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comment by lil
lil  ·  434 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Why I think the tech interview process is broken – Medium

    Poetry has no place in computer science.
I suppose some people would argue also that a communications course has no place in a computer science program. Many people, in fact. That's why there are so few courses like mine.

Here's the one poem that I put in my course book that so offended my student and confused the rest of them. It was in a chapter on perception checking.


  Where what I see comes to rest,

at the edge of the lake,

against what I think I see

  and, up on the bank, who I am

maintains an uneasy truce

with who I fear I am,

  while in the cabin’s shade the gap between

the words I said

and those I remember saying

  is just wide enough to contain

the remains that remain

of what I assumed I knew.


  Out in the canoe, the person I thought you were

gingerly trades spots

with the person you are

  and what I believe I believe

sits uncomfortably next to

what I believe.

  When I promised I will always give you

what I want you to want,

you heard, or desired to hear,

  something else.  As, over and in the lake, 

the cormorant and its image

traced paths through the sky

Troy Jollimore, The New Yorker, July 27, 2009|


OK, come at me.

kleinbl00  ·  433 days ago  ·  link  ·  

The University of Washington required two communications courses of all engineering majors because Boeing, Microsoft, Genie and Weyerhauser were sick of getting engineers that couldn't speak English.

As such, every engineering student at the University of Washington was required to take two "tech writing" classes where the white kids are judged based on Strunk and White while the foreigners were judged based on Hooked on Phonics.

It's a vitriolic process all 'round. The foreigners hate the shit out of it because most of them are going back to Korea or Nigeria or Cambodia and fuck you, I can do your damn story problems why the fuck do I need to do a persuasive speech in Engish. The Americans hate it because goddamn it, we did all this basic shit two years ago in fucking English 101 except at least there, everyone was on a level playing field. The engineering departments hate it because FFS, now they have to hire TAs out of the Humanities department and squeeze another ten credits out of their students that could be better spent on something else. And the TAs hate it because the seething loathing they get from all sides for minimum wage can't feel good.

My TA took a list of subjects for our capstone presentation so there would be no duplication. Then she deliberately put the person who was duping mine the day before mine. So I had to throw out two weeks' work and wing one the night before, complete with eight minute powerpoint. Why? Because she was a bitch. Except two weeks later she realized that we all got to review her and UW's reviews were public because of a student reform that she didn't know about because she was new. So she spent an entire class crying and beseeching us not to skunk the shit out of her and we all sat, coldly watching, no one saying a word, letting her cry. Because she was a bitch. And she got fired. And fuck her.

One of our assignments was a business letter attempting to persuade someone of something. I wrote a business letter to the dean of the college of engineering to persuade her to drop the communications classes. I got a D. Six years later the dean jumped off a goddamn skyscraper. I cheered her death.

I bring all this up because I think it might be valuable to you to catch a glimpse of the burning resentment I still feel for a class not unlike your own. You've never been anything but gracious to me and my keenly unpleasant experience within "writing for engineers" (and it was ostensibly tech writing!) has absolutely nothing to do with you. Looking back, I can safely say I was better with words than any teacher I had from about 8th grade on and even then, the fact that poets get away with grammatical murder because they're poets is the sort of thing that will drive a STEM student bonkers because they simply don't get to.

Pretend you're a runner. You're in the olympics. You win the gold because your time was the lowest. Then someone decides that in order to compete you need to do some floor exercises. You win the gold because you have the highest average score among ten judges that are using a byzantine process utterly opaque even to them (and, often, because they're bribable). There is no aspect of this decision that doesn't strike you as unjust, arbitrary and quixotic.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar but "poetry offends masculinity" could also mean "this stuff makes me angry and the only way I can think to explain it to you is to poorly string words together."

bioemerl  ·  434 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Computer science is the study of computers. Schools require general education when you get a degree so that students have knowledge of art and other "higher cultures" crap. That's where communications courses belong, not in CS.

The humanities are the classes you half listen to before giving a bullshit answer to the questions the professors ask that they absolutely gobble up and love. Just throw in there about how meaningful and special it is and how it expanded your worldview. It's not about substance, it's about making them feel good. When your teacher asks you to write about your thoughts on the recent election and how that reflects on democracy you damn well know you are only allowed to write one thing.

