PDP 450 Portfolio Essay
Not long after the start of my freshman year, I heard an interesting saying. The exactities have escaped me, but the basic idea was as follows: freshman arrive thinking they know everything. Sophomores believe that they don’t know everything, but plenty. Juniors believe that they know next to nothing. Seniors understand that they know absolutely nothing. I, however, thought myself very clever then for a freshman, because I acknowledged that I knew nothing, at least not in comparison to what there was to know. Four years later, plenty of classes, and many hours of work later, I’d still claim that I know nothing, or next to it. The irony is that I have learned more about being a person from that time then I ever could about the sprawling maze that is my Computer Science major. Upon reflection I realize that, much like my field, I am an ever expanding and evolving person. The thoughts of the freshman I was and the senior I am now; I can see the links between them, but I don’t think the two could agree on many things. This assignments purpose is to show critical reflection regarding my time here at Bridgewater College. I have reviewed my experiences and assignments completed during the aforementioned time, and chosen pieces of work from throughout my college career to exemplify important areas in my education as they relate to the following categories. I will also attempt to address where my personal growth was to be found, but I also recognize that perhaps my growth hasn’t been quite so grand as it could have been.
Integration, Experiential Learning and Personalized Educational Program
In the beginning, I was worried. I had always viewed college as an experience that would be trying in all the wrong ways. The family and strangers who described it as some grand, fun experience, I figured they were just blowing smoke. It was the next level of education, what’s fun about that? Learning is basically a job at that point isn’t it? I intended to tackle my classes the same way I had tackled my prior education, with single-minded determination and effort. By the end of my second semester, I found myself explaining to a classmate of mine that they pushed themself too far and too hard on our assignments, and that they needed to relax more. The obvious question then is: what changed? At the time I didn’t really understand what had changed. Looking back, I’d say the thing that changed was that I had figured out what I was good at, and I had learned how to prioritize the things that needed prioritization for me. Not every class was an affair that required two hours of work outside of class . Actually, I found most general education classes often didn’t require almost any time from me. This was not due to them being easy per say, but because I had realized that I really did learn best in the classroom. When I applied myself, took pages of notes, and genuinely took interest in those classes, the material just fell into place. History was just a chain of events. Literature was just an exploration of people and why they do what they do. Math subjects were a sore spot for a while, but the concepts involved often cleared up once I devoted some time and thought to them. Philosophy questions and concepts rattled in my brain long after the classes ended, posing questions that I could only half-answer.. In fact I even began to see the connections between my disparate classes, and found that studying in some could translate directly into interest and insight in another. Take for example one of the last english papers I ever wrote during my time at Bridgewater (Supporting Item #7: Final English Paper). The paper involves protagonists from two very different pieces of American literature, McTeague, and House of Mirth. While it was entirely possible to compare these stories using literary history, and to contrast them using the underlying philosophy they exemplify, I found as I worked that it seemed very similar to some of the concepts I had pondered in my philosophy courses. The nature of humanity, what constitutes a justifiable action, and just how much control we have over our own destinies. While I had to keep these topics in the background of my paper due to it being first and foremost a piece for an english course, these connections gave me the energy to continually work upon the assignment. I didn’t have to worry about running out of things to say before the arbitrary page limit, or fumble for ideas to connect the two pieces. As stated before, by merely applying what I had learned, and seeing the links between seemingly unrelated courses, I was able to not only supply myself with a well-received paper, but also to work upon it with interest and enthusiasm. In my experience, merely coasting through a class makes learning and doing well difficult, but allowing the material to engage one’s mind is the surest path to retention and deeper understanding. I strove to meet all my classes in such a way, and while I must admit that I did not always succeed, where I did I found few obstacles I could not overcome. With an understanding of how to handle my other classes, I was free to