Sunday, April 13, 2008

Wrap your head around this

I've noticed that there seems to be a new phrase that is popular among the educated community. Well let me rephrase that. Among the professors that I and several of my acquaintances and friends have as our instructors, there is a new expression that seemingly all of them endeavor to covertly drop into their lengthy lectures. (I can't really speak for the whole community since I'm not a resident thereof. I'm not even a comely passerby looking in on this exclusively gated community. I'm more of the stray dog that has countless diseases all of which contribute to making his skin all crunchy and giving him the appearance that that same skin is about to fall off of his bones. I am this mangy cur who, because the community members feel a shadow of pity for my unenviable state, is thrown a small half eaten tuna sandwich when they drive down to the other side of the tracks to show their children what blessed lives they lead. But academic hubris is another topic for another day so I'll leave it at that.)
Anyway, the phrase that they are so quick to slip into their drawn out discourses is "wrap your head around." For example my calculus teacher might say something like, "The intermediate value theorem states the following: If y=f(x) is continuous on [a,b], and N is a number between f(a) and f(b), then there is at least one c ∈ [a,b] such that f(c) = N. Now I doubt many of you understood that, so I'll try to help you wrap your heads around it." Not only does she say this, but she says it with a derisive smile that clearly tells those of us paying attention, "Ha! I'm smarter than you so I guess I'll see what I can do to impart my bounteous knowledge to you dung brains." Now it's not so much the contempt in her voice that bothers me nor is it the fact that she's smarter than me. Rather, the phrase "wrap your head around" irks me somewhat for several reasons.
First of all, often, such as in the case mentioned above, the material being presented isn't all that difficult to understand and is actually quite logical, but when the presenter mentions that we'll have to wrap our heads around it to understand it, it sounds as though the process of comprehension will be a wearisome and interminable process akin to converting your present hard skull into a more flexible and thus wrappable material through some mysterious alchemical process. This has the effect of discouraging the discourageable and faint of heart, frenzying the perfectionist, and sending to sleep the apathetic. All of which are undesirable outcomes and should thus be avoided where possible.
Secondly I object to this phrase's use in the classroom due to the distraction factor. I've come to realize that I have an active imagination. Such being the case when someone speaks very descriptively or with much imagery I sometimes get distracted and, in the case of "wrap your head around," I begin to think of different situations in which people's heads are being wrapped around a great many objects. (My favorites are tennis rackets, tall beer mugs with the face going into the open end of the mug and then the rest of the head wrapping around from there, and swiss cheese with the head oozing through the holes in the cheese. heh heh) And then, by the time I've returned from my journey along the tangent, I realize I've missed several crucial bits of information and am completely lost in the lecture. I try to get myself up to speed with the instruction being provided, but this is usually a futile effort and I'm left to go back and learn those concepts on my own time. It is a waste of time and quite frustrating to say the least.
While these may seem to be fairly insignificant and harmless consequences of the use of this phrase, it is the existence of such small seemingly inconsequential actions by professors that threaten the education of the student. What I see going on here is something much darker and more sinister than my personal distraction. This is a Sam's-professor-wide conspiracy (again I can only speak of that which I know, though I expect the conspiracy to be at least BYU if not state or nation wide) to prevent the up and coming generation from receiving a good education for fear of revolution...or perhaps it just comes back to their enjoying being smarter than us, which leads us back to academic hubris once again. (huh. maybe that's what I'm talking about after all.)
Why, you may ask, do I suspect this? Well, it's because all, I repeat all, of my professors use this phrase and the time period marking the beginning of their usage thereof seems to coincide. This may not seem strange or unnatural, but this semester I am taking a wide variety of classes in effort to finish up my generals and I've found professors from the English, Math, Music, Physics, and Religion departments who all use this phrase. Now it is well known that there is usually very little inter-department, let alone inter-college, communication. So how is it that this phrase has spread over the whole campus in such a short time? The most logical answer is this: all the Deans of College, and perhaps department chairpersons, got together and decided upon a new distraction that would fly under the radar and not be noticed by the general public, while still achieving the desired result. (personally I see this meeting as taking place up in the mountains somewhere with everyone surrounding a fire while wearing black hoods and chanting under their breath. ooo, and before they get started they have a wicked cool secret handshake that they do while standing on their heads. yeah that'd be awesome.) And then these leaders take the new plan back to their departmental meetings and call for immediate implementation.
These "educators," convinced of their own brilliance, thought that no one would be the wiser and that they'd be uninhibited in their dastardly ways. But unfortunately for them, I'm on to their little ploy and I'll not be taken in. I will receive the education for which I am paying and when the time comes I might even instigate the revolution which they fear.
That is, unless they distract me first.