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At some point during this semester, I noticed that one hour into my hour and fifteen minute syntax lecture, my brain ceases to “get” the material.  Early in the next lecture, I’ll understand; those last fifteen minutes, I imagine my brain runs like an obsolete computer trying to run Acrobat.  I can almost hear the clunky whirring.   To use another metaphor (and God knows I love those), the last fifteen minutes of Syntax are the mental equivalent of ditch-digging – back breaking (or, in this case, brain breaking) labor.

I should have been prepared – other students in the department speak of Syntax with pained tones.  The word “scary” has been used.  After taking the class, it is almost like you are part of a gang with a particularly vicious initiation.  After the survey class, I though Syntax would be fun.  I dug that section of the course.  It isn’t so much that I hate the class – I don’t dread it – but the heavy intellectual lifting that seems to be required is exhausting.  It’s a miracle I can function in the class that follows.

Ordinarily, I would assume this widespread fear and loathing for the class would be due to the professor.  This is not the case.  He seems to be clear enough, that English is not his first language doesn’t seem to create any issues, and even though I have heard my cohorts reserve the choicest of language for the material itself, the professor escapes their ire.  Part of this is due to the textbook.  It functions in much the same way the lectures do.  You read along, thinking, “yeah, I get this; this makes total sense,” but halfway through the chapter, your confidence (and your comprehension) falls apart.

It must be due to how we’re taught “grammar” in school.  Somehow, the blind parroting of seemingly nonsensical rules makes it impossible to grasp the logic behind the structure.  Maybe the mathematical qualities of syntax (and there are plenty) is rough on my poor brain, math-flabby after so many years of inactivity.  The ghastly (from what I hear) midterm is coming up in a couple weeks.  I’ll just do my best intellectual ditch digging and hope my brain is hardy enough for the task.

Hey, maybe it is good to have a class that really challenges me, instead sort of challenges me.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m obviously learning things in my other classes; it just doesn’t feel like learning.  I’ll pick up a new word or two, assimilate some knowledge from a reading, but I don’t have to work especially hard.  I never feel confused in my other classes.  Just Syntax.

At least the labor of Syntax assignments keeps me from reminding myself that, among other things, it is snowing yet again.  Damn weather.

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