseau's educational treatise 'Emile' called 'The Profession of Faith by a Savoyard Vicar', in which a jaded/enlightened vicar shares his Deist convictions with a young man who he is advising. I remember devouring it in an afternoon, and filling the margins with notes, observations and criticisms of the vicar's arguments, only to find Rousseau in his next point addressing some question or rebuttal that I had just written down. I vividly remember the absorbing and transformative feeling of having had a real conversation with Rousseau across the page. I was a voracious reader before this, but I have never forgotten reading this book, because it changed something in me: it changed my beliefs, but it also fused my intellectual curiosity to understand how the world works with a passion for reading. It pushed me to start reading difficult authors in search of better answers, and to think about difficult reading as a vital, life-changing, FUN activity, rather than as more of an obligation.

I don't think all need to come to my conclusions about Rousseau's genius or how the world works, but I remember how absolutely vital those readings were to how I understood (and still do understand) how the world works.
Ever since then, I've always had a great soft spot for Rousseau - Leo Damrosch wrote a fantastic biography of him too, which I also remember fondly.. Fast forward ten years or so, and I am living in France temporarily, so I'm taking this bit of good fortune to hunt down a few sites that had sentimental value to Rousseau.

Joe McDonough

Joe McDonough I'm a Lucretian by temperament, but materialism has always seemed too reductive as a philosophy, though of course it's indispensable as a scientific hypothesis. Russell's remark doesn't seem to have been meant seriously, but he's confusing different orders of being. I do think that the existence of God is provable in ways that don't apply to contingent non-material phenomena, and of course proving the existence of God or the soul is different from proving the existence of incidental phenomena such as ghosts or leprechauns. It seems to me that strict materialism cripples art and philosophy as surely as arbitrary faith cripples science; in either case, you're making assumptions that blind you to what's really going on. Pace Russell, what we think of as evidence really only applies to a very limited category of things, mostly found in laboratories and courtrooms...

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Darrel Cj

Darrel Cj Well, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on that. As for your comment that "strict materialism cripples art and philosophy", please feel welcome to recommend something that you've read that you feel makes a good argument to that effect.

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Joe McDonough

Joe McDonough Sure! All I mean by that is that we don't approach art or literature or philosophy as if we're dealing with physical or chemical entities (though obviously we work through and with the material world) nor do we employ the scientific method there (though that's been tried in philosophy, by Descartes and others.) If we restricted ourselves to what can be scientifically "proved" in a seminar, we would be as limited in what we could discuss as if we were to go into a science lab assuming that there were no physical laws or that thunder was caused by Zeus. That's not to say there's no overlap: science can provide insight into art and vice versa. But we're asking different questions and looking for different answers in each case. For that reason, I don't think art or philosophy are simply physics on a more complicated level (and therefore merely beyond our current understanding). They still employ logic and reason and experience, but they're aiming at something other than the material. It's not just "I don't see how science can explain human evolution" but "even if all of our remaining scientific questions were answered, we would still have questions left over for which science could not account, let alone answer." There's a good (and short) book by E.F. Schumacher called "A Guide for the Perplexed" (shout-out to Maimonides!) that I enjoyed reading a few years ago. Feel free to recommend any books you found particularly influential, as well!

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Darrel Cj

Darrel Cj Thanks. I agree that art and philosophy, and abstract thought are not abstract physics, and I don't subscribe to that sort of positivism; and yes, from my perspective, abstract thought and science inquire into different domains, typically, looking for different answers. I'm familiar the 'science doesn't answer life's questions' point: from my perspective, science is the domain that gives (relatively) stable answers: gravity, planetary orbit, the big bang, and so on; meaning beyond that is contingent and human-constructed. So, when I talk about 'justice', I think its existence depends on interpretive communities, their definitions, actions etc.

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Joe McDonough

Joe McDonough My suspicion is that our capacity to inquire into either domain implies the existence of both. Human-constructed need not mean human-created, certainly not on the analogy of the material world, where we only manipulate pre-existing matter and are still bound by physical laws. You could say rightly that 'the color blue' is a human construction and depends on interpretive communities, but that construction and interpretation is still derived from something that exists outside of us; if light had no independent existence, we could not have the capacity to perceive it. Do you think the analogy holds for justice?

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Megan Soun

Megan Soun

It makes a lot of sense that Adam and Eve were afraid after causing the fall of man. When they ate the fruit, they rebelled against God—seeking to be like Him rather than to trust Him, and in doing so, they tainted their until then perfect innocence. Fear of punishment, fear of the future, fear of God? Seems reasonable. Fear of nakedness? Not so much. Yet, nakedness was Adam and Eve’s primary concern. Their first act after committing the original sin was to cover themselves with the latest fig leaf apparel. They then hid from God, to whom Adam later explains, “I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid” (Genesis 3:10). What drives Adam and Eve’s sudden fear of being seen bare by the very one who created them? Could it be that after trying to be like God, their eyes were at last opened to how far short their naked selves fell? Afraid and ashamed, they hid. Indeed, their fear of nakedness is not something I would have hypothetically experienced; it is something I, and maybe you too, have actually experienced time and time again.

