I am a non-humanities student and Ben Parker's lit hum section was one of the best classes I have taken at Columbia. Seriously. He is an engaging, intelligent guy who has very defined views on the texts we read in the class. Discussions ranged from moderately engaging to essentially Ben trying to get people to speak up. He can be pretty intimidating and even confrontational. But just because a teacher challenges your statements instead of just nodding along and marking a check for class participation doesn't mean that they think what you're saying is invalid. He really does care about what the students take out of the class--he was a Columbia student himself and obviously took Lit Hum. If you miss a day because of illness or something, he schedules a make-up session to go over what you might have missed (which was awesome and unexpected). Also he tends to sprinkle his classes with little witticisms and I am very sad because I think I've lost my notebook for the class and can't remember any off the top of my head. He did one time take off points on a quiz one time because someone was too prudish to say that the characters had sex or a demon made a trumpet of his ass or something. There will be pop culture references, diversions from the main Lit Hum syllabus, and illegible comments on essays and exams. Unfortunately I think he graduated in 2013. I hope he survives the real world.
Professor Parker is a great professor. Keeping up with the reading in this class is essential - thereâ€™s a lot of ground to cover, but thatâ€™s true across the board for Lit Hum. The material he wants you to engage with can be very abstract - e.g. discuss changing ideas of justice, ethics, morality, and the state across the texts - but Professor Parker tries to deliver a sophisticated treatment of each work. Heâ€™s also completely willing to meet with you outside of class and hash out anything you donâ€™t understand. I donâ€™t find him pretentious - I think he has a really sharp sense of humor - but heâ€™s definitely not a high school teacher. And this is not a â€œwrap it in a bowâ€ type of class - if youâ€™re looking for a Lit Hum class where you just memorize terms, skim some of the reading, and come to clean conclusions - I wouldnâ€™t recommend it. If youâ€™re looking for a class that really challenges you, with a professor that responds with intellectual seriousness to your work - and if youâ€™re interested in the ideas that really drive these works - take it.
If there were ever such a thing as intro to CC, Ben Parker's lit hum section would definitely be it. He directs lit hum like it's a philosophy class instead of a literature class and rambles on about Hagel and other texts we read in CC (literally, he said he will only references books we read in lit hum or CC). He can be quite arrogant and pretentious (definitely a hipster, might I add). However if you enjoy talking about really REALLY abstract philosophical ideas by all means take this section. It's definitely not for most.
Ben Parker is a very smart and clearly well read Lit Hum teacher. However, you quickly come to absolutely hate his style as a teacher and his attitude towards Lit Hum. Ben Parker is arrogant, self-centered, and egotistical--at least for being a TA/grad student. His class is not so much of a conversation, but Professor Parker steering the conversation as he sees fit. Whenever a student speaks he can't hold his tongue from refuting, somehow, whatever the student says. I came to Columbia expecting Lit Hum to be an amazing experience. Professor Parker really negatively effected my first semester and I absolutely plan on switching out of his class for the second semester.
Ben is an extremely smart and interesting guy, but he often asks too much of his students and the course he teaches bears absolutely no resemblance to any other section of U. Writing. Ben's version of the class is entirely focused on analytical writing about Philosophy. The papers will be written in response to extremely difficult texts by the likes of Nietzsche and Lukacs. His class is intellectually stimulating and forces you to think very hard about various thorny abstract concepts. It is certainly good preparation for Contemporary Civilization. However, its relevance to non-philosophical writing is questionable and the class may not improve your writing abilities in general. This section is definately not for most people, but if you are a very able writer and really love philosophy, give it a shot.