    Oh wow, donald trump is evil and the system needs to be fought. Wow, republicans are racist and evil and repressing true democracy. Wow.

What's bad is that I agree with the concept of Trump being shit, but every bone in my body wants to write a big-ass paper on how awesome Trump is. Every instinct of me screams "come on, argue why he isn't that bad". But I don't, because I want to pass the class. There is no room for original thought.

If I were in your class, and as a soon-to-be graduating CS major I would be, I'd be writing big long fake paragraphs about how meaningful and great all these poems were, because I know it's fucking arbitrary and I know it's the best way to get a good grade. It's all about the generation of piles and piles of bullshit.


And here's how I think it's done right, how you really get people to think. Mind, these classes aren't really making people think, you are allowing them to express themselves. Some, many, will just not think or put any effort in. That's what failing grades are for.

The professor that I respect the most goes on rants about his thoughts and opinions. He asks us to find something and write "our thoughts" about it. That's it. No poetry analasis, no bullshit. Find something, think deeply about it, and give me your thoughts. He asks students to give a presentation about things and debate their thoughts, with no or little input from himself. We are not given a topic and a lecture, force-fed and opinion that we have to or feel that we have to pander to.

We don't even have points in that class. He looks at what we did and gives us a grade. I absolutely love that system.

We are not given a solid direction or a place to stand from. That's not how you create or inspire thought. Instead, we have a simple order. "Search, Read, Think, Share, Repeat". That's what general education should look like. Not poetry. Not bullshit. Even with all the liberal arts classes, I can assure you that the vast majority of students aren't learning to think, they are learning to bullshit .

To be fair, that was a CS course, but the important thing is that we were learning ABOUT computer science. The things we were to speak about were things that were strictly relevant to computer science. When our teacher talked he talked about situations like dealing with managers who ask for something they don't want, or about how it's bad to ignore security. He speaks from sixty or more years of experiencing bullshit and attempting to impress that knowledge onto people who haven't lived a fraction of that.

Classes that want to make us into thinkers should not lecture us and tell us what and how we ought to be thinking. Instead, they should inspire and create the structure necessary to force people to begin to think, and to think deeply, before they can progress. Bullshit shouldn't get a passing grade, and it gets that grade over and over and over again in the liberal arts classes.

It's because they want bullshit, they don't want real original thought. The philosophy classes aren't about you thinking, it's about you understanding how plato thought. The reading classes aren't about your thoughts on the book, it's about learning the agreed on symbolism in the texts. It's not about what you think, or what you learn, or what you observed, it's about what you should think, what you should learn, what you should learn.

So, yeah, poetry is hollow bullshit. Does it have to be? No. But it is regardless!

If I want to think about the world, I will one day get a paddle boat and go out in a lake where I can close my eyes and just rest and think. If I want to improve the world, or challenge my values, I will speak to those who challenge them and try my hand at improving my local community. I will not sit in a brightly lit room while a teacher lectures me about how much beauty there is in the world, or how ones values should be reconsidered. I will not read a couple of sentences intended to be some deep and great meaning, or read some book written in great prose. I will read sentences of people just expressing their honest thoughts, and I will find within those meaning that is far more substantial and life changing than any of this poetry can ever be.

If I want to know the world, I will do it by observing the world, by debating with real people expressing real opinions. A college course is not such a thing, and no matter how much all these professors pretend to stand for "real honest discussion" that couldn't be further from the truth in the classes of today.

user-inactivated  ·  434 days ago  ·  link  ·  

It sounds like you don't think poetry is bullshit, just poetry classes.

rjw  ·  433 days ago  ·  link  ·  

This is a common thread I'm seeing here and in conversations I have with other people. It could be poetry, it could be modern art, it could be anything that doesn't rhyme or ring like a bell or make you laugh or want to dance. Fucking hell, world. There's so much beauty here and people are living their whole lives appreciating none of it because some fusty curmudgeon in a rotting hall said they had to do it this way. As if art itself wasn't a constant rebellion against backwards thinking. We're going to have to fight for this until the sun burns out, aren't we?

