Why I love teaching.

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It’s so incredibly rewarding to see how much my students, at Queensborough Community College, have progressed throughout the semester in the “Introduction to Anthropology” course I designed.

For many of them, it’s the first time they’ve been introduced to academic readings besides textbooks. I didn’t go easy; I’ve been assigning tough stuff that I even struggled through (in graduate school, no less!). And these students are holding down part-time or full-time jobs, too.

But they have continued to take me up on my challenges, grappling with the difficult readings and concepts and undertaking independent research on topics of their choice, which they’ll start presenting on next week.

I simply have to brag about some of the things these students have been writing in their weekly reading responses on our blog:

Ashley Lee: “One of the main things that I learned about in this particular class is the concept of Agency. Agency is the ability to break away from a particular structure, growing up I believed that once you are born in a particular situation it takes almost a miracle in order to fix it or break free away from it. I always believed firmly that the concept of Agency was very rare in many societies until I began to read and understand the many societies in which we discussed or analyzed. Many of these critical reading activities that we have done have made me have a better understanding of societies other than my own.”

Eddie Aguilar: “This concept of creating social outcasts isn’t limited to Brazil but rather is a worldwide phenomenon. Surprisingly, it’s easy for a large majority to pretend these problems don’t exist within a society. Many choose to sweep these maladies under the carpet and turn their heads in the opposite direction. However, if any of those people were to suddenly become homeless or ill themselves, they would demand immediate attention and assistance from those around them. So what makes these people have priority over the ones who are already suffering? The simplest answer is money. The rich can demand help where the poor cannot.”

Bianca LaCagnina: “Later in the article Biehl stated that they found the cause of Catarina’s illness and it turned out to be genetic; not a mental illness. What made her mentally ill was this zone of social abandonment and her knotted reality of misdiagnoses, and excessive medication. It was also because family members and health care professionals were creating her status as being psychotic. This story was extremely interesting in the fact that not only did it display the horrid truths of what human beings are capable of doing to others, it also showed me how Biehl grew and learned as an anthropologist while he was interviewing her. I would just hope that people become aware of situations like this and prevent it for the future.”

Juliany Garcia: “During this whole experience I have felt bad that I cant help these people and that certain things are really out of my grasp. I have ask how I can help, but they just keep saying to donate food, but theres so much I can give as well. One thing that has made me feel a bit awkward, is when I am interviewing the women they are always looking at what I am wearing and asking me where I bought this shoes from or this shirt from. I try to dress down as much as possible, but even at that they ask my questions. How can I divert the attention from me and switch to the research or the interview?”

Rich Martinez: “In an attempt to visualize what exactly is going on [in Freud’s concept of the unconscious], consider the following ‘cave allegory’ as proposed by Plato. He presents humans as prisoners who are trapped in a cave, shackled and secured so that they are only able to face in one direction. In front of them is a wall on which reflections of shadows are seen—these reflections are cast by the different objects which are carried by the people passing back and forth behind them, with the aid of a fire which is even further behind the carriers. At the other end of the cave is a pathway that ascends to the exit where there is natural light cast by the sun as well as other objects such as trees, lakes, etc. Suppose that the medium inside the cave is what we know to be the visible world, and the area outside is the invisible, or rather intelligible world. The shadows on the wall represent the images of the objects and the things being carried are the actual objects themselves; the fire represents the source of light which is necessary for us to see those images. Now let us say that one of the prisoners breaks free from his bonds and ascends to the outside. All of a sudden he sees the sun which is the ‘light of truth’, the trees and lakes which are the true forms or essences of all things. That is where the transition lies between conscious and unconscious—remember that all of the things that the prisoner is faced with when he is outside are not something that he sees, tastes or hears, but what his mind grasps and perceives, which is how we come to explain concepts of knowledge and understanding. In other words, while everything we see in the cave brackets our conscious processes and the things we perceive when outside encompass our unconscious states.”

Vasilia Meskouris: “The interview we conducted in class helped me feel more comfortable asking questions. I realized that my questions need to be more specific in order to get the information I need out of it, otherwise the interview would go off topic. I also learned to anticipate how to take control of the situation and ask the questions I would like to have answered if my interview goes in a totally different direction, although I would listen carefully to what the person I am interviewing has to say because even if it doesn’t answer my question it could still be useful information and give me other ideas of how to approach a different matter.”

Peter Carbone: “When you’re at the Game Table, it doesn’t matter what your age is, where you came from, what you look like, speak like, or believe in; all the matters is your skill and honor. I think this may be the only situation where a 55 year old business man and a 10 year old grammar school student sit across the table from each other and shake hands as equals. I want to particularly examine the age and social differences among players at this store in order to give examples supporting my theory: that modern America can learn from the gamer culture, and by emulating universal equality among members, we can achieve a much more efficient albeit competitive society.”

Amanda Lee: “Watching Hotel Rwanda, gave me a feeling I never felt before. I opened my eyes to what genocide is really like, and showed how even when things become dysfunctional and sadly mania, that people are still able to help other people out…In the African American community, lately,there has been a controversy concerning light skinned African Americans,and dark skinned African Americans. These two groups constantly feud between who is better or who is not. Truthfully, since I’m an African American, it’s odd to see those two groups fight. Why are we going against each other, when we’re supposed to stick together and unite? I’ve known about this controversy, since the beginning of High School, and I’m surprised that it still occurs. Hotel Rwanda showed me how this discrepancy affects my life.”

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