This fear stems from a broken world that tells us both that we are inherently unworthy and that we must strive to become like gods. In order to gain worth and be godlike, we must clothe our bare selves with things of this world: beauty, money, power, success, approval, and on and on. Now don’t get me wrong, these things are good things that can be enjoyed rightly with gratitude. The problem arises when we bury ourselves under layer after layer of these things in hopes that these layers will form a filter through which we can finally be seen as enough. But despite our efforts, we never feel fully covered. Like Adam and Eve, we fall short.

Luckily, the brilliant theologian, Kelly Clarkson, speaks hope into this bleak picture. In her work, “Invincible,” she says that when we fear the world, we are “running from an empty threat of emptiness. . .that didn’t exist.” But Kelly, how can this threat of emptiness that has terrified so many of us be groundless? Well unfortunately, she doesn’t give an answer, so I’ll throw in mine—this threat cannot be realized because there has been someone before us who has emptied himself so that we will never truly be empty, and his name is Jesus.

After already taking the pretty big step down from divine being in heaven to human being on earth, Jesus at least should have used his divinity to clothe himself with all the world’s treasures. But instead, He became this poor and unattractive guy, who hung out with the outcasts, washed feet, and was rejected by all. And all this culminates on the cross, where Jesus was voluntarily stripped naked of everything He once had so that we may wear his perfect righteousness. Jesus became nothing, so that in a world that sees us as not enough, God may see us as more than enough.

This is simultaneously insane and incredible. Imagine you are passing a stranger on the street -- you probably cannot see their flaws. Unlike that person’s spouse, parent, or best friend, you are blind to their shortcomings and weaknesses. However, the more intimately you know someone, the clearer your vision of their brokenness becomes. Well God knows us better than anyone, including ourselves. He knows how wretched we were yesterday, how wretched we are today, and how wretched we will be tomorrow. Yet, (and this may be the most beautiful “yet” of all time), because of His Son, He sees us as holy, righteous, and redeemed. God knows me, yet He says, “You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4). This distinction between what God knows of us and how He sees us is grace, and it is amazing.

So it turns out that our fear of nakedness is actually unnecessary. We don’t have to be scared of nakedness because we are never truly naked. On the contrary, we are abundantly clothed with the unwavering, infinite love of the Most High.

Sofia Perello

Sofia Perello Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece of reflection! I had never considered Adam and Eve's story in such depth before. I love this quote, "And all this culminates on the cross, where Jesus was voluntarily stripped naked of everything He once had so that we may wear his perfect righteousness."

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Violet Grant

Violet Grant ^ Agreed! And what inspired you to reflect on this?

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Vidushi Sharma

Vidushi Sharma Megan thank you so much for sharing something here! Even though I don't identify with the Christian faith, I found it applicable to people's everyday lives. It's true that the more intimately you know someone, the more clearly you see your flaws-- Anju Sharma and I were talking about it yesterday. Realizing that is probably the first step to becoming more compassionate to the people we know well.

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Vidushi Sharma

Vidushi Sharma Joe McDonough & Lalka Bunny have you thought about this from the perspective of your own experiences with church teachings?

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Megan Soun

Megan Soun Thanks so much for your comments! Violet, I wrote about this topic because I think the ideas contained within have explained much of my life. From my own experience, I've learned that the more I seek to "cover-up," the more unhappy and unworthy I feel. But when I rest in God's love and grace, I at last feel that I am enough. I wanted to share this message to others because I think we are all searching for love and worth, and I want everyone to know that they already are showered in both of those things. And Vidushi, I agree. I'm learning that to be more understanding and less judgmental of others, you must first be aware of your own brokenness so that you can understand that of another. And secondly, you must know what it is to loved and wanted yourself so that you then feel freed up to channel love onto another.

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Dylan Caruso

Dylan Caruso

As my second year of teaching is coming to a start, I feel it is necessary to share memorable learning experience as an educator. When I was hired in December of 2014, I had formed a very special relationship with one particular student in one of my 8th grade classes. He had failed both the first and second marking periods pretty miserably and he was told over and over that he would not walk with his class at the 8th grade graduation. I made it my mission to not let this happen. Fast forward to a warm summer night in late June. This student was in attendance, cap and gown on, and a member of the procession of the Class of 2015. After receiving his diploma, he found me back stage and when walking back to his seat he mouthed to me "Thank You". I did not go to college for teaching nor did I ever want to be a teacher but this experience put to rest any doubts I may have had in my career choice. This experience inspired me to continue my career as an educator and to NEVER give up on anyone. There is potential within each and every one of us, someone just needs to find it.