kleinbl00  ·  433 days ago  ·  link  ·  

But it is poetry, and uniquely poetry, that the entire Western scholastic system has decided you have to appreciate for the reasons we say in the method we choose. Contemporary art and contemporary music you can slag on with willful abandon. Poetry? Poetry is all about fusty curmudgeons whose opinions institutionally override your own.

rjw  ·  433 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I'd like that to change. I'm confused, it looks like we agree on basically all of this. Don't worry about it.

lil  ·  434 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I invited someone to come at me. Thank you for responding. I want to respond not to your overall thought. There might be something to it and I'll leave that to the rest of hubski if they want. I do want to question a few of your statements which seem to be directed at me specifically:

    If I were in your class, and as a soon-to-be graduating CS major I would be, I'd be writing big long fake paragraphs about how meaningful and great all these poems were, because I know it's fucking arbitrary and I know it's the best way to get a good grade.
You think? Really?

1. Actually you wouldn't be in my class, because it's a graduate class.

2. If you wrote big long fake paragraphs, you'd have to do it over. I hate big long fake paragraphs. Insincerity is actually easy to spot.

3. We don't write essays about poetry ever anyway. I have two poems in my course book. One is posted in this thread, the other is about colons - the punctuation, not the body part. It's not a poetry class, but seems to have offended at least one student's masculinity, nonetheless.

4. You wouldn't get a good or bad grade because my class is pass/fail. After you rewrite your long fake paragraph, you'd probably pass. My requirements are that students be able to write and speak at a graduate level and understand some fundamentals about interpersonal communication. You could probably fake that part.

I find the ones that hate the class most are those that need listening and paraphrasing and perception checking and negotiation and teamwork skills the most. But that is just my opinion. I had a student in my class early this year. He hated the class and was able to transfer into a different CS grad program. No one wanted to be on a team with him and the other students were relieved when he left.

I have to abandon this thread now. I've left myself open, bleeding, and vulnerable. And I actually have 20 essays to read - some will be fake. I have to figure out which. (Just calling on steve for no reason. He always cheers me up.)

oyster  ·  434 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I'm not surprised that students who hate the class the most are also the ones who stand to benefit the most from taking it seriously as well. They probably gave up on developing the interpersonal skills years ago and buried the "failure" deep down so they could ignore it.

bioemerl  ·  433 days ago  ·  link  ·  

For what it's worth I made the assumption that your class follows along what is typical for a general education type class.

If your class, instead, opens up options for true general expression of thoughts and ideas, I would have to eat my words. If you, when talking about these poems, just ask for people's thoughts rather than saying "Say how this poem inspires you to think about how to change your worldview", you've probably got a class that I'd consider a very good one.

That said, it seems more to me like you've got a very "hoop-filled" class. It isn't your fault by any means, but the ultimate goal is to "make sure the students write like a graduate" rather than "forge students into people who are thoughtful and capable of expressing themselves".

    If you wrote big long fake paragraphs, you'd have to do it over. I hate big long fake paragraphs

The contents aren't fake, they are constructed. Fake, here, means the paragraphs were written with a general mindset of contempt. "I don't want to do this but I have to so here's some stuff". "Oh, hold on, not at the word count, lets add a paragraph". Where I might say "I see what the poem is trying to get at, but it is very ineffective at inspiring any idea of making my mindset change." I will instead say crap along the lines of "The poem inspires the mind to change by drawing analogies to the scenes around the main character, and draws attention to how who you think you are and who you actually are tend to be different."

It would depend on the class, but you just kinda follow along with the things you are told to see and observe, and viola! A good grade comes to you. You don't have to think, you just have to adopt the point of view the class wants you to take.

    My requirements are that students be able to write and speak at a graduate level

Your link seems like a really really low bar for graduate level writing. I guess you deal with people who pass under that bar, so it's understandable, but my assumption about "graduate level" is that "use proper grammar" is a given.

    I have to abandon this thread now. I've left myself open, bleeding, and vulnerable.

Yeah, I didn't think too much about what I said here, considering this is kinda your life and possibly your passion. Sorry if I fucked anything up for you, and I am sure that whatever you are doing it is beneficial in some way. Being critical and tearing stuff down is easy, you've got the hard job.