It’s been too long, friends! What can I say, except that my last six weeks on sabbatical are chock-full of visitors, travel, and reunions, which have left me little time to live in the virtual world. I’m back online now, though, and have an idee or two to share.
First, I should say that I’m a great believer in the power of personal narrative. When I was younger, letter- and journal writing helped me make sense of the trials and errors of youth. When I was older, blogging at Historiann.com served the same purpose as I wrote about some of my early professional challenges and created a space in which others could find a supportive audience and share strategies for dealing with abusive colleagues and the insanely competitive academic job market.
Around the same time, I started writing a biography of a woman in my period of study, so clearly I’m committed to individual narratives as both a storytelling device and as pedagogy: we learn so much from reading about other lives. They can offer us encouragement, cautionary tales, and perhaps most importantly, help us imagine other lives and different ways of living. There is a real creativity crisis among us professors who want to offer our students ideas for career alternatives to academia (alt-ac) or post-academia (post-ac) careers. Professors are the worst people to ask, because we took the conservative path and remained in academia! But we can seek out stories that may give us and our students new ideas for alternative ways of making a living and living a satisfying life. (Because trust me: academia is not necessarily a path to either goal, let alone both!)
An old friend of mine who used to live in my hometown of Potterville, Colorado, the distinguished medieval English literature scholar Thomas Bredehoft, has started blogging about his decision to leave a tenured full professorship and his new life as an entrepreneur. Tom was a full professor who took a position off the tenure track as a spousal accommodation, when his wife took a tenure-track position at a university in another part of the country. After teaching off the tenure track for five years, he left traditional academia in 2012 to pursue his own alt-ac business in the rare book and antique trade. As he continues with his academic writing, Tom wants to use his blog to consider the academic, alt-ac, and post-ac worlds, from the perspective of someone who has spent most of a career thinking about books and poetry. Continue reading
Roy Rogers and Trigger
Friends, you’re going to have to explain something to this cowgirl: I just can’t understand all of the irritation and resentment aimed at Trigger! (What did this poor horse ever do to Peggy Noonan, anyway?) From everything I’ve seen, he was a born showman, a high-stepping son-of-a-gun who never did anything worse than steal the show from his owner, Roy Rogers. Trigger never bit or kicked anyone who didn’t deserve it, now, did he?
But let’s face it: horses are really big animals, and some people are a little trepidatious around them. Some horses are afraid of people, and can startle or jump when they’re spooked. Just because some folks are a little fearful of horses, and just because some horses are easily spooked doesn’t make them bad people or bad horses. It just means that those of us who are comfortable with Trigger should remember that not every person (or horse) feels the same, and keep that in mind when we’re discussing Trigger or bringing him around for company. Continue reading
Why, yes! Yes, I do.
Alert the authorities: Katie Roiphe is dead right about “Why Professors Should Not Have Affairs with Their Students:” Longtime readers may recall that I’ve been pretty unsparing in my criticism of Roiphe for a long, long time now, but she really nails it here.
In this new essay, Roiphe writes from the perspective of seeing a number of male colleagues have affairs with their graduate and undergraduate students, and I’ve seen it too among men in the profession–my age and even younger, so it’s not going away anytime soon (although thank the Goddess I’ve never seen it among my colleagues in my department.) First, it’s an obvious and embarrassing trope: “The dynamic is so trite one can barely commit it to the page, but it seems that otherwise charismatic, original men are completely happy to inhabit this cliché, to live and work in it. In my experience these are men who would rather die than dress or speak or write in a clichéd way, but in this particular area of triteness, they feel entirely comfortable.”
Also, “the prospect of sleeping with an undergraduate seems a little like wanting to sleep with a puppy,” as in bestiality, not as in chaste and adorable puppy snuggling, which is obvs. perfectly fine. But who cares if a middle-aged schlub makes a fool of himself? I don’t, and neither does Roiphe, because of course it’s the damage to students and to the trust in the professor-student relationship that concerns her most: Continue reading
Mark Bauerlein, a not-that-old fogy at an elite university, wrote something cranky about the practice of higher education in the New York Times last weekend. The column has been subjected to a ritual beating by many in the academic blogosphere. Yesterday, a call went out from David Perry (@Lollardfish on Twitter, and the blog How Did We Get Into This Mess) that he “would like to see R1 profs engage in a loud and public conv[ersation] ab[out] teaching and research.” Although I teach at an R1, it’s the Aggie school in my state and certainly not “elite.” I also don’t teach Ph,D. students, as my History department offers just a Master’s Degree.