dive into my major. I’d still say that I’m nowhere close to the best in any field, let alone my major considering some of the geniuses I’ve worked alongside these past four years. However, figuring out myself and how I learned gave me the time I needed to devote to my major. I really began to gain a grasp of its many disparate parts once I realized how to give it the time it needed and deserved. I was almost able to pursue it at all times, and even took up small personal projects in my spare time to test the limits of what I had learned, and present small interesting games and applications I had created to my friends. These were the things that really gave me the confidence to continue with my education as I had been. My experiential learning course is also worth mentioning. FCS405X was about parenting, specifically learning to synthesize research with writing that could be distributed to the general public. This was the first class I had taken in quite a long time that had actually caused me some initial concern. The subject was not something I had much interest in or experience with, the field seemed altogether removed from my interests or skills, and overall the assignments that involved creating works to instruct others seemed massive and far outside my expertise. However, scheduling had essentially backed me into a corner with respect to the class; I didn’t have much choice in the matter. So I did what I always do when my back’s to the wall, I grit my teeth and pushed through. When I was first called upon to write a paper for the class using research as my basis, I was informed that my usual style of writing was not what was intended or needed in the class. The research we gathered was important, but so was presenting it in a format and language friendly to those who would use them in the general public. I couldn’t just approach it with the scholarly eye I approached all other writing; I had to make sure it was something that people of all levels of schooling and familiarity could utilize. It required a lot of effort to produce something I did not have any experience with or affinity for. Writing at a lower level to cater to others always left me wondering just how much I had to simplify to help others. It was the direct opposite of how I have always approached writing, by putting my best foot forward and speaking with sincerity and impartiality about the facts. As I spent time with the information and research spinning it into formats that were acceptable, I came to appreciate the information a bit more. At the very least, it would serve me well in my personal life sometime in the future, and I supposed that at least this form of academia would be going to help someone. By the time my final large paper for the class rolled around (Supporting Item #1: FCS Final Paper), I was prepared. The paper discussed helping young children develop friendships and social skills, a topic that was assigned to me. I found the topic almost humorous due to the fact that an introverted person like me was perhaps the worst person to be writing such a thing. Despite this, I did as the assignment required and used diverse research articles and journals to pull together a resource that could be useful to others hoping to teach in this area. Nearing the end of the class, I saw that though I had been dreading it, it had been an enlightening experience in a way. I am very firmly an academic, and the personal affairs of people are not my strong suits. However, with time, dedication, and resources, even someone like me could gather the information and tools necessary to teach others. What's more, even in areas where I wasn’t confident, I could still grow.
Engage Diverse Perspectives
I took no shortage of philosophy classes over my four years at Bridgewater. This is due to needing more credits, but also due to it being a field that I have a personal affinity for. What do people believe, why do they believe it, and should they believe it? These are questions I pondered long before my classes on the subjects. Even my PDP 150 class had a distinctly philosophical leaning, being focused around difficult questions and viewpoints. In particular I remember butting heads with another student in a heated academic debate. He believed that when one suffered an injury on a team, in this case he was specifically referring to concussions, that it was perfectly understandable and perhaps even expected that a player keep playing because they don’t want to let their team down. To him, the risk of personal injury was far outstriped by the risk of letting one’s teammate down, by the feeling of not helping those you had a responsibility to. At the time, I greatly criticized his stance, finding that one's well being was a far more important thing than some imagined guilt. If one was injured, then they must think of themself first, I saw no shame in retreating from a situation in which one might come to harm. We found no common ground at the time, for I could not understand his willingness to be hurt over such a trivial matter, and he could not impress upon me the need to go further to help teammates at the cost of the