December 17, 2003

Hart, Carl
[PSYC W2460] Drugs and Behavior

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Let's begin with the exam guides. Before both of the midterms and the final, students are given a list of topics discussed either in Mr. Hart's dazzling lectures (which are read verbatim from powerpoint slides: "Corrective actions to deviant behavior are sometimes informal (joking, shunning, communicating displeasure) or formal (civil penalties, criminal justice system, treatment/rehab)," abundant misspellings and grammatical errors ommitted) or from a text intent on speaking to you as though you're pals at a NORML rally. While the questions included in these guides do admittedly inspire reflection ("Know the eight states that have laws protecting medical marijuana patients from arrest and jail, and understand how this is accomplished"), what I realized as I looked around at the other twenty six people sitting around me in the Butler lounge passionately reviewing the exact same answers to the exact same questions the night before the final was that my job was not to grasp the concepts I had learned over the course of the semester, never mind to think critically about drug issues, but to demonstrate that I could listen, nod, and know a few useless facts like the back of my hand. As if to engineer some measure of justice into the equation, the five questions on the exam that were not going to be drawn from the study guide would be the ones that some of us would miss and others would get right, and it would be these that determined the difference between the mediocre and the great student in this class.
I would like to give Professor Hart the benefit of the doubt in this matter, in that he is probably trying to make things easier for students by providing a study guide but drawing from it, but, alas, the truth is that studying for the exam is excruciatingly hard in that one must know every detail of EVERY ANSWER from the guide (a challenging task insofar as it competes with reading a technical manual for eight hours straight) and that one must hope to luck out on the few questions that we didn't see coming from a mile away. I mean, essay topics were distributed in advance and entire essays (no more than a page in length, which might give you an idea of the maximal depth in thought allowed by the course) were memorized beforehand. Did the professor or any of the T.A.'s ever stop to consider simply giving a test without -gasp!- a rattle and pacifier, or, better yet, requiring an investigative paper? In truth, I don't think that Mr. Hart ever paused to think critically about this study guide situation or teaching actual concepts or even about his area of expertise, save to confirm academia's supremely irritating notions about drugs which were shoved down our throats every Tuesday and Thursday and during nightly readings: illicit drugs do not cause problems in modern society, our current drug laws are founded on every politician's conviction that every African-American male deserves to go to jail, and heroin users are wholly innocent victims of the trauma that is life.
I might admit that my criticism is a little harsh, save for the fact that there seemed to be a substantial proportion of students sitting at every class (which we were required to attend thanks to coercive methods, i.e. quizzes) who actually ate up this philosophy without pausing to inspect it, but who, at the same time, were given no opportunity to demonstrate that they had ever had an original thought in their lives anyways. The text is written for a teenager, the quantity of facts and absence of analysis is insulting, and the conclusions reached are absolutely inane. "Accurately defining the types of drug use that concern us facilitates precise communication and helps to ensure that appropriate interventions are implemented"? No sh*t, Sherlock. In short, if you came to this institution to conduct any form of insightful analysis or edifying scholarship, stay away, but if you're at Columbia to tell your friends that THC takes 5 to 8 seconds to reach the brain from the lungs as you pack your third bowl, you'll probably fit right in.