The 'Mutha' of Invention
There's no one for me to blame for agreeing to take on two new course preps this fall. I wish I could. It might be nice to lash out at whatever pinhead committee came up with the cockamamie idea of requiring all students to take two interdisciplinary seminars. Unfortunately, I was on that committee-- chaired the damned thing no less. So here I am, furiously inventing new assignments, new in-class activities, and new approaches for new texts so I can teach in those new seminars.
To make things worse, I foolishly committed myself to resist the temptation of recycling bits from old courses that I know will work. It's all new, baby. And it's a mutha. The difficulty--and it's the central, ineradicable difficulty in all teaching--is to find ways to shape and present the material so that it engages student curiosity; for it is a truth universally acknowledged that human beings don't really like to think.
That said, we are curious little creatures, and we'll do the thinking if we get interested. And that's where invention enters. What's a really compelling way to come at this? What analogy or hypothetical might be interesting? How do I answer the pervasive but often unvoiced question that lingers just below the surface of every roomful of undergrads: "Who gives a rip?"
Here's another universal truth: most of my inventions this fall are destined to tank. The suckosity meter will be abnormally high in the months to come. But what are you going to do? You try stuff and inevitably a lot of it just won't work.
Give me a year, or two or three times teaching the course, and I'll have something. But this fall--and there's no getting around it--there will be a lot of furious invention followed by puzzled, investigative toe kicks at the wreckage.