Rajat

Rajat Teachers by definition are the most compassionate humans .. they make a difference in other peoples lives. What a great feeling must that be !

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Vidushi Sharma

Vidushi Sharma This is amazing. So many of the other stories on this campaign have focused on the huge impact of knowing a teacher CARES about you as a person. As we've been talking about, it's usually the belief a teacher has in us that matters, and that makes us want to perform better-- not lesson plans, test scores, etc!

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Youngbin Yoon

Youngbin Yoon This is a great story! Thanks for sharing! What made you transition into teaching in the first place?

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Dylan Caruso

Dylan Caruso I was approached by my calculus teacher from high school and asked if I was interested in subbing long term... with hesitation, I agreed but definitely did not think that I would continue after the sub time had expired. After one week, I knew that with hard work and dedication, I would end up loving my career and I am happy to say I absolutely love it and can not imagine myself doing anything else. In my humble opinion, teaching is one of, if not the most rewarding careers out there.

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Josh Aurand

Josh Aurand

Last summer I got a stipend through my college to do a research project on Juan Gelman, an Argentine poet. Born in 1930, he lived through most of Argentina’s complicated 20th century history, and wrote poems of love and loss and humanity at some of the darkest times. I read two of his books of poetry, Los poemas de Sidney West (1969) and Valer la pena (2001) to look at how his work expressed a compromiso, or commitment to social causes, and how it changed over time. Notably, these books sandwich the Dirty Wars, a period of oppression in the Southern Cone that included a bloody military dictatorship in Argentina from 1976 to 1983.
Gelman went into exile in 1976 and lived in exile the remainder of his life, despite the restoration of democracy in the 80s. Gelman’s own son and daughter-in-law were desaparecidos, victims of the government’s clandestine kidnapping, torture, and execution of leftists and intellectuals. Understandably, his 2001 book Valer la pena was heavily steeped with bitterness and anger at what his country had done. Los poemas de Sidney West had a less clear subtext but still foregrounded a growing need to be involved, to do whatever possible to protect and improve one’s community. I read and did my best to analyze these emotional, lonely poems by myself for 5 weeks.
At the start of the next school year, my faculty advisor suggested I produce materials from my summer research to lead session of her class, Intro to Literary Criticism (in Spanish). I picked my favorite poem, El llanto por sim simmons, and prepared some context on the author and time period and reading questions. I won’t go into my interpretation, or really most of the content-based things I learned; what I want to stress is the experience of sharing my summer’s work with other students. Leading the students through the reading questions I made, it was visible that some of them were making some of the leaps I had, building suggestions and ideas on top of a foundation of Spanish words that seemed a bit confusing when translated into English.
They asked questions and made connections to real life that I had not thought of, and I realized that my work over the summer had felt so hard because poems, like other works of literature or art, are meant to be discussed. It would have been a dishonor to the drive (and commitment to la lucha) of my poet to study his work and fail to communicate or relay what I had learned, or to assume I had learned all I could from some books and articles and close reading. Whenever I read a book or an article, watch a movie, or look at a piece of art that engages me, I do my best to share something of that experience with someone else. I don’t think these things are made for the personal enrichment of many individuals, but rather for communal appreciation and discussion.
When individuals read accounts of the loss experienced by a father whose son was killed by his country’s military dictatorship, they might feel sympathy and wonder who allowed this to happen. When a group of people discusses the accounts, they will wonder how to make sure they never do something so terrible. I think artists are always (and often wrongly) imagined as solitary figures, but we should not be so solitary as an audience.
(Photo of Gelman's widow and mourners after his death in January 2014)

Youngbin Yoon

Youngbin Yoon I'll start by saying that poetry has NEVER made any sense to me. I love literature and reading, but poetry has always been a literary form that is elusive to me. (I remember reading T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland in 8th grade and telling myself it's okay to not comprehend it because I would when I was older... I read it again in my senior year of high school and nothing had changed). All of that said, thank you for your insight on your experience of sharing your summers work with other students! Beyond finding people to discuss with (looking at you HobMob), what do you think readers can to do "get" poetry?

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Jade Mills

Jade Mills "I think artists are always (and often wrongly) imagined as solitary figures, but we should not be so solitary as an audience." This is beautiful, Josh. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this reminds me of my frustration with some contemporary art. Sometimes the artist will just smirk upon the question, "what does it mean?" To some degree, I suppose, that's the point they want to make, but it frustrates me that there is this potential for emotions and lessons to be shared and it is seemingly wasted on the joy of making art confused art snobs feel like they know what they're talking about. Do you think that art should carry larger social implications?

