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on the Bard College Berlin Student Blog

“The Significance of Looking Upwards,” a drawing by Hannah Scharmer (Credit: Hannah Scharmer)

Learning. How does one learn? For whom is one learning? These questions have followed me as long as I can remember. Throughout my academic experience, my answers varied from “I am learning for the satisfaction of a good grade” to “I am done with learning.” Now, I find myself back in an academic environment (after a year of working) and suddenly, expectedly, these questions are more relevant than ever.

Now in the fourth week of the semester, I am beginning to — through dialogue and self-reflection — discover new answers to these age-old questions. I decided to explore my thoughts on this subject through a specific format inspired by the Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules by Sister Corita Kent [*1]. The original set of rules were introduced to me during the Language and Thinking course, and I decided to explore them further due to individual interest in both the format of the piece and the topic itself — how to think and learn.   

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RULE ONE: Work harder (whenever you can)

RULE TWO: When you can’t work (harder), use your energy wisely. This means to not self-destruct, but to self-construct.

RULE THREE: Force yourself to produce. Anything. Always.

RULE FOUR: Never throw away your art.  

RULE FIVE: Before critiquing blindly, engulf yourself in the concept. Before critiquing anyone else, look at yourself. Before critiquing yourself, critique your critique.

RULE SIX: Contradictions = Movement

RULE SEVEN: First ask yourself “have I done enough?” Then ask yourself, “am I being honest?”

RULE EIGHT: The beginning of a class is for you to check, not showcase, your understanding of the matter.

RULE NINE: Allow yourself to admit that you don’t know.

RULE TEN: Consider your exploration of the world (aka a bus ride, a conversation, and so on) at least as important as a lecture. Treat it accordingly.

During the process of creating this piece, the significance of thinking about thinking became clear to me. This is the whole point: to act with intention, whether this be the act of being in a classroom or in the act of thinking. It seems to me a waste to do anything but this. The rules presented in this piece both instruct a certain mode of specific behaviours and, through their effect, ask the reader to question, critique, reflect, and (most importantly) think.

*I would love to hear/discuss your ideas on learning and being a student, and thinking, and being in general.

Notes:

  1. Kent, Corita, and Jan Steward. Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit. Allworth, 2008.

 

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L&T Welcome Session

L&T Welcome Session on Monday, August 8th (Credit: Andrea Riba).

On behalf of Bard College Berlin’s very own student-driven  blog, Die Bärliner, I would like to extend a warm welcome to all new and returning students and faculty! My name is Margarethe Hattingh. I will be serving as editor of Die Bärliner  for the 2016-2017 academic year, taking over from David Kretz who graduated in May. In his final blog article, David wrote about how we are all fellow travellers in this world, “passing through” a shared space and time here at BCB. Whether you have come to BCB for a semester, a year, or four, or are still unsure of where the wiles and ways of time will take you, Die Bärliner looks forward to the time that we will spend “passing through” here together.

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Matias Ehrsam

Matias Ehrsam (BA 2019) in an L&T seminar (photo by Inasa Bibic)

It has been three years since Bard College Berlin first adopted the Language and Thinking Program as a mandatory, three-week orientation in which admitted students are meant to practice both academic and creative writing. The program was initially introduced in 1981 by Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York with the aim of encouraging students to practice certain methods of thinking and writing so as to prepare them for a smoother transition into university.

The program’s activities start in the morning, last until the late afternoon hours, and stretch over five days each week. They are practiced in small seminar groups and include a variety of readings, creative exercises, thought-provoking games, and visits to Berlin, but are mostly focused on writing. At the beginning of a class, the students are given a few minutes for free, private writing, so that they write on anything that’s on their minds without any particular requirements or guidance. Apart from these tasks that are mostly helpful for “getting into the L&T mode” (and also into the “English mode” for the non-native English speakers among us), students are constantly asked to share their thoughts, discuss readings, and react to their peers almost only in writing. To new students, the emphasis on writing rather than on oral discussions or creative exercises might seem somewhat confusing, even exaggerated. James Harker, the coordinator of Bard College Berlin’s Language and Thinking Program, explains the logic behind the writing-intensive format:

Writing is the number one source of worry for new college students. The first goal of the L&T Program is to introduce and instill productive habits of exploration, inquiry, and writing. Some of those habits might seem counter-intuitive. For example, most students might naturally try to write a paper in a crunch session at the last minute. But L&T emphasizes writing regularly in very short bursts, as little as just a few minutes. Often students want to work slowly and perfect each word or sentence before moving on. But L&T often asks for quickly sketched, unedited writing as a first draft. Many students would rather only let others see their finished work, but L&T demands that everyone share their roughest versions. Most people write in isolation, but L&T makes it a group experience. The methods and exercises of L&T are intended to give students strategies for coming up with observations and ideas about texts and to make writing fun, social, and habitual.

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“Free writing” at Bard College Berlin’s L&T

“Free writing” at Bard College Berlin’s L&T

Since 1981, Bard College in Annandale on Hudson, NY, has had a unique summer course, mandatory for all incoming students, called “Language and Thinking.” After joining the Bard network in 2011, Bard College Berlin came to adopt the Bard concept in 2013 and so this year’s freshmen were the first ones to experience the program as put into practice by professors James HarkerMatthias Hurst and Ulrike Wagner. For three weeks, students had to read and think, but mostly write a lot. Most of the writing tasks demanded and focused heavily on creativity. Thus the first-years came to realize that the aim of  L&T––to create a smooth transition to college education––is pursued not by mimicking the exact format of university-level courses, but rather through a somewhat different and more openly-creative class structure.

The Bard Berlin program was very similar to the program at Bard College, says James Harker, the coordinator of the Bard College Berlin L&T program. We used many of the same readings, techniques, and assignments. One difference, though, is that L&T at Bard Berlin was taught by regular members of the faculty. At Bard, mostly guests from elsewhere come to campus to teach L&T. This might produce some differences. The Bard L&T faculty bring in a variety of perspectives and styles. The Bard Berlin L&T faculty, however, might tend to shape the L&T experience so that it fits with the first year experience a bit more.

The purpose of the program is to help students read and write better, and thus to prepare them for the academic work to come. Although the writing that the L&T participants did was quite different from the one that students would be required to do at Bard College Berlin or any other college, the methods used to encourage students in their writing were constructed so that they would enhance their writing skills overall, regardless of the writing format.

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