Having taken over teaching two classes in the middle of the school year, I’ve been thinking a lot about schtick lately, both in writing and in teaching. What I mean by this the individuality or persona a person brings to their craft and how they practice it. I don’t mean this in the sense of being a poseur, but it’s second nature to incorporate some aspect of our repertoire of content, body language, personality, humor, communication style, vocabulary, depth of engagement with audience, and delivery, and leave others out for any given audience, “Schtick” may not be the exact word, but it’s in the semantic range. I’ve known that for the classes I’ve taught this entire school year, my schtick seems to work well most of the time. But in taking over two new classes, I m wary of assuming that past results will predict future outcomes.
My theory is the same goes for developing a writing voice. It seems that you sort of “fake it ’till you make it. A writer continues to expand his repertoire, hone his style, and venture out into new territory until he gets an idea of what seems to work, and then proceeds to future hone his craft. It’s interesting that as I listen to writers speak about their craft, they don’t seem to find that their eighth or tenth book is any easier than the first book. One still must do the research, writing, revising, and editing under a deadline, and hopefully, work to the point of diminishing returns rather than beyond it.
What thoughts do you have about “schtick”? How have you been able to personalize your schtick to become an effective communicator?
It fascinates me to listen to people who are good at their craft and passionate about it. I’ve posted about Dan Carlin and Hardcore History before. His interview on The Tim Ferriss Show is an excellent conversation that really gets at the intersection his passion for his craft and his proficiency at it. Dan Carlin is a podcaster who has excellent content and practically flawless delivery. One of points that I took away from this conversation is his line, “copyright your faults.” In other words, don’t spend all your time trying to fix your weaknesses but be yourself, and use the actual weakness into a strength.
I found it interesting that he didn’t say, “work on flawless delivery,” and even goes into some flaws that have been pointed out to him with his delivery. Rather than trying to change those, they have become a part of who he is, and given him a distinctive voice.
The phrase “copyright your faults” really captures the idea of not trying to conquer your weaknesses but to strengthen your strengths and make your weaknesses part of your individuality better than anything else I’ve heard. Rather than flat out imitating someone who have been an influence on me, I’ll be more effective in the long run by building on my skills and abilities and cultivating my own style.
In my own setting, as a teacher, there are probably as many ways to bring about good learning outcomes as there are teachers. If I care about what I’m teaching enough and I care about the material enough, I can usually find a way to connect students with the material. There’s usually a human interest element that may be behind or beyond the text that we are studying. I really want to connect this to my students to broaden their interests and to continue the process that was begun with me in high school, when I first encountered teachers who were passionate about their craft and good at it.
What are you learning about being passionate about your craft and being proficient at it? I’d love to hear from you!
This is a follow-up on my previous post on Plato’s Republic and his proposal to redefine the family. I’ve already argued my view that this is an ironic proposal rather than a straightforward proposal. In reflecting on this, though, I thought about the influence of families on American politics. Consider this — our Constitution is designed to make political office as free of ancestral or titled constraints as possible. The idea behind this, even if it has not been consistently carried out, is that the people most suitable to govern will be placed in positions to govern. However, even with this structure in place, in periods of American history, a few families have exercised enormous influence. This is not a conspiracy theory, but a statement of fact on the undeniable influence of families in government, even in a republic which has been designed to remove barriers of ancestry.
Think of the following. Since 1988, the office of President of the United States has been occupied by three families: Bush, Clinton, and Obama. According to current wisdom, the front runners for the presidential nomination for 2016 for the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively, are Hilary Clinton and Jeb Bush, making it likely that we will have another President from either the Bush or the Clinton families. However, this is nothing new.
If we look further back at American history, other families have been elected to high office and exercised extraordinary influence. The Kennedys the Roosevelts, the Tafts (with William Howard as President, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and Robert Taft as Senate Majority Leader), the Gores (Albert Gore Sr. as longtime Tennessee senator and Al Gore as Senator and Vice -President), and John and John Quincy Adams who both occupied the White House. More obscurely, both John Marshall Harlan and John Marshall Harlan II served on the US Supreme Court.
I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. In the providence of God, families will arise who have unique abilities, opportunities, and resources. Families will arise who have a heritage of relationships, connections, and experience in governing will be entrusted with the task of governing. The difficulty here is not with this process, but with the corruptibility of the persons holding high office, and the temptation to enrich their personal circumstances through governing.
Plato attempts to insulate the philosopher-king from corruptibility, yet seems to believe in corruptibility of human nature and illustrates this reality in Book VIII of the Republic, when he writes of the inevitable degeneration of good government.