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Vidushi Sharma

Vidushi Sharma Wow. What a post. This is beautiful and inspiring. Youngbin Yoon I think that if you try writing poetry, you might "get" it more. Once you start playing with words and syntax, I wonder if you'll find that poetry is the most intuitive way to express feelings in writing. To me it seems like soul-to-soul communication. It might make it easier to step into the persona of a poet and try to piece together what he/she is trying to communicate. I want to hear what Josh thinks too!

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Josh Aurand

Josh Aurand @Youngbin, I definitely think that a great way to approach poetry is to read it with other people (whether they like poetry or not!) It's often important to get some sense of the context in which poetry is written, which I really needed to do for this project, but I think that there's also an argument to be made that too much context lets you oversimplify a poet or poem, ie he wrote this poem about a bad father because he had a bad father, when part of the point is that the father could be anyone's father, or represent some other form of authority, etc. There is certainly scholarly analysis of poetry but you also shouldn't be afraid to respond to a poem in a way that is unique to you - I'm sure a poet would love that too. @Jade, I would say that yes, I do think it should carry larger social implications, or at least that it usually is a response to an aspect of the larger social environment anyway, so it usually will carry implications when the artist shares their process or the audience can find out a lot about the artist. But certainly some artists do not want to explain, and that's fine, but it will probably be harder for them to reach people in the specific way they might intend. And some art may not be made specifically to reach people in a specific way either, it may be more like a scream that is really just raw expression of what the artist feels, released more for the sake of releasing it than to communicate something really specific. @Vidushi I appreciate your appreciation for poetry!

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Amanda Reeves

Amanda Reeves

I started learning ancient Greek in third grade, using a textbook that was way beyond my 8-year-old brain. Since I was home educated, my Dad always picked my course materials, and he was never one to gravitate towards sugarcoated learning. As a result, instead of using a Greek book for elementary students, he had me working out of a college textbook. It was an incredibly frustrating experience for the most part. I didn’t understand what I was learning, and since neither of my parents had ever learned the language, my only resource for questions was my 10-year-old sister who was learning it with me. My Greek book is covered in creases from the many times that I unceremoniously punted it off of the table in tears and frustration. After three years of little to no success in learning the language, my Dad decided to put the subject away for the time being with the hopes of returning to it later in high school. I was overjoyed, and swore I would never again open a Greek textbook. Ironic, since my freshman year of college I rediscovered classical languages and now relish my study of them. On my last day, though, I have a super vivid memory of working on a translation exercise. I was struggling through a passage from John that had probably taken me several days to sort through, but all of a sudden it was like somebody turned a light on and I was able to translate a sentence without a lexicon or my sister’s help. It was just a single sentence, so in the grand scheme of things, it was a minor victory. But, somehow, knowing that I had fought my way through something that was way beyond me, and achieved even the smallest amount of success, meant the world to me. Never again could somebody suggest to me that I was incapable of doing something, because by golly, after three years of blood, sweat, and tears, I translated that sentence.

Emma Zahren-Newman

Emma Zahren-Newman wow-- this is a great story! Do you think you will teach your kids ancient Greek? Do you wish your dad had approached the lessons differently?

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Youngbin Yoon

Youngbin Yoon I really liked this story! Thanks for sharing it! Do you think that really driving at learning Ancient Greek from a book that was meant for older students helped shape you in other ways?

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Vidushi Sharma

Vidushi Sharma Wait, so did you have a hiatus from Classics till college? What made you decide to pick up the subject again after experiencing so much frustration before?

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Vidushi Sharma

Vidushi Sharma

Reflecting upon my most meaningful learning experience has been nearly impossible. I'm going to just describe a class from high school that I still think about while continuing my education at Princeton and what it taught me.

Senior Seminar, RHS: In high school, I took a class called Senior Seminar. It's curriculum was determined by the teachers (1 English and 1 History teacher) without much outside pressure. This class was life-changing.

Ms. Kirtane, my varsity tennis coach and the teacher of the history (or Social Studies, as she preferred) part of the seminar, often started class with provocative questions, ranging from “Are humans good?” or “What is the role of government?” After answering these in a minute or two, we quickly heard the thoughts of the other eight students in the class group and discuss them in the context of assigned readings. One day, Coach guided us through the process of making the connections between 18th century social conditions and the political and economic philosophies that these evoked. She never gave us the answers; we had to wrestle our way to them ourselves, but in the end, feudalism, the Renaissance, classical liberalism, exploration, centralization, and the decline of organized religion had all factored into our discussion.

We worked on everything from Locke/Hobbes to extemporaneous speeches about current events (an amazing way to train students in rhetoric and show them the importance of reading the news-- both ignored widely in today's education). We simulated the Israeli-Palestinian summit, and pursued a unit on what makes a meaningful education. We debated American exceptionalism, read Marx, and gave our own State of the Union addresses. At the end of the year, we led our own Seminar classes, assigning reading, writing, and giving comments on people's 1-page responses to our prompts. Topics ranged from liberation theology in El Salvador (mine) to the Patriot Act, the Indian economy, and German concentration camps in Namibia.