self. I still believe that in the instance he was speaking of, regarding concussions for players, that to admit injury and retire is no shame, but I have also come to see the strong desire to push through personal adversity to help others as very valid. The me that he was arguing against that day was just being stubborn. Even my freshman self would have been willing to push himself through uncertain pain to help others he felt indebted to, but I was unwilling to admit that fact if it meant admitting my argument was, even if only partially, wrong. In the end, we never reached a conclusion that satisfied either of us. We left that room never finding any common ground, never managing to hold an enlightening dialogue. What people believe, what they say they believe, and what they actually do, these three things are often misaligned. The aforementioned argument shows very readily how this was true for me, and I was not and am not special in this regard. Throughout all of my philosophy classes, I have found people that are willing argue bitterly to the end about their positions or beliefs, but when push comes to shove almost none act on them in the way they seem to believe all people should. From the ethical extremes of Deontology to Utilitarianism and everything in between, people have a tendency to simplify their problems and beliefs down. They try to identify simple ways to go about their lives, but when the talks are over and everyone leaves the classroom, things are never so simple. In a somewhat recent philosophy paper of mine, (Supporting Item #2: Log Paper 2), I examine the implications of a world that adopted a very distinctive set of beliefs. Specifically Spinoza’s belief that all people and things are linked as different expressions of God, and that actions are only good if they increase one's knowledge or bring pleasure to others. Additionally, actions are only evil if they accomplish the opposite of good, often by reducing another creatures knowledge or power. Though it is very different from how the typical person views the world, after consideration, I concluded that these beliefs, even if widely espoused, would not change the world. The particulars are different, but the end results of what is good and what is evil would shift only slightly, and the world would continue to spin as though nothing had happened. Many humans pay lip service to thoughts and ideas, but do not hold them at the front of their minds. People do things because they think they should, it very rarely goes any further than that. I am no different. In these past four years I have changed my views of the world and its issues many times. Sometimes I see that there is great hope and potential for humanity. Other times I see only our worst actions, past and present, and believe we have condemned ourselves. Yet no matter where on this scale I fall, my day-to-day actions do not change. I regard others in the same way I always have, and my thoughts regarding them do not change. Synthesizing how one views the world, and how one interacts with it, is far more difficult than we act like it is sometimes. I recall in a class regarding global issues I had to converse with some of my classmates about climate change. When it came to how we could hope to stave off the effects of climate change, I heard many of the typical and expected answer, but one girl said something I could hardly believe. She said that there was no way we could ever hope to fix it, unless all people in the world were to die. What's more, she seemed to believe that humans might deserve such a fate, and if it meant saving the world that it was perhaps the best possible outcome. While I’ll admit that I’ve entertained such ideas as thought experiments before, even I would never voice such an idea, particularly to people I hardly know. Even more strangely, she almost seemed to not see the difficulty and contradiction in her statement. We were to be discussing realistic ideas on some level, yet she had the courage to say such a thing in broad daylight, seemingly oblivious to the implications of such a thing. Anyone can say that less people in the world would be an objectively good thing, but only the most cold hearted and maniacal of humans could actually envision enacting it and think it was a good thing. I feel certain she had not truly taken her statement to its logical extremes, but its the perfect example of espousing a belief that could never actually be followed. I’ve come to believe that what someone thinks of the world as a whole, or what they believe of morality, is irrelevant. Their actions, not their beliefs, will validate or condemn them; no other measuring stick is adequate or required. But even that belief in a way to measure others can be very difficult to always act on, because the ideal world of the academic philosophy, and the day-to-day integration of morality can feel so far removed. The first step is slowing down, as hard as that is these days, and really examining a situation. Everything bears consideration, so the only questions then are if one has to time to consider, and if they are willing to devote that time to it.
