Review Comment

[C1101] Contemporary Civilization

November 10, 2019

Levine, Zac Silver_nugget
[C1101] Contemporary Civilization

if you're looking for a CC professor, disregard the review of Zac below. He's a really kind teacher!

Workload:

Standard/a little lighter CC workload

November 28, 2017

Ramsey, Stephanie
[C1101] Contemporary Civilization

A philosophy class for students who want most of all to avoid actually doing and discussing philosophy.

If this sounds like you--if you are taking CC purely because you have to and would normally avoid philosophy like the plague--then by all means enroll in Dr. Ramsey's section. If not, then read on.

As far as I can tell, there are couple reasons why students might enjoy Dr. Ramsey’s CC. She really is a nice person and is approachable. It’s not hard to sense that she is genuinely concerned about the success and welfare of her students. Other commenters have noted her frequent digressions about binge drinking or partying to be strange, but to my ears it comes off more as genuine good-will than anything else. Dr. Ramsey is a perfectly fine person, but she builds her class around such hopelessly misguided pedagogy that I began to dread Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.

What about her teaching style is misguided? The biggest issue: this class allows for next-to-zero critical engagement with the philosophers on the syllabus, preferring summary.

Class discussion works in the following way. Ramsey will ask the class a question about the text with a right and wrong answer, usually asking for the definition of a key term. Sometimes the class will be silent either because nobody did the reading or nobody wants to answer a dead-end question. Other times someone will answer and, regardless of whether they’re right or wrong, Ramsey will nod and move on to the next question. There are times when students respond to one another, but the problem is that the question being ‘debated’ is often just a definition to be found explicitly in the text, so that the discussion quickly revolves around flipping to different parts of the book to find any occassion when the author is reiterating a point already made just to speak in class and pick up some participation points. I understand that the CC curriculum moves very quickly so that there might be little time to do anything other than summarize doctrine, but even History of Philosophy courses (and other CC sections!) with equally packed syllabi manage to set aside some time for substantive discussion, so there’s no excuse.

When discussion doesn’t take that form, it’s when Dr. Ramsey decides we should be having a ‘fishbowl’ or ‘Socratic circle’ style conversation. This consists of Ramsey separating the class into groups of four to discuss four questions (again, these are not discussion questions in any recognizable way, instead they’re just asking for summaries of the text). Then, one member from each group is selected as a representative for one of the questions to meet with all the representatives from other groups and discuss their shared question in front of the rest of the class. This is repeated until every question has been discussed. If all that sounds confusing that’s because it is confusing (it took our section some practice before we all understood what we were meant to be doing), and once you do understand what this fishbowl is supposed to look like, it’s clear that it is an awfully ineffective way of generating debate. Why? Because while the five or so representatives of a question are carrying out their discussion, the rest of the class sits silently and researches their own question so that they can prepare a few answers to recite during their discussion in front of the rest of the class. It’s clear that Dr. Ramsey expects everyone to participate, so everyone spends these fishbowl sessions deciding ahead of time what to say instead of listening to other students or engaging with their ideas.

And really I like to think of these fishbowl conversations as a good metaphor for the way Dr. Ramsey’s class works in general: you are forced to wade through seas of confusing bureaucracy and contrived ivory-tower ~pedagogical methods~ just to avoid meaningful engagement with the ideas you encounter.

That principle applies to writing as well. Almost all of the writing done in this class consists of merely summarizing arguments, and much of the work comes from navigating Ramsey’s bizarre expectations. There were a total of five writing assignments (one of those was split into multiple parts, involving group work and google form submission) plus twice-a-week discussion board posts and an in-class oral presentation on a thinker of your choice.

This has turned into a rant, but all this is to say that this is a CC section which manages to be difficult but not rewarding. If you enroll in this section you will learn the bare basics of important philosophical doctrines laid out in the past couple thousand years. But nowadays this is something you can get from scanning wikipedia. If you have even marginal interest in developing skills such as learning how to engage in rigorous philosophical discussion or how to write argumentatively or how to read critically, I do not recommend enrolling in this section.

Workload:

Medium-heavy CC workload:
Discussion board posts due monday and wednesday nights (60 words each)
2 written exams
1 final in-class essay
4 writing assignments (2-4 pages each)
1 final persuasive essay

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