The class changed the way I assimilate information and understand the interdisciplinary webs and forces that shape history. And, as readers might expect, I had a very meaningful personal relationship with Coach as well. She always had time to talk on/off the court and in/out of the classroom, and pushed me harder than almost any teacher I've had. I was always held accountable for any lapses in focus or commitment I showed while on the tennis court. Any lateness was never tolerated; if any of us faltered in a fitness drill, everyone would do it again. The tennis team, as a result, was the closest knit sports group at our school, and some of Coach's classes showed the same result.

Emma Zahren-Newman

Emma Zahren-Newman Mishti-- what are your thoughts on the common core curriculum? This sounds like such an amazing class-- it's really interesting to me that you say "It's curriculum was determined by the teachers (1 English and 1 History teacher) without much outside pressure." Do you think that if all classes had lax curriculums, they would be more impactful?

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Darrel Cj

Darrel Cj That sounds like a wonderful high-school experience! I certainly wish I had had an instructor at that level who exposed me to such sophisticated thinkers.

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Joe McDonough

Joe McDonough

My first seminar-style class was sophomore year of high school, with three teachers taking turns to teach English, History, and Christian Doctrine to a class of fifteen students. During the fall term, we read and discussed Dante's Inferno and Goethe's Faust. When the time came for the term exam, we were handed a blue book each and a single question: What is love? I didn't really understand the question at the time, and wrote something that probably had little to do with the readings we had been assigned. But I see now that this is the central question of these works, and perhaps of all great literature. I have the Inferno open before me now, in Esolen's translation, to Canto Three, the inscription on the gates of Hell: "Justice caused my high architect to move: Divine omnipotence created me, The highest wisdom, and the primal love." How is divine love compatible with Hell? How does Faust get to Heaven? I don't remember what I wrote at the time, but I'll never forget that question. After becoming a teacher myself, and spending five summers at the Graduate Institute of St. John's College in Annapolis, I've had a lot more time to reflect on how to run and participate in a seminar, and I've never ceased to be amazed at the power of simple questions to open doors into complicated works of art and literature. I love hunting for the right question, the key that will unlock a story, whether it takes one reading or many years to get started on an answer. That's not to say that we should expect clear definitions of love or beauty or virtue from works of literature. But, as in a Platonic dialogue, we should search for them nonetheless. The allegories are right about this, at least: we must get to know these things, not as if they are definitions, but as though they are persons, and we get to know people by hearing stories about them and sharing stories with them. What is love? Read Dante and find out.

Youngbin Yoon

Youngbin Yoon Wow, thank you for the insight! I studied Greek mythology in Latin class myself and was also perpetually curious by their views on love. Same can be said through my time reading the Aeneid!

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Sofia Perello

Sofia Perello I love the story about getting a blue book with the question, "What is love?" I wish more schools and teachers trusted students enough to tackle questions like that without much explicit guidance. Have you ever seen the Oxford All Souls college exam papers? They are endlessly fascinating, and contain great "big picture" questions that are relevant to many pieces of literature, philosophy, and the human experience! This is last year's General Paper: https://www.asc.ox.ac.uk/sites/stage.all-souls.ox.ac.uk/files/ExaminationFellowships/ExamFellowshipGeneralPaper2014.pdf (more papers at the bottom of this link- including Classics- https://www.asc.ox.ac.uk/examination-fellowships-general-information)

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Joe McDonough

Joe McDonough I was in Oxford recently and heard about this! Fantastic. Thanks for the link.

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Vidushi Sharma

Vidushi Sharma @Sofia I felt the same way. I really love reading through the All Souls question papers when I'm bored! In the class I wrote about for this prompt, one of the most important things was indeed the teacher's willingness to ask us big questions. We thought it was crazy/hilarious that the 1 page paper assigned on the first day of class was a response to "Are humans good?" and "Is love need?" For our final exam, we wrote about a historical role model & a letter to President Obama based on the implementation of his policies for the year. These sorts of seminar classes feel like truly holistic learning. In the process of thinking through & formulating answers to these big questions, we improve our analysis, writing, and rhetoric all at the same time-- and also learn more about our innermost selves, as Joe has pointed out.

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Alexej Filicek

Alexej Filicek I like what @Joe says about the Gospels, and agree that we have to know the answer to the question already in some form. It's a beautiful thought that each of us knows what love is to some extent, and that our lifelong spiritual and intellectual development nuances this.

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Rajat

Rajat

I have always found it tough to attempt to learn from someone else. Like Youngbin I spent most of my school years sleeping away in class and working the midnight oil just before exams. During college years doing anything else but study. I am glad I got anywhere ! So if I am asked what I would do over again... it would be go go back to college in the US and find the teacher I describe below !