Public Discourse: Citizenship & Community Responsibility
This is an area that I’ll admit I’ve interacted with very little. My home is in a rather remote area, and as a commuter I find myself very rarely on campus for more than a few hours, or engaging in many campus activities that all go on long after the classes have ended. Due to these facts, community responsibility isn’t an area I often have much interaction with. Before coming to Bridgewater College, I can safely say that I had absolutely no interest in any community I might have been a part of. That said, I have in my four years here come to understand perfectly well how the people that make up a community must come together to make change, or at the very least all pitch in to hold the collective weight they all have. In my freshman year, I was given a task to research a period of history oft overlooked in our education, Japan’s Meiji Restoration(Supporting Item #5: Meiji Restoration). The Meiji Restoration was a period of time that took place between 1868 and 1912, which was spurred by unfair trade agreements Japan was forced to incur by advanced United States naval forces. In my research, I saw how the Japanese people, who were one of the least technologically advanced cultures in the world at the time, came together and made themselves into a foreign power capable of rivaling the largest nations of the time. Civilians increased their productivity, education standards were raised, foreign learning was incorporated, economic power rose dramatically. In just a few short decades, the small island nation, through the effort of all its citizens, became a global power. Of course, this was not without its complications, as the dogmatic nature of the Japanese culture that only grew stronger during this time was arguably the downfall of the Japanese people. Even so, what they accomplished by coming together was staggering. The power of the individual is small and hard to appreciate, but when people band together to face a common issue, there are few things they cannot accomplish. Civil duties and community responsibilities are very similar I feel. Though I have never been a particularly outgoing member of a community, I see the need to participate in making sure it remains functioning, and changes when the need arises. The real difficulty is assessing when a community requires those changes, and how to make sure those changes do right by others. Regardless of difficulty though, we all share some responsibility towards our society. Whether it's the student body, the college itself, one’s hometown, or the environment, every person is undeniably a part of many interconnected groups and communities. Everyone, even the more isolated members like myself, need to recognize their responsibilities to these communities they are inevitably a part of. The easiest way to prove the necessity of community responsibility and service is to imagine its negation. If one envisions a world in which every man really is an island, they should inevitably find it to be one cast hundreds of years into the cultural past. A world in which no one is beholden to anyone or anything is a world that is very foreign to our modern sensibilities. In such a world elected bodies do not exist, and so authority is based on a system of “might makes right.” In such a world kindness, in its truest sense, does not exist. For what reason would you help another if there is no reason to? One might expect a few to cling to righteousness as a reason to still extend a helping hand, but such a reason is of little help to the many afflicted and suffering people in the world. Those without some form of value in that world, be it through skill or valuables, would find themselves without any hope for a good life. For what reason would you help another if you have no responsibility to them,no reason to want to see them succeed too? Such a world would also likely be quite filthy, filled with the discarded refuse of those who do not care where it lands in this society they have no responsibilities towards. The world simply does not operate in a way we can reliably imagine if no one feels any responsibility to his neighbor. Though I still foresee little interaction with any kind of home community in my future, I do foresee another kind of community responsibility in my future: my employer. A business is a community like any other. It has positions of power, necessary tasks, a day-to-day infrastructure, and many people working alongside each other from many different walks of life. Having worked a part time job for three years, I know it isn’t enough to merely complete ones tasks. Engaging with your coworkers, taking care of the small things you notice as you complete your essential tasks, reporting possible complications and identifying if you can be of use in addressing them, all of these are actions that a responsible and productive worker engages in. Especially in a job like my current one, working as part of the food service in a retirement community, helping to keep everything and everyone satisfied is one of the most important parts of making sure the community continues to function. A single irresponsible or unresponsive worker can bring the entire process to a grinding and costly halt. Though it can sometimes feel pointless, we must remember that each individual is an important cog in the machine that keeps everything moving towards a better future. Everyone is responsible to their fellow community members, regardless of the type of community it is. No single drop of rain is responsible for the flood.
Global Citizenship & Intercultural Competencies
