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Alonso | García-Bryce | Karoly | Millender | Savery | Swanson
Diego Alonso and
Ariadna: Students here are different from those at schools where I previously taught, in the sense that they have a more personal connection to their academic pursuits, defined in more purely intellectual rather than pre-professional terms. They’re not concerned with their education being part of the same avenues of social prestige, and they’re not always concerned with “what are the practical reasons for doing this?”
I would stay away from the idea that intelligence is something essential and Reed students have more of it. Across these elite colleges, there’s the same amount of brainpower. So it’s a matter of attitude: are you willing to deal with interpretive situations where you’re not in total control? Reed students are willing to make that jump. They think it’s cool.
Diego: Also, the fact that their grades are not reported on their papers has an important pedagogical consequence, as the students then focus on the content of your comment.
Ariadna: There’s a downside, too. The very motivated students are going to think they did less well than they did—they tend to demand more of themselves and set the bar higher. Reading your comment, they will try to read between the lines—”is she softly trying to tell me that this isn’t working?”—when I’m just making suggestions for very slight improvement. And the few less-driven students will take the escapist route of reading it in a positive light.
"… you can
give Reed students anything to read without fear.”
Diego: At Reed, there is a very lively and natural application of learning at the language tables in commons, and in the Spanish House, where even beginners have a concrete space to implement and practice, and to escape the dry aspect of language learning.
Ariadna: At the same time, as distinct from foreign literature and language programs at many schools, at Reed literature and culture are introduced early on. In many schools it’s in the third year that students start doing stylistics and literary analysis. Here, in the second year they’re already reading works by our canonical authors, by Cortázar, by Borges. They’re watching Almodóvar movies, and they’re having to write simple analytic papers about them—in Spanish. So by the second year, we’re not just talking about what we had for lunch, we’re talking about Borges’ short story “El Sur,” for instance, and how it relates to Argentinean history. The main goal of that class is linguistic proficiency; but we want to give them contexts other than everyday colloquial situations in which they have to function in Spanish.
very ambitious and this is a great thing—it keeps you from feeling that this
is a day job.”
Students are very ambitious and this is a great thing—it keeps you from feeling that this is a day job.
Diego: As a professor, you can give these students very complex material, and they will read it and strive to draw some meaning from it. Colleagues at other universities ask me how I teach my specific field of research, the 19th- and 20th-century Latin American essay. I can actually bring my research subject fairlydirectly into the classroom. I am writing a book on José Enrique Rodó, an author who is particularly elusive, both aesthetically and politically. This year I assigned his book, Ariel, a very dry and difficult work. At the end of the course, I heard from students that this was the text they enjoyed the most.
Ariadna: It’s incredible, because I read this text in graduate school and found it utterly indigestible.
Diego: This is an important point: that you can give Reed students anything to read without fear.
During the year it’s extremely challenging to do research. Above all I use the summer to write. There is also a system of paid leaves that allows the professors to leave for one semester or one year at half-salary. This was a very important subject of the faculty retreat that the college held recently—how to implement a more constant system of paid leaves to support professors’ research. This is the only antidote to balance the amount of teaching and service at Reed.
The good functioning of a married couple inside a department is not natural, perhaps, but so far we’ve succeeded in functioning in an adequate way. The secret in our case is that we’ve never acted as a block. There are several issues about which we don’t agree, and we’ve never needed to present ourselves as having a unified position.
Ariadna: It’s also hard to have home life spill into work life. But it’s better than the alternative, i.e., that Diego could be here and I could be across the country, at the University of Indiana or someplace, which is what a lot of couples go through. And I think that’s also very draining on a couple to have that split. So we have the luxury of being in one place and being able to raise our family together.