Yet there has been one individual who wasn't my teacher, but I can easily say has been my greatest teacher, motivator,mentor, paterfamilias . I found him not in school, not in college, but almost in my backyard in Allahabad in India. He happened to be Dr. Govind Chandra Pande . What made him influence me ? Not his credentials as a world renowned expert of Buddhism and Vedas, Vice Chancellor of a couple of universities. Not the fact, that he could converse in 7 different languages from Latin to Sanskrit. And certainly not the fact that he was my mother's first cousin.

His influence came from his demure,magical, mystical, soft spoken yet so influential demeanor. It came from the fact that he was the nicest most compassionate human being I have encountered. He was a man of a few words. You ask him a long winded question and he would respond with a short witty response accompanied with a twinkle in his bespectacled eyes, the truth of which would keep sinking into you long after the echo of spoken words was gone.

In fact the first time, and unfortunately for me , I met him was only when I went to college. My education came not from the classroom but from the long evening walks I took him. I asked him about everything about geopolitics, fundamentals questions about existence of a supreme being or lack thereof, of culture and course that India was undertaking, of economics, of homeopathy, of medicine, astronomy or astrology. He would love to veer the discussion to physics and sciences which wanted he to better learn and I had at best a smattering knowledge of !

All of us need to be lucky enough to encounter "teachers" in our lives...people who can change the course of our existence merely be a single thought, action. The influence stays for a long time because their words are sublime ,crystal clear and sharp and stand the test of time.

Vidushi Sharma

Vidushi Sharma It seems to be a common truth that our best teachers are those who care about us as human beings-- the element of compassion that you mentioned is more important than anything else. The willingness to spend hours after class talking to students about their hopes, fears, and everything in between.

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Emma Zahren-Newman

Emma Zahren-Newman That was absolutely the aspect of my teachers I remember the most. No offense to them, but I don't remember most of what they taught me of their subject. I remember the kind ways they treated me and the encouraging conversations we had after class.

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Rajat

Rajat Yet they wield so much influence because you simply trust their judgement.

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Youngbin Yoon

Youngbin Yoon I'm in agreement with you all on this one. I've found that I learned the most and worked the hardest when teachers cared about who I was as a person, and I wanted to live up to that belief in me.

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Vidushi Sharma

Vidushi Sharma ^ Perfectly said! Wanting to live up to a teacher's belief in me has been one of my biggest motivations.

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Emma Zahren-Newman

Emma Zahren-Newman

Tuxedo Park School

My meaningful classroom experience was the culmination of influential classes during my freshman year of high school. It was the first time my academic and personal growth were completely in-sync. I was fortunate enough to attend Tuxedo Park School, in Tuxedo, NY, where teachers and students have a unique relationship. My entire grade was comprised of 7 students, so my classes ranged between having 1 to 6 classmates. I could write on and on about the various classes and experiences, but instead, I will focus on 3 aspects: History/Philosophy/Religion, Theatre, and English.


9th grade was when I first started studying religion and philosophy in school. As we studied belief systems, I started to develop my own. Mr. Ham’s lectures were more like stories, showing insight to another way of life, another way of being. I completed my reading assignments out of curiosity, not necessity. The class itself felt like a grand excuse for spiritual research.


Since the 7th grade, I have loved being on stage. Being in front of people, however, was a different story. With a LOT of encouragement from my drama and singing teachers, Mrs. Duffy and Ms. Jackson, I managed to not shake TOO noticeably while performing in my minor roles. I was comfortable playing these minor characters who didn’t have to sing alone and could often feed off of the confidence of other actors. In 9th grade, I auditioned for the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz, and was blown away when I was offered the role of Dorothy Gale, the lead. With the help of my instructors, I shook off my fear and was able to step into my own skin, or, well, Dorothy’s. For the rest of high school, I was shaped by other roles and teachers.


English class was always one of my favorites growing up. In 9th grade, aside from reading countless influential books, Mrs. Calderon also required to keep a personal journal of sorts. We were asked to write our impressions of plays, our personal thoughts on aspects of life, and poems. When I was recently cleaning my room, I found said journal. I believe it was the first time I had opened-up on a page. Countless stories of my life, worries and joys of the time, creative names for colors (like neon-salmon), hilarious depictions of characters from Romeo and Juliet, and more filled the pages. I had learned how to express myself.


“Who am I?” is one of the most important questions we can ever ask ourselves. In 9th grade, I started to have an idea. Because of great instruction and support, my teachers helped me figure out who I am and how to be comfortable expressing myself. Thanks, TPS teachers! <3

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If you want to see more about TPS, check out the link! It's a really neat place!

