According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, to “notice” means to become aware of something; to “learn” means to “gain knowledge or understanding of or skill in by study, instruction, or experience”. In order to gain knowledge or understanding, one needs to learn new information or look at information in a new way. In other words, one needs to become aware of something new. Our course epigraph, “my job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice” is therefore fundamentally related to learning. The speaker’s job is to learn, and to learn that other people can learn. There is a clear relation between the course epigraph and what we’ve been hearing about in some classes at SUNY Geneseo about the growth mindset, which asserts that we can learn and develop ourselves, that we are not immutable stone. The literature we’ve read in class, particularly Medical Apartheid, has been useful for my own noticing (or: learning) as I was almost wholly unaware of the lengthy abuse of blacks by the medical system—it was also something I had never considered or come close to thinking about, beyond many of the United States’ Founding Fathers owning slaves. Likewise, Dr. McCoy’s conscientiousness about the use of the language has encouraged me to pay more attention to my and other people’s use of speech and the subtle unintentional meanings that might hide within that speech. One example that has stood out in my mind was the distinction made between “slave” and “enslaved person”—“slave” sounding more like an ontological claim that the essence of the person who is a slave is that of a slave, rather than it being an action being done to them. Curiously, in spite of my absolute agreement with “enslaved person” being preferable to “slave”, I feel a little disgust at the notion of changing one’s usage of “slave” to “enslaved person”. Why this is, and why I can’t see myself using the terminology I agree more with, I cannot say, but it’s been on my mind for a while now. (Incidentally, I feel the same disgust whenever I see someone tell someone else that they should say something like “African American” instead of “black”, or “Caucasian” instead of “white”).
The structure of the class itself has also taught me much—I had much difficulty and frustration being required to write ten essays with the almost sole guideline being that they relate to the course themes, which are so broad that the blog posts gave what feltlike an overwhelming amount of possibilities of things to say, to such a degree that I couldn’t say anything at all. There is much to be said about racism, medicine, and racism and medicine, but clear guidance on more focused writing topics might have been something that I could have engaged with more. The daily mention of “you can get a blog post out of that” or “there are about 50 blogposts in what you’ve all just said” has been a recurring source of frustration writing even one blog post was so difficult. Another source of frustration was the occasional encouragement to not worry about grades in a class that still requires grades and ultimately results in either a passing or a failing grade. While I completely agree with the spirit of Dr. McCoy’s emphasis on learning (or: noticing) rather than working for the sake of a grade without learning and understanding something new, it seems unfair to encourage laxity towards something essential to the progression of college students. While I strongly believe that none of these things, the openness in the course (in the sense of being given so much freedom in writing about what interests you, so long that it relates to the course), the encouragement that we (the students) have been openly discussing things which can be expanded upon (or “unpacked”), and the encouragement to not worry much about grades are by no means bad in themselves; rather, it seems that many, if not most other students have profited much from this style of class, judging by the excitement that many people have brought to the discussions involving the entire class and the seemingly high levels of engagement with material outside of the course (that is, things found on their own initiative that relate to the course, e.g. reading articles about zombies and medical history and so on). It just didn’t seem to work for me, at least not yet.
Another thing I’d like to add is about the group discussions. The discussions in which the whole class participated, and everyone is free to agree, disagree, or add whatever they’d like, often seemed to be very useful, while the smaller group discussions of 3-5 people seemed to be qualitatively far worse, with nothing insightful being shared, and the creation of little islands in the classroom seemed to encourage people to not sincerely engage with the material or each other at all; and then when the time comes to share what has been discussed, someone very graciously volunteers to spew off half-baked thoughts for a minute until everyone is satisfied. Maybe my view of the group discussions is overly cynical, but my experience in other classes seems to support it: the smaller groups accomplished very little while the whole class discussions encouraged everybody to think critically about the matter at hand, and gave everybody equal opportunity to interject where they see fit.
Lastly, I’ve learned, or rather noticed again, that it’s extremely difficult and unsatisfying to engage with any kind of schoolwork when you are very concerned and gloomy about something completely different, when all interest in these things disappears and there remains a need to pass the course so as to move on, and not to have spent in vain time of which there is never enough of. This is obviously not a fault of the course, but just a general observation from someone reflecting on things.
Throughout the semester I was frequently comparing this class to another class I was taking, African Lit. Criticism. In that class, there were extended readings on some fictional literature, particularly the novel Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta, and weekly readings of non-fictional, theoretical pieces that provided a new dimension to the text by re-contextualizing what had been read, and by providing another means to understand what would be read later in the novel. For example, in one week we would read short theoretical pieces by someone like W.E.B. Du Bois, whose concept of double-consciousness could help us better understand the actions and views of some of the characters in the story; how the maltreatment they receive at the hands of other (whiter) folk makes it necessary for them to be ever-aware of their blackness. In another week we would read pieces about African Feminism, again challenging our past and present and future readings of the text. After each reading we would write a short essay drawing connections between the theoretical works and the fictional works, applying theory to fiction, and deepening our understanding of the literature. Through the more rigid structure (writing about a book and its relations to the recently read short theoretical pieces), I was able to develop a deeper understanding of the works and draw connections between them. The more closed nature of the course, where what is expected of you is more clearly defined, seemed to have worked better for me, and was at least far less frustrating. It was interesting to observe throughout the semester that two courses that are very much in conversation with each other can differ in their approach to the material so much, and still seem to yield very positive results among students.
The course for me, therefore, has been a great noticing experience. It’s taught me much about my own learning style, has exposed me to something brand new in the poor treatment of blacks within the medical system, and has made me more conscientious about language in general. Regardless of my many frustrations, I’m still very glad to have had the opportunity to take part and to notice something new, which is always an upbuilding experience.