Showing posts from January, 2012

My mind is made up, there's going to be trouble.

February 1 is the due date for faculty to turn in course description for next fall's First-Year Seminar program.  These are courses that allows incoming students to select from a range of subjects.  This is the first year for our new version of FYS, and I am anxious to see what my colleagues propose.  I had a hard time choosing a topic, but I have finally narrowed it to three ideas.  Here they are:
IDEA 1:  Heretics, Free Thinkers and Hell Raisers: This seminar focuses on history’s most dangerous minds. Students will read, discuss and explore the roles played by thinkers, activists and rabble-rousers who refused to accept the traditions, norms and values of their societies. Among the troublemakers we’ll encounter are Socrates, Diogenes, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass and more. Additionally, the seminar will strengthen their critical reading and writing abilities and help them to make a suitably rebellious transition into University-level course work.The seminar would have fou…

Who was to know what should come home to me?

Tucked away in a closet in my office is a 1950s-era steel file cabinet that looks as if it could withstand an atomic blast.  Even empty it evokes thoughts of herniation.  For obvious reason, I don't move it very often. 

Instead I keep stuffing it with the collected detritus of my teaching life: old in-class exercises, badly written assignments, the syllabi of long lost courses, out-of-date teaching evals and  even a text-book I once created for a class that hasn't existed since the 1990s.

I'm forever thinking I should clean out this beast, but I never seem to get the job completed.  Whenever I begin,  I get stuck on some piece of the past that comes floating up out of the mess.

The deeper into the cabinet I go, the more likely I am to encounter the ghostly remains of some failed notions I once had about teaching.  What delusions I used to suffer from! I think to myself.  This of course leads me to wonder what delusions I'm laboring under now.  All this is not to menti…

Beating Back the Trolls

Walking back from my 1:00 class just now, I ran across a colleague from the philosophy department who asked, "Well, did you dispel ignorance today?"   I can't say that I did.  We were going over book I of Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics,  and more than one student was displaying an "I just carbo-loaded" somnolence.

Maybe it was the way my colleague phrased it, but I couldn't help recalling something one of my former professors told me in a class long ago.  He recounted the Norse myth of how the gods built a small citadel of light, order and reason in a dark, savage and utterly chaotic universe.

Unfortunately that universe wasn't empty.  It was populated by vicious trolls who were forever trying to overrun and destroy the home of the gods.  Every day Thor, Wotan and the rest of the gods had to be out on the parapets hurling back the endless onslaught of invading trolls.  And every year the circle of light and reason grew smaller and smaller.  It didn…

Does size matter?

To what degree do the rooms that we teach in affect the learning that takes place?  It's a question that often arises in professorial grousing.   Indeed, my colleagues and I often trade war stories about horrible classrooms.  There's the room below a large evaporation condenser that periodically kicks on with a banshee-like shriek.  Other contenders for the "worst room on campus" include a basement classroom complete with visible mold, and a second-story science classroom with heaters that blast relentlessly on warm spring days.  There's also a room in the student center that has a mural on one wall depicting what can only be described as clawed slashes on the underside of a coffin lid.

And then there's Science 1, the cavernous lecture hall they assigned me this semester for the senior seminar.   It's not exactly the kind of space you would imagine for a seminar purposefully limited in size and usually taking place around a large conference table.  Never…