Anju Sharma

Anju Sharma This sounds like a wonderful school. It does make me wonder though that with just 7 people in your grade, how many total students were there in the school? And how many teachers? I wonder how they maintain the quality of the school. There are fixed costs. Teachers have to be paid whether there is one student or more. Quite an interesting study this would make. Thanks for sharing.

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David Trefler

David Trefler Were religion/philosophy classes in your school? Public schools often shy away from teaching these subjects; teachers are deathly afraid of even mentioning religion. How was it handled in your situation?

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Vidushi Sharma

Vidushi Sharma ^ I also experienced the same thing in public school. I understand why these subjects are tough things to teach, but in line with some of the comments above, I think that sharing spiritual/religious/philosophical beliefs brings people closer than almost anything else. And this closeness fosters an ideal relationship between teachers and students.

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Youngbin Yoon

Youngbin Yoon

My most memorable learning experience occurred outside of the classroom. It was a free period back in my senior year of high school and I was socializing in the cafeteria with my math teacher, under the pretense of being there for help. Mr. Turkington, or Turk as we like to call him, is an interesting individual. He doesn’t hold the hallmarks of a traditional teacher, with his seemingly ambivalent nature (at least initially) and his aggressive approach to learning. That said, I continue to contest that he is the best teacher I’ve had thus far.
For the past few months, my performance in math had been lackluster. Specifically, I was asleep in class often and my grades were below their usual average.
“Yea… you don’t care,” Turk said. Now this confused me, mostly because I actually did are about math. Of all the subjects I was studying that year, Calculus BC was one of the few I was genuinely passionate about. I can’t remember my exact response, but I remember what he said after.
“Well that’s sad. You’re asleep in my class all the time. You come for help and don’t focus on math. If this is you caring, that’s sad.”
I was a little insulted. I had always been perfectly amicable with him, and I had a pretty successful history of getting along well with my teachers. Furthermore, I didn’t really think I had done anything wrong. I tried to defend myself.
“No, Youngbin, I don’t care. I don’t care what tv shows we watch. You come here and want to socialize but I don’t care. You’re lazy.”
At this point, I was thoroughly insulted. It seemed like I was being chastised for being nice. That said, I understood that a collected and composed response would be my best response.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Turkington. I’ll get you your 5,” I said, in reference to the upcoming AP test. Turk was famous for his remarkable record of helping his students achieve the highest grade on the AP tests.
“No, you see, you still don’t get it. I never doubted that you’d get a 5. I’m saying you’re lazy.”
And that’s when it all clicked for me. It’s hard to explain adequately, but I started working after that conversation. The rest of the period went by smoothly with him answering my questions, and we continued like nothing had happened. By the end of the period, we were joking around again.
I’m still not entirely sure why this moment was important in shaping my work ethic, but there was a noticeable shift afterwards that continued on to college. I suspect it was the fact that he took the time to shape me into a better person, for the sole purpose of shaping me into a better person. He had nothing really to gain from the experience considering it was understood that my test scores wouldn’t contribute negatively to his reputation. Instead, he wanted me to be better simply because he wanted to be better. It’s nice having someone care about you when they don’t have to, and it makes you want to live up to their belief in you. That’s the way I took it, at least.
Funny enough, I’m now a math and philosophy double major. Moreover, I’m teaching my friends calculus (last semester my friend Jenny needed help, and my other friend Euan says he’ll need some help this coming semester). I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s because of Turk I’m in any position to help at all.

Rajat

Rajat Youngbin Yoon what you say resonates ! It is so true. It is that very magical moment which if we are lucky enough to encounter changes the course of our lives

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TheHobMob

TheHobMob

We want to hear from you! You have the next 48 hours to respond to this prompt: Describe a meaningful learning experience that you've had.

It can be anywhere, with anyone, from anything! Are you ready? Set. Go!

Sarah Gianakon

Sarah Gianakon

It's really hard to single out a book that had the most influence on my life, because different books had effects on different aspects of it. For example, when my sister became really interested in reading Charles Dickens' novels, she suggested that I read The Pickwick Papers. This book had a huge influence on my sibling life. We modeled our own Pickwick club, where we wrote in journals and referred to one another as the characters in the book. This continued for the rest of my childhood (I think I was maybe 7 when we first started the club, and it faded when my sister started university when I was 12). It is one of my fondest memories, and today I can re-live our adventures by reading the many newspapers/journals we wrote about our daily life experiences.

A book that really influenced my studies was I, Claudius by Robert Graves. It details the life of the emperor Claudius, from when he was a child striving to please his grandfather Augustus, to when he was a ripe reigning emperor (in Claudius the God, the sequel). His friendship with King Agrippa especially fascinated me, because the Agrippas were familiar to me from reading the Bible growing up. I think this book was the "take-off" of the train ride of my love for Classics, and might be the root of the reason why that is my major. xD

This was a really difficult question, and I could probably go on; how Midnight's Children influenced my interest in traveling and learning about other cultural traditions, and how Ben-Hur influenced the curiosity to deepen my spiritual life; how The Lord of the Rings was a constant presence in my life since I was a little toddler (thanks to my Tolkien-loving uncles and dad!)... but I feel I am not doing any of these books justice to their influence on my life! But these are just my thoughts while waiting here.

