Ancrene Wiseass

A would-be medievalist holds forth on academia, teaching, gender politics, blogging, pop culture, critters, and whatever else comes her way.

My Photo
Location: United States

Yes, this really is yet another blog by a disillusioned grad student. I sympathize, but that's just the way it has to be. For hints as to what my bizarre alias means, click here and here and, if needed, here and here. To get a sense of what I'm up to, feel free to check out the sections called "Toward a Wiseass Creed" and "Showings: Some Introductory Wiseassery" in my main blog's left-hand sidebar. Please be aware that spamming, harassing, or otherwise obnoxious comments will be deleted and traced.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

David Horowitz probably still wouldn't be satisfied . . .

. . . but I actually ended up being an apologist for Bush in class the other day. Or, at least, I did what I think was probably a pretty convincing job of presenting both sides of the case and contextualizing his viewpoint in a reasonably neutral way.

See, we've been talking, off and on, about how the events of the Crusades might shed some light on what's been going on in the Middle East ever since and how some of the attitudes and ideas we're encountering seem to parallel those in operation now. So I've been working very hard to make sure that I present balanced points of view and don't let any one political opinion appear to be the "orthodox" one. I think my students have been a bit surprised not to hear me parroting a party line back at them and instantly rewarding a liberal viewpoint with the verbal equivalent of high-fives. I'm not instantly congratulating students for condemning Bush or ranting about the war: I'm challenging them to justify their ideas and think about counter-arguments. And I actually came down a bit on a student today who was being anti-military to the extent of criticizing soldiers for "complaining" about the rigors of service. A few jaws dropped.

I'm mostly motivated by a sense of fairness and a desire for a real exchange of ideas. But it's also just kinda fun to mess with people's heads, especially when they clearly think they've got you figured out.

Some things about the recent discussion problems seem to have straightened themselves out a bit today, probably thanks in large part to my forcing the students to ask me questions via the LiveJournal discussion board I set up for them. This class has been more reluctant to ask for clarification than any I can remember: they'll just sit there and smile at me like so many Mona Lisas when I ask for questions, and then they'll bitch to the tutor or other instructors or each other that they don't know what's going on. Soooo frustrating.

So I told them that their LiveJournal assignment this week was to ask me a question, and the floodgates opened. I guess they're more comfortable typing in their questions when they can't actually see me for some reason, 'cause there sure were a lot of questions on the board when I checked it last night. I stayed up late composing very thorough replies, which apparently cleared many things up for them and convinced them that I wasn't nuts and I really did think about their reading assignments and essay prompts before I made them. They also seemed to understand better that (1) I don't expect them to have it "all figured out" when they come to class, (2) that discussion is meant for hashing out ideas, and (3) that I won't regard questions as a challenge to my authority. So there was much more animated conversation today, which was a real improvement.

I am still, however, having some difficulties with people (especially one little fraternity of guys) who want to have side conversations in class, regardless of whether I'm talking or there's a group discussion underway. I started calling them on it a bit more assertively today; if it doesn't stop tomorrow, I intend to get downright confrontational. But I figured tackling one set of discussion issues at a time was enough for one day.

I still feel jumpy and over-sensitive: as if my skin's been put on backward somehow. This makes it really hard to be patient with a room full of students who're tired, cranky, and almost hopelessly distracted by the promise of a three-day weekend.

When I came in today, one of the early arrivals had drawn a mural of drunken partying--complete with names of people in the class written in over various figures--covering the blackboards on one entire side of the classroom and the label "SPRING BREAK" across the top. I guess that was meant to be a presage of things to come: they've apparently decided that Labor Day Weekend is going to be their chance to really break in the college partying lifestyle. I had to bite back a desire to wag my finger at their immaturity and tell them that they really can't afford to party all weekend, with so many deadlines looming next week. But then I decided they'd figure it out for themselves down the line, anyway. Vomiting into a toilet bowl at 4am and trying to write a paper draft during a raging hangover will probably teach them the lesson better than any schoolmarmish lectures from me would.