This year, as regular readers know, I’ve been far away from the grind at Baa Ram U. and on sabbatical at the Huntington Library, a.k.a. “Scholars’ Disneyland.” I’ve been living much like a Renaissance scholar, dining at the table and enjoying the luxuries of my sponsoring Prince–that is to say, nothing like my real life, but you know what? The conversations I’ve been having here with the Distinguished Fellows–all of whom teach at elite universities and supervise Ph.D. students as well as undergraduates–frequently revolves around teaching, and yes, teaching undergraduates! How do we reach them? How do we get them to become and remain History majors? What subjects interest them most, and how can we use those interests to develop an aptitude for historical thinking?
We’re like young parents who want nothing more than a night away from the children, and then we end up talking about the children the whole time we’re out to dinner. Continue reading
Chernoh Sesay Jr. has a thoughtful post over at the African American Intellectual History Society blog about “Teaching Phillis Wheatley (and Olaudah Equiano) in light of Freddie Gray,” in which he describes his initial hesitation to talk about current events in Baltimore in a class devoted to two eighteenth-century African writers and their engagement with race, religion, and the age of revolution:
At the start of the period two of the students approached me and explained that because our class was about African Americans and issues of race, they thought it was appropriate to talk about Freddie Gray and the broader politics behind his death. Their request was polite and earnest. Without knowing how I would relate the eighteenth-century Atlantic world to the twenty-first century urban United States in a way that was directly relevant to the day’s topics I said yes. I allowed the two students to stand before the class and I sat amongst the other class participants. The student leaders described their participation in a march the previous night and explained the complex mix of frustration, motivation, solidarity, and inspiration that fed into and arose out of their activism.
After recounting their experiences at the protest and expressing their thoughts about the growing public revelations of police violence, the two students tried to link current anti-black brutality directly back to the issues of identity and representation relative to Wheatley and Equiano. Instead of following this path back to the syllabus, I allowed the entire class to engage in a discussion about current events. From my perspective, the discussion was extremely engaging but not well organized. I decided that rather than try awkwardly to reign in the themes of conversation, I would try to highlight comments that somehow related to the issues of historical continuity and change. The ensuing conversation was wide ranging. Students made reference to continued racism and inequality. They discussed contemporary issues endemic to “the Black community.” They talked about racial profiling and issues of presentation and representation. They expressed frustration with efforts to combat racism and reduce poverty but they also argued for the necessity of action.
The conversation wandered and meandered and I did not successfully give any easily definable direction to the discussion. . . . I left class frustrated that I was not able to fashion a structured discussion and feeling as though I was failing in getting students to understand Wheatley and Equiano from their eighteenth-century experiences.
But wait! Here’s what happened at the next class meeting: Continue reading
Friends! Angelenos! Countrywomen! I’ve been in SoCA so long you probably thought I had traded in my cowgirl boots for flip-flops permanently. No way! Never fear. You can take the cowgirl out of Colorado, but you can’t take Colorado out of the cowgirl.
Anyhoo: I’m too busy to write a real blog post this morning, but a number of items have come to my attention lately that I’d like to share with you. I hope you’re booted and ready to ride, because here goes: Continue reading
In-person, live instruction and class meetings offer superior results to students than online courses. It’s true! And you no longer have to listen to fuddy-duddy old proffies like me, who have been beating our breasts and wailing about the poor outcomes of online classes. From a study of 217,000 unique students in California community colleges:
[R]esearchers found online students lagging behind face-to-face students in three critical areas:
- Completing courses (regardless of grade).
- Completing courses with passing grades.
- Completing courses with grades of A or B.
The results were the same across subject matters, courses of different types and different groups of students. Larger gaps were found in some areas, such as summer courses and courses taken by relatively small numbers of online students. But no patterns could be found where students online performed better than those in face-to-face courses.
Hey, assessment fans: these are the basic measures of what we professors like to call “learning.” They’re not perfect, but the data are crystal-clear. Continue reading