Vidushi Sharma

Vidushi Sharma I loved reading this! (And finding out more about the pickwick club today). I can't believe you all were able to sustain it for so many years. In high school Latin we spent every Friday for a long time watching I, Claudius -- have you seen the show? It's so strange but also engrossing. I think it's from the 70's. How did Ben Hur make you curious to deepen your spiritual life?

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Sarah Gianakon

Sarah Gianakon Even though Ben Hur is subtitled "A Tale of the Christ," Jesus is featured infrequently (if I remember correctly, he offers Judah Ben-Hur a drink of water before Ben Hur is forced into the Roman galley as a slave). Later, Ben Hur witnesses the Crucifixion and sees that Christ did not seek revenge as he did against Messala, and decides to become a Christian. I'm not sure why this book impacted me the way it did, but I am glad it was able to wake me from spiritual sleep. Talking about it makes me want to read it again... :D

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Peter Yoon

Peter Yoon

My mother once told me that as a child, I used to stack up books by my side and pass my day reading until I went through all of them. I do faintly recall what those books were about but they weren't anything special that have influenced me in deeply stirring ways. I remember reading a lot of comic books back in elementary school, before I came overseas to the States. They were mostly those supposedly educative and informative comic strips made to be easily read and understood for the kids; now that I think about it, it's just a bunch of unintelligent bullshit. However, I did enjoy the comic strips on these three medieval Chinese kingdoms, and I remember getting caught reading one of them during class and being brought forth in front of the class by the teacher to get a total of 10 lashes on my hands with a decent sized wooden rod.

But I don't really remember any books that has been strikingly influential to me even from my time in high school. I'd lost my appetite for reading during high school as most kids did. I guess it wasn't until I came to college that such thing as literature struck me as something imbibed with transformative force. It was Friedrich Nietzsche's "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" that had impacted me in such way, particularly because the way in which he employed his Jesus-like figure Zarathustra to deliver his message of challenging the validity of preordained values that have been taught to me and putting them on their heads to dispose of ones that do not stand the test, and the paths that the figure takes under, over and through man and in solitude at many times really resonated with my own doubts of my now former religion and my adolescent experience. Not to mention, Nietzsche's matchless poeticism really got to me, though I know some people do not like him for this reason. This is one quote that has stuck with me ever since I picked up that book: "and what you have called world, that shall be created only by you: your reason, your image, your will, your love shall thus be realized. And verily, for your own bliss, you lovers of knowledge."

There's another book, "Trout Fishing In America," by Richard Brautigan and this was suggested to me by professor when she had read one of my poems and was reminded of his wacky, odd-humored short stories. When I checked him out, I was just dying of laughter because this guy and I shared the exact same sense of humor, an odd and marked with peculiar and irregular narrative style. Since then, the book has come to be one of my most cherished.

Malcolm L

Malcolm L Trout Fishing in America is going on my reading list.

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Lalka Bunny

Lalka Bunny If you liked the language a lot, I'd like to know what translation of Zarathustra you read. (I'm always on the hunt for good translations!)

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Peter Yoon

Peter Yoon Malcolm: I met really cool upper classmen friends who were really into theory and philosophy so I was introduced to a lot of new things; plus, my dad always nagged me about reading these stuff and I started taking classes so yeah.

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Peter Yoon

Peter Yoon Lalka: I read walter kaufmann's translation. I think the best versions are either by him or the cambridge versions. '

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Lalka Bunny

Lalka Bunny Thank you! I'm excited to read it.

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Matt Sehrsweeney

Matt Sehrsweeney

As I'm sure was everyone's first response when presented with this question, I initially was overwhelmed and balked at the challenge. It was impossible for me to pick out the single book that had the most significant impact on my life, so I'll just mention one that I've read recently that helped to crystalize my thoughts on myself and humanity in an enormous way.

The book (and please don't be put off by how cliche it is) is Walden, . Though it certainly has its flaws--society couldn't really operate if everyone took a year out in the woods to find themselves, which speaks to Thoreau's immense privilege--the message at the core resonated with me on a level that perhaps no other book ever had. Each of us has an inner being, a true self that we must examine and bring to the outside world if we are to live truly fulfilled lives. To me this means that we all have a moral code that lies somewhere deep within us, and once we get in touch with it we become more complete human beings and can live a life that better serves humanity. By reaching these inner principals and living in accordance with them, we better not just ourselves but society as a whole.

Hemen Patel

Hemen Patel Thanks for the share. I will surely be interested to read this.

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