First Days!

Last week, I had not only my first day of school, but also my first day of work. Exciting times.

School started with orientation for new students (there were six of us), which consisted of your normal first day activities like campus tours and registration, but also included an hour-long discussion of Plato’s Meno, one of the Socratic dialogues. This served both to introduce us to the way our classes will be conducted and allow us to stretch our rhetorical muscles, as it were, for our first classes, which started after convocation that same day.

Because your average first week of school is usually on the slow side, right? You receive a syllabus, get an introduction to the class, maybe hear an opening lecture. Not so in this grad program. Our first night in my first class (a tutorial featuring more Plato), we had a lengthy discussion of what learning and teaching are, whether anything can really be known, and, indeed, whether there is even such a thing as objective definition. Then, in my second class (a seminar, which kicked off with readings from Genesis), our conversation jumped across dozens of ideas, from the role of the phrase “it was good” to the narrative structure of the creation  story to whether Eve was subordinate to Adam before the Fall.

In short, not the kind of first class where you can sit back and not engage.

And this format definitely has its idiosyncrasies. The tutors (not professors) aren’t lecturers but participants in the conversation. They typically kick off each class with a questions designed to foster productive discussion. No one raises hands or is called upon — you jump into the stream at your leisure. And we address each other by our surnames: Mr. or Ms. _____.

So far, I love it.

Not two days later, I had my first day of work. It also happened to be the first day of the legislative session, so the atmosphere was more than a bit frenetic. Because I’m in very good hands, rather than leave me in the path of the Members and their aides, my department has me temporarily stationed at a free desk in a more out-of-the-way location so that I can train in peace. This does change the pace of the training, of course. Thus far the other members of the team come back and show me how the different processes work and take me on tours.

I learned, for instance, that all of the state government buildings in that district are connected by tunnels. (If you didn’t know, tunnels are like secret stairwells: awesome.)

Another part of my training is learning our publication software: QuarkXpress. I’m doing this via online web courses. It is . . . less than stimulating at times. But, happily, not too difficult. My previous experience with Adobe InDesign is certainly helping. I wouldn’t call myself fluent, but I certainly feel Quark literate now. And I can add it to my resume, I suppose.

It did make me think that it’s a funny part of how specialized we are as an economy, that so many of our qualifications seem to include software training exactly like this. And yet, it seems like those are the simplest skills to learn. But critical thinking, creativity, interpersonal skills (empathy) — which I’d argue you pick up in any decent liberal arts programs — seem neglected by many Human Resources departments. I wonder if it’s just easier to point to this training or that qualification and make it a requirement.

In a nutshell, if these first days are any indication, I have a feeling the next year will entail a lot of learning (of both kinds) and growing. I have to say I’m looking forward to it.

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