BP 1st year

Basic Program is a reading program from UChicago. The information can be found here [1] and currently it is open for signing up for the next year [2]

Other than BP there are also Open to All Courses and something called "Alumni Courses".  If one follows closely, there are often trials and free events to sign up as well, to get a sense who the educators are, and what topics are being discussed, and how the courses are taught.  For example, the first Friday of every month, there is a signature event — one hour seminar that I always look forward to. In this summer, there is the class "BASC70100 -    How to Read Classic Texts:  75th Anniversary Edition" [3], highly recommended.

Last year there were frequent discussion events on movies too. I tried once but did not watch the movie in advance. Then I signed up for another one, "Force Majeure", and watched a couple of times, then I forgot to join the discussion. Same for the movie "Black Panther".. so somehow I refused to share my takes, more to that later.

I longed to sign up for such a program. The company I work for (Morningstar) had once worked with UChicago to provide the course on site, also shared information on free events. I did not join the on site ones, for which I still regret, but cannot remember the particular reason. I believed it requires commitment and planning to take the courses. Maybe I was not able to plan the time.  I did not believe I was capable to finish the reading and join the discussion.  This concern turned out quite unnecessary, more to that later. And lastly I wanted to enjoy the complete experience, starting from Year 1 course in an Autumn. As a software programmer, I suspect that last reason is most important? Anyway, in 2020 amid the pandemic, I started in summer. The first course many people take is "How to Read a Book" and so am I.  After that is the Autumn session, we read the stories and plays. In Winter session, we read some Ethics. And in Spring session, we read various politics. I am so glad I finished the first year.

Look back the journey, I wonder how many things are like this, that the initial contact is enthusiastic, but long term commitment is hard to make. The course structure is simple, one page can print everything, yet it is so hard to find the intention and the beauty of it without taking the classes.  The discussion format is easy said than done. There is a dynamic among educator and students that is almost delicate — sometimes educator has to withhold the answers but keeps raising questions; sometimes they have to push forward; sometimes students have to lead the discussion, and sometimes people take turns. In the end, all the original goals and concerns are cast aside, one can almost enjoy the fact we are in the same classroom.

I wonder how many things are like this, that a little experience is all it takes to start. I was influenced by a good friend of mine, who highly recommended the course, the curriculum and the educators. Without her encouragement I would not believe myself as capable. The summer class definitely helped. That is a good way to get a taste of the program, what we read and how we discuss. I cannot say I enjoyed the discussion back then — most likely you will get intrigued rather than pampered, and decide to join the program to look further what lies there. When you found you omitted things written in the text, when you brought a lot of baggage (or rather garbage thoughts) into the discussion, when you learned a completely different interpretation of the text, all were quite embarrassing. And I saw one student who insisted his interpretation and never came back, too.  (Or maybe he signed up to a different time?)

The program is a way to let one know thyself. I found myself quite like shopping. Since joined the program, I bought far more books than any previous years. Unlike any other topics, the curriculum is classical text, in most cases the textbook is popular and cheap, there is e-book version for almost every book. For each book, I usually buy the e-book version. But if the e-book version (Kindle) does not have physical page number, it is still painful to use in a class. So for many books I also have to buy a paper version. If there is no e-book version, I often select a different edition — that way I ended up with different translations. Once I got so many different translations of Aristotle. And I often buy a Chinese translation too, just to review if my understanding is correct. Duokan is a fabulous e-book market for Chinese. Not sure why I prefer e-book. There are at least two issues, one is the physical page number issue. The other is that it is quite slow to turn the pages. I suppose due to my language skill, I had to look up words often; also I would like to take notes not in the margins — no books has enough margin, that's for sure. I haven't written anything for a long time, so I don't recognize my own hand writings. Also it is slow to put down something during reading. But notes in e-book is not easy to retrieve, you still have to click on the highlighted text to see what was in thy mind. One good thing of e-book is note sharing — in Duokan, if you shared something and raised a flame war, that's quite an achievement. I wonder why Amazon only did "popular highlight" feature not the flame war part. As a software programmer, believing e-book and software should be a professional choice.

After shopping for curriculum I also bought many books mentioned in the introduction text and by other people. When I go to a book store (B&N) or used book shop (Open Books is open for business), I cannot resist buying something. But next year this may change. With one year of reading practice, somehow I have got the numbers how much time I can read, and how many pages I can finish in one couch potato session. The number is not great. When I signed up for the CFA exam, the reading speed was about 10-15 pages per hour including exercise, and I had to put 4-5 hours to read per week (maybe a lot more, I cannot remember) to finish all the assignment. For BP I don't have to go that slow, there is no exercise either. It takes about 3h to finish one week's reading, which is usually 100 pages of text. I thought it might help once we go back to work (it takes 1-2h in transit every day). Another fact is I forget things easily. When I go back to Act I of Hamlet, even though I read it merely a couple months ago, the text looks unfamiliar. I see my own blog in 2006 on reading one book, and I seemed excited and impressed, but now I don't recall anything about the book and why I was impressed. With a memory loss like a goldfish, why do I bother to collect new books at all? So next year, I might as well finish what I can and read it more carefully to minimize the memory loss.

The last part of knowing myself, is that I am such a quiet person. I refuse to join the discussion. I take notes what beautiful ideas others have, and occasionally my own wild idea. But it is so hard to open up and say it aloud. When a teacher is fair and he or she may ask everyone to speak up. When a teacher pays attention he or she may call the names who raised hand without losing anyone. In those times I had to participate, and other people may have heard my baseless ideas. Otherwise I remain silent, as it is a toll to understand what others are saying, even harder to react and provide meaningful feedback. I am quite sure it is just my slowness to react, not the validness of opinion. Given enough time, I can give the same ideas as others (but still may not express it beautifully like the handful of extraordinary students.) My understanding to the text is generally agreeing to the translations. I am trying to persuade myself to take it easy, as long as I gained something, some understanding to the text, then it does not matter I join the discussion or not.  Otherwise I cannot even stay in the classroom if I despise myself for not being able to open up.  I remember the Winter session was like that, I almost gave up in the end. But it helps to forget everything and just sign up and come to the classroom, just do everything until the difficulty is forgotten. That is a shameless strategy. That is much worse than "fake it until you make it". But it did relieve my pressure somewhat.

edit: Come to think about it, what really helped in Spring session is to 1. read all text before class; 2. turn off Outlook and Teams and make sure not to chat with work; turn off VPN and keep only book and notes open.  The book is hard otherwise we would not spend time discuss it, so better keep focused.

The classroom has usually 15 students. The recommended way to enjoy BP, is to always sign up the same time slot, so that the classroom will have the same students. I have been in the class with (shout out to these excellent colleagues)  David Y [4] [5], Rita, Alexandra, David R, Wesley, Eileen, Josephine, Patricia, Kevin, Mark, Phil, Elizabeth, Mei, Anika, Elaine. Before there were also Laura Jean, Paul, Parker, Rajani, Oscar, Holly, Henry, Daniel, Tom, Terra, Michael, Marla.. but only a few names still gives an impression. I suppose the classroom will be stable starting from year 2.  It is surprising many people have taken BP before and re-take it. Maybe I'll do the same when the goldfish catches up.

(it took about 2.5h to write this.)


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