Thursday, November 18, 2010

Quirky Kids

My classes this term are rather uninspiring. I have a handful of bright and interested students, but the dead wood they have for classmates pretty much ensures that a cloud of doom hangs over most of the class meetings.

My approach to this has been to complain on FaceBook and just forge ahead, making my own fun. I've let myself spin off into many "non-traditional" areas in all the classes - - liberally discussing contraceptives in the survey course and tackling homonormativity in the women's history class. Hey, it was what I was thinking about at the time and I thought maybe it would be good to model intellectual processing/curiosity for them. Oh yeah, and talking about sex and sexuality tends to bring the focus back to me.

Anyway... there was a lighthearted moment the other day that I thought I would share. In my Tuesday afternoon survey (deadly time slot: 3-5:50pm), while I was prattling on about post-war suburbanization and urban renewal, a young, bright, but goofy student raised his hand:

"Yes, K___?"

"I'm sorry to interrupt you, but there is a really big spider right here and I was wondering if I could just take it outside."

Needless to say, there was a lot of head-shaking and laughter from the class.

I told him go ahead if that is what he needed to do. And he did. And then I got back to the Housing Act of 1949 and how it isn't really about housing...

I actually really like this student. He does read. He got very curious about Minor v. Happersett and looked up the court decision while I was discussing it and then read a couple of juicy bits from the decision for the class in order to illustrate my interpretation. He has written very non-traditional papers and essays, but they showed a level of engagement and thinking that earned him good (though not outstanding) grades. Okay, he interrupts a lecture to save a spider and the other students must think him nuts, but I like him. I'll take a creative spider-saver over a plays-it-safe regurgitator any day, given the choice.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Things I recently learned from my students:

1) Many of them -- the traditionally aged ones anyway -- don't know what "blue-collar" and "white-collar" mean.

2) Many of them are highly critical of the class system in the 1950s (they've been reading Vance Packard's The Status Seekers) and its emphasis on appearances, material possessions, family background, etc. in determining status. They believe that that has all somehow been magically fixed for them. They believe that they now live in a society where individual ability and individual worth are truly appreciated and rewarded.

The first one is just a kind "hunh" look how far we have come sort of observance. This is not a designation I have really had to "teach" before.

The second one, however, well, that one gives me more pause and I find myself staring at them with a combination of pity and concern... and maybe just a tiny bit of alarm.

Monday, November 15, 2010


That's it. I reached some sort of saturation point. I thought I was going to have to poke my eyes in order to relieve the pain of this afternoon's faculty senate meeting where 20 people were trapped at a conference table while the chair drifted off into minutiae over procedure. People, rule #1 of meetings containing more than 3 people is DON'T TRY TO WRITE POLICY OR PROCEDURES. Useless waste of my time (and the chair was 10 minutes late to start the meeting!).

Then, I fly home to release the hound and run him around before I summon up all my courage and attend the Parent Advisory Board meeting at O's elementary school. It was as bad as I expected. The cuts to the school budget and the addition of 80 kids to the school have left everyone frazzled and the discussion was raw. The PAB is trying to plug the holes of left by the budget readjustment plan and, frankly, we can't. We can't raise money to replace the swings, fund a bus for a field trip for every class, supplement the art teacher's whopping $75 supply budget, pay teachers to run after school programs, and fund the music program. It is bleak. Teachers fear for their jobs and don't feel like they can ask for help and all the PAB can think to do it to desperately try to raise them some funds.

There was much more to my day but it is too depressing to record. It has all just left me feeling rather hopeless about it all...about my students, my colleagues, my kids' schools, my ability to work on my book. Really, I don't feel like I can take the time to write, let alone think.

And then there is Detroit... Detroit Public Schools has asked UMD to partner with them on a Teaching American History Grant. I've been involved in two for other school districts and I'd be happy to be involved in this one, but there is no one on the UMD side able to lead it. So, I should do it. The school system needs it -- only something like 9% of social studies teachers in the district had any history classes as undergraduates, yet most teach history. But where is the energy for that supposed to come from? Where can I find the energy to deal with yet another fucked up bureaucracy?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Gems from the draft box...

On the theory that it is better to laugh then cry, I share with you these gems from the most recent midterm season...

"I'm sorry I missed the exam, my liver hurt."

On the Identification section (what was it and what was its significance to American history?):

The Spanish America war was a war with Spain to win Texas and California.