Does the historical pre-eminence of a few families exercising enormous power and influence detract from the Constitutional design protecting individual liberties? Does this reality hinder what would be the best possible government that America would be able to have? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Next week, I will start teaching Plato’s Republic to high school sophomores in my Western Thought classes. This is the eighth year I’ve taught the book. It’s a great gig, one that I truly love. One would think that after teaching Plato for seven years, that it would be possible to “have it down”. However, I don’t think there is any text I feel more inadequate to teach, other than possibly Paradise Lost.
To start with, if I were inventing our curriculum, I probably wouldn’t start with the Republic as one’s maiden voyage into Plato. The Last Days of Socrates volume, which includes the Apology, the Crito, and the Phaedo (I think), would be a gentler introduction. The advantage the Republic has is that it is a fairly comprehensive overview of Plato’s thought in a single volume.
I’m feeling somewhat stumped because my views about the Republic have changed over the years. For the first few years I taught the book, I assumed the view that Plato was writing a utopian political piece. As I’ve delved into Plato over the years, this seems less possible, unless Plato is being ironic. What appears to be more likely is that Plato is writing about “the republic of the soul,” as someone has put it. He teaches the importance of cultivating virtues of the mind, heart, and will, as we might say. He shows us the possibility and importance of self government, and that a just society will be composed of men and women who govern themselves virtuously.
What I’m not sure about is how his digression about communal marriage and child-rearing fit into this interpretation. The maxim that “it takes a village to raise a child” seems to come into play here. The role of the community in cultivating virtue is undeniable. Perhaps Plato’s “communal marriage” is strategy to attempt to skirt the role of marriage in political alliance-building and power-seeking that has been a part of politics since time immemorial. Thus, applied to the moral government of the individual, this would encourage playing down the passions rather than taking the bacchanalian nuptial festivals that the Republic describes at face value.
I’m still thinking this through, so if there are any Plato students out there that have come to a satisfactory solution, I’d love for you to chime in!
Why blog? This is a question that I’ve been asking myself for the last couple of years. If you follow this blog, you find out that the usual answer is, “there’s no reason to.” And for the past several years, I’ve managed to marshal some reasons not to blog that sound like good arguments.
I don’t have anything to say. In other words, there’s nothing that hasn’t already been said. Now, this form of thinking is one to which I am prone. What I’ve discovered, however, is that there are new ways of saying what has been said, and new audiences who are looking for a fresh take.
I’m not that interesting. Blogging is a good way to become interesting. It’s good to have a driving force that will push me to be more engaging, develop new interests, and to pursue the interests that I have more wholeheartedly.
I’m not a narcissist. While there is more than enough shallow, self-centered banality that sounds narcissistic, it doesn’t follow that anyone who wants to put their thoughts in public is a narcissist. There are writers whom I read who stimulate me, challenge me, and edify me. These are results that don’t come from navel-gazing narcissists.
I don’t write that well. My self-evaluation of my writing has deterred me from sharing most of my writing with anyone. But the opposing point of view says, “how am I going to improve?” The path to improvement is regular writing, revising, and sharing what I write.
I don’t care about being famous. There are bloggers whose readerships is in the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. Developing an audience and bringing dependable content to that audience sounds like pressure. But building an audience is not easy. It takes effort. At this point, I’m writing as if I have an audience, but I’m far from being famous.
I’d rather teach than write. Fair enough. But won’t writing and editing and revising make me a better teacher?
I’d rather while away the hours in unproductive pursuits. This is the honest truth. But it’s one that I want to change.
What keeps you from blogging? Why do you blog? What motivates you to keep sharing and publishing content? I’d love to hear from you!
One of my resolutions when I began this blog — and that I’ve carried out religiously, meaning with the frequency of Christmas and Easter, is to round out my education. As a teacher and a manager of an educational program that would be classified in the “educational reform” genre, it has dawned on me recently that to speak of “reform” properly, there must be a “form” to “return to”. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to figure this out. So, what is the “form” that we are supposed to be returning to?
The “form” that previous generations have followed is a classical education. However, we have had many important thinkers arise since the Classical period. It seems to me that something along the lines of a Great Books education would incorporate both the insights of those from the classical period and later thinkers. It would also shield one from provincialism, as a number of the Great Books writers were Christian, but others, such as Nietschze attacked the Christian faith.
I have resolved to acquire this education myself. However, there is a newly minted Great Books Ph.D. via distance from Faulkner University that looks intriguing. I’m checking it out now and am deliberating whether to forsake DIYU for some more disciplined instruction. Any comments?