Showing posts from November, 2009

Four Arguments for the Elimination of the Liberal Arts

Next Tuesday I get to do my favorite lesson plan of the semester. In the senior capstone I will put liberal arts education on trial for its life. I should explain that the senior capstone is a course in which students review the meaning, use and significance of their education. We begin each semester with the trial of Socrates and then spend the following weeks reflecting on the value of the various disciplines that comprise the liberal arts (science, history, literature, philosophy...). Then, just as we are about to wrap everything up, I tell them that I have been lying to them these past two and a half months. So we hold a trial. The students become the jury and I act the part of the the prosecutor. For nearly 40 minutes I lead them through the case against liberal arts education. My peroration goes something like this:
Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, amen. Amen, amen, amen. You will forgive me, ladies and gentleman, but in my tradition we always say "amen" at the end of…

The smell of rotting cabbage

I first read George Orwell's 1984 in the 8th grade. Mrs. James, my middle school English teacher, silently handed me a copy after I had finished my basic skills test early and was looking forward to goofing off in the remaining 10 minutes of the testing period. Mrs. James hated seeing students simply sitting there, so she would sometimes furnish them with a book to read. I don't know why she chose 1984 for me. Perhaps she had spotted me reading some classic science fiction (Heinlein, Ellison, Bradbury), which was a phase I went through in my reading life at about this time.

Then again, maybe it was for no particular reason at all. Maybe she just had a copy of the novel handy. In any case, I read it over the next few days and was really affected by it. For one thing, 1984 has some surprisingly frank depictions of sexuality--at least it did for this 8th grader. Indeed, the sexually liberated and joyfully hedonistic Julia may have been my first literary crush.

But 1984 isn't a…

The dull, the dead, the gruesome...

I have been on radio silence for a spell. The combination of teaching a new five-credit prep and the accelerated night course has just about done me in. I am working until 10:30 pm two nights a week and have to be back here at 8:00 am the next morning. I don't know why I did this to myself, and I'm thankful this semester will last only a few more weeks. Then, oh sweet oblivion, I can rest. 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

I am teaching far too much this fall and not teaching well. Everything is read, graded, or planned at the last possible minute. How I long to be that put-together professor whose assignments seamlessly dovetail into carefully crafted outcomes, who is up-to-date with the latest pedegogi-gadgets that bewitch the students into deep learning and cognitive development, who has the time to reflect and tinker, to read a poem or even see a film.

What I am is an exhausted drudge who is struggling to remain two chapters ahead of the students in the texts. I…

Plagiarizing Myself

I like assigning dialogs to students. Sometimes I will have them write personal letters to characters in novels, or invent fictional correspondence between authors. Last week my sophomore honors section had to write a movie review of Confessions of a Shopaholic using the ideas and voice of Mary Wollstonecraft. It seems to have worked, too. Today before class they were saying that they couldn't get Wollstonecraft out of their head when they were watching TV over the weekend. These kinds of assignments are fun, but they can really tank if you don't carefully present your expectations.

I learned this the first time I tried a dialog. I was teaching the spring semester of Humanities. In that class we read Hamlet and Machiavelli's The Prince, so one of the prompts I assigned asked students to create a dialog between Machiavelli and Hamlet: how would Machiavelli have advised young prince Hamlet on his Claudius problem?

Done right, the assignment should have gotten students to bring…