Criticisms of Class

Our first essay in my religion class this semester is to write some sort of response to the reading so far. We’ve gone through almost 200 pages about theories of religion and our class format is for the teacher/presenter (students are actually teaching each class, one chapter a day from a different student each day) to walk through an outline of the chapter, summarizing its key points.

The paper, however, is not supposed to be a summary. Recognizing I’ve missed 2.5+ weeks of class, I asked somewhat timidly what the professor was looking for in this paper. It’s not supposed to be a summary, but summarize is all we seem to do.

The professor screwed up his face, seeming flabbergasted that I would ask such a question. As my peers responded in kind (looking as if I’d asked what only an ignoramus would), he asked in a somewhat condescending tone, “Didn’t I put the assignment on Blackboard? Isn’t it all out there already?”

I didn’t know it was, and apologized and said I’d take a look. Opening Blackboard, I went to the assignment and read it.

In this essay, discuss the 19th century theories of Müller, Tylor, Smith, Frazer and Marx. Begin by spending about three pages summarizing the theories of each thinker concerning religion. The challenge here is to identify the essential ideas and concepts of each theory and express them accurately and concisely. Conclude your essay with a critical analysis of each theory. What do you consider to be the major strengths and weaknesses of each? Be sure that you make clear why a strength is a strength and a weakness a weakness.

Be aware that each chapter concludes with an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of a theory.

So… how is this not summarizing?

I hate being made to feel stupid without valid justification.

This 500-level religion class, though infinitely better, is frustratingly similar to the 100-level history class I’m dealing with this semester. In that class, the Asian instructor essentially covers nothing but names and dates. These names are occasionally given the barest context, but that context is sadly lacking. The purpose of studying history, to me, is to analyze the events, the inspirations, the motives, the whys and the hows. We’re not even getting a good timeline because he jumps around the globe and back and forth across centuries so we can’t even do a comparative analysis.

I don’t know how many thousands of dollars I’ve given this university for what essentially amounts to book recommendations. If not for reading the books, I’d have gotten no real education at all.

RSS Full vs. Excerpts

Modify your WordPress Reading Settings though the Administrative interface.
Modify your WordPress Reading Settings though the Administrative interface.

RSS, short for Really Simple Syndication, is a wonderful tool that allows readers to subscribe to your content and passively pull it into an RSS reader. For the writer, this means that your content is being distributed more widely and conveniently, helping ensure that people will read what you’ve got to say. And for the reader, it makes it easier to remember to read someone’s work; you receive a notification every time they publish something.

But you don’t have to put all of your content into your RSS feed. WordPress very simply allows you to just submit a summary or excerpt from your entry into the RSS feed. I can think of a couple of reasons to do this, but truth be told, I don’t like them.

Why bother with summaries?

I think that, for most people who use summaries in their RSS feeds, the goal is to get people to come to their actual site. Maybe they have advertisements they want people to see, or they just think their site is pretty and feel that the article needs to be framed within their theme. By only providing a summary in the RSS, it lets readers know that something new is available on the site and teases them with a bit of content, encouraging them to click through to read the full article.

Part of me can sympathize with the plight of the site owner whose livelihood is based on advertisements, but I also know that it’s annoying as hell to me to have to click through and read the article on the site. Google Reader formats text much nicer than most sites do (due to line length, height, etc.), making reading more pleasurable. Having to open up Yet Another Tab is a pain, especially when you’re like me and usually have 20-30 open at a time.

The only semi-valid reason I’ve heard for RSS summaries is on sites with a lot of photos or other media. If your posts are photo-heavy, you may not want to put that bandwidth load into your RSS. It slows down people’s readers, and you don’t know that they’re always going to be on a high speed Internet connection.

But surely those people know what your site is like, else they wouldn’t have subscribed. I can’t really find a good reason to inconvenience people by only posting summaries.

Post your full articles, RSShead.

You want your stuff to be read, right? To my mind, the noblest goal is to make it as easy as possible for the reader to access your content, and the best way to do that is to post full articles into your RSS. If your site is worthwhile, people will probably visit to read additional articles or just to support you. What I’m saying is, if you don’t suck, it’ll work out. People will come, view, read, and click regardless, so there’s no point in being an inconvenient jerk.