Global citizenship is an area that I feel is misunderstood. People identify themselves by towns, states, countries, landmasses, they think that where they are is some great defining feature. Personally I don’t like the idea of believing in this. While these things shape people, everyone is in reality a human, nothing more, nothing less. Their actions speak volumes about them, where they originate from does not. Unfortunately, there is no way to make people see this. Their short sightedness only pushes them apart, it does not bring them together. These differences in origin have been an inciting issue in many global problems, and continue to prevent us from addressing developing problems around the world. As I mentioned before I spent a good deal of time in an ethics class speaking with a group of my classmates regarding their thoughts on climate change: its causes, its effects on the global community, whose responsibility it was, and what could we do about it? Our diverse perspectives on the subject weren’t precisely reconcilable. Our small group of humans ran the gamut of hope and despair, and in the end we couldn’t even fully agree on where the blame for it lye. If 5 members of a small local community could not even agree on the causes of, and solutions to, a global issue, what hope was there for a world comprised of hundred of disparate nations? Still, we were able to come together to create an essay that investigated our very different opinions and solutions(Supporting Item #4: Climate Change Group Essay) and a presentation that gave the facts and the possibilities to the rest of our class(Oral Presentation: Climate Change Powerpoint). We spoke of how small island nations and poor countries were suffering uncounted damage and land loss. We relayed the facts regarding whose fault it most likely was, including the fact that the United States is the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases in five out of six methods of measurement. We struggled to reconcile the damages with the total and utter reliance on fossil fuels to drive todays society, and the political and financial clout of corporations who had stakes in these fossil fuel industries. All throughout this presentation, the scale of the problem is evident. It is something that is caused by a minority, that affects the majority, but the seperation of people by origin prevents us from truly sympathizing. We hear about the awful things that go on around the world all the time, but we don’t pay them any head. We fall into a mental trap of thinking of climate change as just another problem that other people have to put up with, but they don’t share our background or place of birth, so why should we care? In the end, despite our extensive research and time spent debating, there was little we could do other than to repeat many of the same platitudes that have been repeated for years. We had to simply state the actions that individuals, as humans and members of our shared global climate, could take to reduce our impact. This includes the old and obvious answers of carpooling, reducing consumption of materials and fuels, and generally trying to be conscious of the effect every single member of the global community has. When compared to the things that are out of our control though, it is easy to realize that change would only matter if we could reach every member of the global community and convince them, but those petty differences of belief and origin discussed earlier make such endeavors difficult and less effective. People perceive themselves as part of some group, be it a state or a nation, and they focus so fully on this petty distinction that they fail to see that we are all part of a much larger and more encompassing community. Temperatures between people and around the world continue to rise, and time marches on uninterested in our petty squabbles. I sometimes wonder if there is anything anyone can do. To treat others as humans first and members of some country or state second, that's what I think the first step to a lot of the problems is. This is of course a difficult step, and fraught with dangers. There are many people in the world who view others who do not come from their approved background as being their enemies. There are others who have no interest in foreign affairs, and seek only to damage or ignore other communities. Regardless of the difficulty of breaking down these foolish and combative attitudes, we must remember that sometimes the best roads are fraught with difficulties. If we have responsibilities to our communities, regardless of their size or the difficulty, then we most certainly have an obligation to maintain the largest community we are all a part of: Earth.
Even before college, I had an interest in philosophy of all kinds, and this extended somewhat to ethics. However, I can’t say that I ever made very much headway in thinking about ethical problems. Often the question of whether or not the “ends justify the means” was the one I became most focused around, likely due to my vigorous studies of history in my high school education. Could one accept an action that was gruesome or merciless, if it was done knowing it would ultimately help many? If a selfish action accidentally caused a morally good outcome, does that redeem it? Can we even judge the past? A great example I often spoke to a friend of mine about was the Roman Empire. While their conquests can be seen as brutal imperialism with only selfish motivations, it is hard to argue against the fact that they also spread infrastructure and culture across their conquered lands. Even if they did not intend to, their actions set the stage for future cultures and inventions all around the Mediterranean. So then, were their actions morally wrong? Is it dependant on the scale, on the intent, or the outcome? At the time, I somewhat tentatively believed that the outcome of an action was more important than the intent. So long as good was done in the end, what did the intent matter? Ethics is a thorny subject, and even after several college philosophy courses that touch on it, it’s hard to say more than that it's complicated. There is a notion I explored in my freshman year regarding whether or not ethics and morality were subjective to each society. After all, it seems to overstep your boundaries to tell other people in other places that what they are doing is wrong. However, I later realised that subjective morality is irreconcilable with my assertion that people should think of themselves as human first, and members of a culture second. No matter where someone is from, they should have the same basic rights as any other human being, even if they don’t realize it. Of course, this logically means that some places and people are morally wrong in their actions, and that reconciling with their way of doing things is both doing injustice to those within those cultures, and allowing an inherently wrong sense of ethics to be perpetrated. Yet it is too simple to just say