Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Spreading the News

I promised I'd explain the fall hiatus when the time came, and since the semester is nigh on over, and the explanation is making the rounds anyway, I figured now's as good a time as any. So here are many reasons why this blog went silent for a bit.

1) In the middle of the summer, my grandmother passed away. This in and of itself was not earth-shattering. I don't want to be calloused, but she suffered from Paranoid schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, and was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's, and then she had the fatal stroke. It had been a long time since the grandmother I knew had been in our lives. But the mourning was far less an issue than the events it set off in the family at large.

2) Extended Family Drama that included, in no particular order: old resentments, poorly disguised relief, old fears, unnecessary moralizing, boundary issues, betrayed confidences, and some use of substances not helpful in aiding clear-headedness. I won't say anymore about that.

3) Busiest Semester Yet of my academic career: three preps, two brand new, and the third, a comp class substituted at the last minute, not to mention an independent study with a (fabulous) grad student. Plus! final push to get the edited manuscript out, edits on two articles in the pipeline, and chairing two committees.

4) Willow's first semester back in the classroom since our move to BRU=more stacks of papers in the house, and fewer common free hours.

5) The Biggie: Baby C. Coming in June. As twins, Rambunctious and Imperia were labeled Baby A and Baby B, respectively, on the early sonograms. And so now, 12 weeks along, is Baby C. It is perhaps important to note that we first expected Baby C in March, but that never materialized, and so June it is.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

When Good Classes Go...

This postmodernism class has been a real blast this semester. For whatever reason, a looser dynamic has emerged, in part because some vocal students have felt comfortable enough to express their frustration, suspicion, and general distaste for the material, which often consists of textual play and literary tricks. A lot of these students haven't felt in on the jokes.

But because they knew that they weren't in on it, and didn't like that fact, we were able to talk really frankly early on about what they were struggling with, and how we could work through that. Without those students who were brave enough to say "I hate this book," I'd now be writing about long lectures to silent, reticent students.

One of the ways that I ended up designing the class was that I knew I was assigning ambitiously, but I left open the possibility that many students would skip something or other. Exams were designed to let them talk about books they engaged with, and ignore others entirely. This has rarely been a problem in terms of the classroom dynamic, since most students have ended up participating in significant ways during the semester. The idea is that they contribute when they're ready. It's not something I do often, but given the level of the class and its comparatively unimportant place in the curriculum, it seems like a good way to go.

Rarely, but occasionally, do I get the kind of moments where people choose not to read en masse. Typically I assigned a few poems for days when response papers were due, so we could work on them in class regardless of whether people had read. But I knew that assigning anything, let alone a novel, for the last week of class, immediately following the week-long Thanksgiving break, was risky. The text was Rushdie's Haroun and the Seas of Stories which is ostensibly a novel for adolescents, and a breezy read, so I though if I could get them to read anything, this would be it.

But no surprise, today's class started with a short exercise that yielded mostly blank stares and still pens. Only about 8 people in a class of 25 had read, and so I gave a short lecture on my primary goals for including the text (which essentially wraps up virtually every major concern of the class), and then dismissed the class, suggesting that anyone who wanted to stick around could.

Pretty much everyone packed up, and I was doing the same, but I noticed two pockets of students on opposite sides of the class still talking about the book. So I gathered them together, and we talked--informally, but in depth as well--about the novel, and then ranged on to some of the ways that postmodern theory (Jameson, Baudrillard) really did reflect their lives and the world as they observed and understood it. One student who had initially left, but passed backl by the class, came back in and joined the conversation. We went on for another 45 minutes, just people talking about a book in a way that was in depth, and engaged, and active.

It was kinda great, after a class that initially looked like a total bust. And by the way, if haven't read Haroun, do yourself a favor...it's a delightful little read...