Thursday, October 21, 2010

First Tutorial: Check

Today marks my true initiation into Oxford studenthood: I had my first tutorial paper this afternoon. Now, the tutorial system is the cornerstone of an Oxford education. Each week, students read, digest, and research an astonishing amount of material, then produce a polished 8- to 10-page essay on their chosen topic of study. While writing my paper I realized what a challenge this was! After spending a ridiculous number of hours composing and revising, I was beginning to feel like my argument wasn't that good, and was expecting my don to rip me apart.

What actually happened was quite refreshing. We both sat down, I handed her a copy of the paper, and she proceeded to read it aloud, pausing once in a while to make margin notes that I at the time found ominous. Having my labors presented and taken so seriously was both gratifying and intimidating.

Then we talked. I had expected her to pick apart the paper, to critique its flow and logic, and other writer-ly things. But, instead, she asked me questions - not just about what I'd written, but questions of greater philosophical import, launching from the ideas I'd developed in the paper into deeper theoretical conversation. It was literally a reenactment of the Socratic method. Some of her questions were almost too enormous for me to answer, both regarding the novel and my own personal experience: "How do social situations influence how we think and act?" "How can marriage be a moral choice?" With each one, I was uncomfortably aware of her eyes on me, waiting for me to articulate an intelligent answer. I was on the spot, expected to defend and elaborate on my stances, as well as raise new ideas. But she gave me her own insights in return, raising some striking ideas I'd never thought of before. I think it was the most intellectually stimulating conversation I've had on a book in a long time. On to next week!

And photo of the day: deer park at Magdalen College! (Yes, seriously - deer park. My affiliated college at Oxford, Corpus Christi, isn't nearly as expansive.) I've never seen this many deer all at once in my life.

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