When Leaves Fall Like Rain

As I pulled up to my house today, I saw a man walking down the street in a fluttering downpour of leaves. As I drove home from school an orphan maple leaf, orange and curling at the sides, blew in the driver’s-side window and landed on my chest.

Today the view from the college caf, a lovely vista of the Blue Ridge Mountains, was mostly green with strong touches of gold and orange. I’ll take a pic, as I’d love to show you all how the mountains change color, and how utterly spectacular autumn in the mountains is.

Though this fall seems likely to be less spectacular than most, what with the weather we’ve had that I’ve written about so many times. First a very late snap of cold and frost that killed spring blooms and new growth at its absolute pinnacle, then months of killing drought.

Lots of leaves seem to be moving swiftly from turning to falling. We may not have much color, save on the ground.

Look closely at almost any tree around town, and see many branches that are bare and leafless on the tips, as the tips of the branches receive, presumably, the least water and were more easily damaged by drought. Like frostbitten fingers, even trees have extremities that suffer under extreme conditions.

Trees on my property have bare, dead limbs killed by drought, and my severely damaged Japanese maple just limps along after losing several limbs in the April frost.

*******

Friday is a pretty good day in my world. First I have humanities lecture at 11:30, and sit in the campus’ big hall hearing someone speak. It’s a mixed bag, ranging from the truly dreadful to the interesting and enlightening, and we students never know what we’ll get.

Today was an uninspired, under-rehearsed lecture on Western imperialism in China and Japan. I give it a C-.

Then off to my good old poli sci class. Today in the parking lot at the grocery store I sat thinking about this class, and the phrase that came unbidden to mind was emotional rescue.

I find the rest of my classes this year to be very unsatisfying, and declaring a poli sci minor early in the year was this semester’s golden move. Without my poli sci class to interest me I’d be slogging along, writing articles in which I am not particularly invested, reading Humanities readings in which I find little inspiration…

I like my newswriting prof, but she seems to be a very inexperienced teacher and does absolutely inexplicable things. She tests us on material she has never taught us, and then, going over the test, finally teaches the material.

She gives unannounced exams (not pop quizzes, but tests that are percentages of our final grade). She lectures for an hour or more straight as the class’ collective brainpower boils away in the sink of boredom that an overlong lecture turns a classroom into. She assigns reading that is not related to the week’s work or discussion (we are reading the textbook chapter by chapter in order, whether it has anything to do with what we are learning or not).

She has work experience that is very relevant to her teaching job, but a teaching job requires more than work experience. She seems to be a new teacher who has far to go in the art of imparting information easily and well.

I like her and respect her journalistic credentials, but I could kick myself for doing something I almost never do — signing up for a class with a teacher I knew nothing about.

My humanities class, meanwhile, is part of my liberal arts college’s ambitious humanities program, which to my mind has overreached itself. Due to the nature of the class, focusing on varied topics including philosophy, race, literature and human rights, it is often taught by someone with no special expertise in what the class is discussing that day.

What is the defense of this idea? I’d like to know.

In the textbook for the class, produced by the college itself, some of the introductions to the readings are somewhat poorly written, and a professor friend tells me some also contain serious and obvious historical errors. Lectures, as I have mentioned, are a mixed bag (though to be fair, sometimes they are very good).

And worst of all (to me), the class is designed to mostly consist of discussion. We have readings, but no guidelines for them. We just read. Then we come to class and have bumbling discussions of the sort that college students have about things that no one in the room knows anything about.

I do not find this enlightening, or a worthwhile use of state tax dollars or my tuition money. I am here to learn, not have stumbling, halting, uninformative conversations for three hours a week. I wish we had clearer goals in what we are trying to learn.

That said, just a few weeks ago I did well on a long midterm exam. So clearly I am learning something. The process, however, is not always very linear or enjoyable.

I like my professor, but as a philosopher, I find him relatively unqualified to facilitate our discussions on history, Western imperialism, etc. He occasionally turns the discussion towards his own interests (philosophy, Marxism and French culture, LOL HOW PROFESSORIAL), which have little to do with the material at hand.

Usually I like diversions, but so little gets accomplished in this class that I get more annoyed than I would ordinarily. But honestly, what else is a French-speaking philosophy professor supposed to do while leading a discussion on Native American religion and government?

I do not blame him for the poor placement the humanities program forces him into. It’s hard to tell what kind of teacher he might be within his own field.

It is no secret in this blog that I am a gigantic nerd who loves to learn. So thank GOODNESS for Dr. Cornett, who always swoops in every MWF at 12:45 to save me with her academic expertise and linearity.

This semester, poli sci is my emotional rescue.

Dr. Cornett is a political scientist teaching a political science class (imagine that). She teaches well (if with overwhelming linearity that verges on rigidity) and is always fair, interesting and knowledgeable. We do not discuss. We listen and learn, and when we have questions they are answered from a place of knowledge.

I love my readings, I love the lecture part of the class, I love having the beginnings of a new and powerful way of seeing the world. Which, I think, is what the sciences provide to our species: tremendously powerful, overarching frameworks through which we can interpret, predict and change the world around us.

4 responses to “When Leaves Fall Like Rain

  1. Wow.

    From reading the Asheville Citizen-Times, you’d think the only political scientist in Asheville is Bill Sabo. I wonder why they don’t contact Dr. Cornett? Do you know?

  2. Hey Gordon,

    Dr. Sabo heads the department and may carry more clout.

    And, more likely, newspaper reporters tend to have contacts that they use regularly because the person gives good quotes and responds quickly. That’s part of the reason we always see the same names over and over.

    But as a UNCA poli sci minor, I can say that there are at least two outstanding poli sci profs, Dr. Cornett and Surain Subramaniam (whom I see has his own Wikipedia entry):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surain_Subramaniam

    I don’t know what Dr. Cornett would be like as a speaker, but she is a tremendously competent professor. Me and a classmate both got C’s on her recent exam, but both agreed we DESERVED them, as Cornett’s competence in imparting information is unimpeachable.

    Great teachers RULE.

  3. Also, Gordon, it looks like Dr. Sabo is a big follower of local politics — an ideal candidate for journalistic pestering during political seasons.

    And also, for the record I have had a great experience at UNCA overall. This semester is kind of a dud, but my previous two were wonderful. Although I have concerns with one professor and my humanities class, I definitely feel I am getting my money’s worth.

    And even despite my concerns about the college’s humanities program, I remain a fan of liberal arts education.

  4. You have wonderful word choice (boring class boiling over, etc). But i probably just wrote a cliche…

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