Letters to My Tutor…

My dearest Simone,

I got great results from my chemistry preparation.  My score on the California Chemistry Diagnostic Test placed me in about the 98th percentile (the percentile rankings I found were from years gone by).  And I will not have to take intro to chemistry. This gave me a boost of confidence as far as my study skills. It’s been twenty years since I’ve taken chemistry, so I made up a lot of ground with my four or so weeks of intensive preparation.

I started to think about how I learned good/effective study skills early from watching family.  My maternal grandmother didn’t finish elementary school, but still she never shied away from reading things, and out loud even, because the passage was difficult for her.  She had good basic math skills and she used them at the grocery store and other everyday situations in which I’ve observed people with higher math education not go through the bother.  My grandmother had a fearlessness and healthful shamelessness in the face of learning and pressing the limits of her abilities.  This behavior was presented as an ideal in black Mississippi Delta culture; an important measure of intelligence was how well a person made use of the skills and abilities she had*.  “Smart” people with inactive mental habits were often called on it.

A study skill that comes out of this tradition is to read from one book and then as a test do the exercises from a sufficiently different book of the same level; and then as a further test, attempt the exercises in a book of a higher level — seek out the limits of your abilities and then push forward from there.  In reading anthropology I tried not to shy away from articles simply because I found the jargon overwhelming.  I tried to stay focused on taking from the reading anything I could.  I sometimes felt like I could say embarrassingly little about an article, but having the weekly deadline helped me work past this uncomfortableness.

I haven’t forgotten about Black Feminist Anthropology: Theory, Politics, Praxis, and Poetics.  So far it’s been a helpful read and I definitely have more to say on that reading.

edited to add *This manner of thinking was also promoted as a way to combat racism and build self-esteem in the black community — the fact that more privileged people had access to better education did not mean that they were smarter.  Being smart had a lot to do with how your mind worked and not with the accumulation of information you did not employ or the regurgitation of information that could be looked up.  Being smart was a matter of honing thinking abilities.  One of the things that attracted me to physics when I was younger was that physicists often talked about intelligence in this way and somehow the words used and/or the manner of speech used resonated more with me than when similar things were said in other disciplines.

Until next time,