Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Dumbest Person in the Room

It's currently June 2010. But this post describes the thoughts which occupied me from January to April 2010 (and I forgot when I wrote it...I just never got around to posting)

I'm tired of feeling like an ignoramus. So is Jesse, because he graciously listens to my lamentations after I've come home at 10 PM from a day full of seventh graders and a night class at BYU. I don't feel like the dumbest person in the room when I'm teaching seventh grade (this would be quite the challenge, even for me), but I can't help it when I'm in class at BYU! During moments like these, Jesse, in all his economic wisdom proceeds to comment about some very significant statistical odds: "There's only one dumbest person in the room. What are the odds that it's you? That person is probably too thickheaded to know it's them anyway..." This usually makes me feel better when I am in a class of 30 instead of eight.

I feel like I'm currently experiencing my low point of dumbness--this is actually a word in the dictionary--in my "History of Rhetoric" class, which I am taking because I couldn't bring myself to take the only other course--poetry workshop, in which one composes poetry to be read aloud and critiqued in front of the class--that would fit with my schedule. I felt dumb for two reasons: 1) I was scared of the professor. Someone I work with who knows him quite well said, "It's okay. He's just so smart than anyone feels dumb next to him." Ok. That makes sense. It's not the first time this has happened; 2) Others in the class (all rhetoric majors for the most part) caused me to reflect on my perceived stupidity. When the professor assigned Aristotle's Rhetoric and Poetics, and half the class connected the discussion to the Twilight saga in a semi-intellectual manner and carried it on seriously for 15 minutes, talking about how Twilight ranks higher on Aristotle's hierarchy of perfect art than Lyn Hejiniman's modern poetry, and pontificated on the concept of the "probable" and how it relates to the possibility of Haitian vampires invading Forks, Washington, and I remained at a loss as to how to make a worthy contribution to the conversation, I wondered what was wrong with me. I felt like this often this semester.

If nothing else I should have at least taken comfort in the following comment by John R. Sedivy:
"The smartest person in the room is the most comfortable position and as a result the least challenging. Lobsters (see The Power of Positive Part II for more on lobsters ) are most comfortable in this environment because it is easiest to stay on top and keep others down. Conversely, the dumbest person in the room is downright uncomfortable – at least in the beginning – however this is where the most learning takes place. Like anything else worthwhile, this is challenging, however the rewards are great."

The Dumbest Person In The Room

Maybe I would have been happier as a lobster...

The course got better as we talked about "shame" and how we were normal if we all felt embarrassed at not knowing how to interpret our readings of Kenneth Burke and Aristotle and Plato and John Dewey. This discussion temporarily assuaged my doubts and I carried on until the end.

I ended up learning a great deal about writing and teaching from this rhetoric professor who posed a significant challenge to every person in the class. It almost made me consider changing my MA emphasis to rhetoric, since I came out of the class with a thesis-worthy project relating to the nature of how rhetorical landscapes are established through art. But since I'm sticking with British Literature this will have to wait, or be forgotten.

Somehow I got over feeling like the dumbest person in the room. Although I didn't check my course grade for "History of Rhetoric" until several weeks after final grades were posted online. Checking grades after a difficult semester is like going to the dentist--it's sometimes an experience full of bursts of uncomfortable tingling sensations while I sit tensely gripping the arm rests and shutting my eyes tight when I know a big needle is momentarily going to pierce the inside of my cheek with a jolt of novocaine. Then I see "A" next to "History of Rhetoric." The needle retracts. My cheek gets all numb and puffy. All fears and discomforts are allayed. Until I'm due for another check up in six months. Or until the next semester.