we should change them, many people don’t want change, even if it would be for the better. We also have no definitive way of determining which sense of ethics is the proper one that all people should follow. Once again, human reliance on their origins and past, on tradition and culture, stunts coming together. These things singularly and as a whole are not bad, they are simply misused, and complicate determining what standards people should be held to as members of the human community. The question of ethics is multifaceted, and so I of course had to approach it from other angles as well. In an analytical paper for my ethics class, (Supporting Item #5: The True Ethics of Tony), I attempted to dissect the actions and words of a literary character and determine what kind of ethical system he was operating under. Not only was this a chance to apply what I had learned, it showed a scenario that seemed quite believable, giving some insight into how some people regard their ethics. The character in question paid lip service to Deontology, simply put the idea that being ethical means strictly following rules regarding duty and obligation. If you say you will do something, you must, no matter what the circumstances are. If you are part of a group with another, you have a responsibility to them, and must share in their successes and their failures. However, his actions in the end suggested Utilitarianism, the idea that good and bad can be weighed, and we have an ethical obligation to take actions that result in the most good for the most people, no matter how awful those actions might be in the moment or for others. This falls in line with my earlier assertion regarding how humans are unable to stand by what they say when life moves so fast. Even a fictional human being, when push came to shove, could not stand behind what he paid lip service to. Where his actions wrong? Is it wrong in of itself to claim one thing as ethical, yet act as though something completely different is the true measure of ethics? Is lying, even if it is unintentional, a morally corrupt action inherently? What if lying helps someone else prosper or survive, would it still be wrong? If the intent of one’s words is to cause harm, and yet they help another in some small way, is it still a morally bankrupt action? Ethics is an area where I almost fall into an old habit of mine. I ponder question after question and countless scenarios, only to arrive at the conclusion that I can make no definitive “right” answer, and so I choose none. An old friend of mine from high school, the same one as was mentioned earlier, often called me “the fencesitter” because of this. He found it appropriate because no matter what stance he took on something, I could always represent the other side against him, and I would rarely take a permanent side if the issue was even remotely controversial. While ethics is an area where arguing for another point of view is almost always possible, it is not one where one can avoid picking a side. Everyone has views regarding right and wrong, humans could not function in their day-to-day lives without a view on ethics one way or another. So while pondering ethics can create long and complicated chains of questions and rules, it is virtually impossible to come away from pondering such things with no opinion at all. For example, my thoughts on the morality of the roman empire has grown much more nuanced over the years. While I still see great benefits to their actions, I now question heavily if they can be called anything other than morally wrong. We must assign some morally quality to their actions, for it is the past that informs the future, yet to label it as anything other than morally wrong invites others to conquer and warmonger, and all they need do is hope the outcome is positive somewhere down the line. The outcomes of one's actions are important, but the path taken to get there and why one travels the path is just as important. It seems like things shouldn’t be so complicated. Helping others is good, doing harm to others is bad. This way of seeing things is simple, but not very helpful in complex situations, and unfortunately, the real world is very complex. Helping one person often means not helping another, or causing problems for one person for the benefit of another. When I make a decision, I don’t want to have to weigh who I should be helping and hurting, I just want to make the decision that seems right to me. Ethics is an enormous subject, that blankets all human actions and thoughts, and pondering it is an essential act for any informed and intellectually active person. It is through pondering ethics that we hope to realize what the best decision is when the outcome will affect the lives of many now and in the future. Fortunately it is not often that I have to make big decisions, but even in my small day to day life I want to help others, just as I hope they will help me when I really need it. Belief, age, race, nationality, none of these change the fact that fellow members of the human community deserve whatever help I can manage to give them. I don’t know if that makes me a utilitarian, or just someone with a simple view of things, but I think that I’ve gained more than I’ve lost by making my ethics more general. When people need help, I help them; it's not complicated, and I think it's better that way. This is of course not to say that pondering the larger questions is bad, and I also don’t mean to imply that I have simply and elegantly answered all the questions surrounding morality. I have made mistakes and failed my fellow humans many times, and I likely will many times in the future. Trying to simply do right in whatever way I can might be enough for now, but humanity has come as far as it has because it has spent the past several thousand years continually thinking, expanding, and challenging itself to do better. Now is no time to grow complacent. The global community is closer than it has ever been to truly being connected. Questions of ethics will only grow more important as we continue to break down barriers both physical and cultural. It is our duty, our responsibility to the human community, to keep searching for better ways to judge what is right, what is wrong, and why.
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