And now for another entry in my ever-continuing series "Posts That, If Read by the Wrong People, Could Get Me in Trouble or Possibly Fired."
As I've mentioned before, this semester I'm teaching for someone I'm calling Spousal Hire. At first, it was just an amusing bastardization of academia, something to while away the time while I did my own work, a kind of "Don't Let This Happen to You" guide for educators.
Now, however, my heart is full of hatred; gone is all kindness and charity from my mind, and my soul knows no pity except for the deterioration of my own brain cells. Twice a week, my mind is filled with error, inanity, and the ever-mounting horror that my students might actually think this is what an English class should look like. And I am torn, torn by conflicting emotions. Half of me wants to throw down my books in disgust and storm out of the lecture hall. The other half of me just wants to smash SH's face in. With a brick. Or, barring that, a jagged rock. But preferably a brick.
Back at the beginning of the semester, I handed out a guide to close reading for my students. Looking it over the night before, I realized I had to edit out the first sentence. That sentence? "As we have been practicing in lecture and discussion, the way we are accessing the texts in this class is through the practice of close-reading." Because, dear reader, it simply wasn't true. In fact, looking back, I'm fairly certain that we've never modeled close reading in lecture. Discussion, sure, but not lecture. You see, there are two typical SH lecture models:
Model One: The Intro Model
This model is appropriate for introducing a new text, or a new artistic movement. It will largely involve 40 minutes of historical context (often wrong or inappropriate), vague generalizations about artistic and aesthetic movements (sometimes wrong), and the examination of various pieces of visual artwork that may or may not actually apply to the historical period we are introducing. With the last ten minutes, we will discuss biographical information about the author, and maybe introduce one or two key topics that we will never actually explore.
Model Two: The Continuation Model
This model applies to every non-intro lecture. Here, we will offer generalizations about the text, often of an intellectual rigor akin to Sparknotes. These will very rarely ever be in the form of an arguable point; instead, they will be blanket statements and observations that might serve as the intriguing foundations of argument, if they were to be explored further. And, in the rare occasions that these are interesting claims, they will never be matched with evidence from the text to make these points clear. To be sure, SH does bring in the text quite often. Most of the time, this involves the reading of large chunks of text at once, or the quick hopping from quote to quote, rarely in service of any kind of point. Also included in this model are further historical digressions, repetition of previous historical or aesthetic discussions, and other aesthetic concepts that, while true and important, are seldom connected to the text in any meaningful way. Almost as if trying to prove that SH did indeed go to grad school and can talk the talk with the rest of us.
At first I found this rather charming. Then came last Thursday, when be began our discussion of Shmigh Shmodernism (I am altering the terms slightly so my students won't find these by googling them in order to learn what the heck we've been talking about). For this class, the students were assigned some of the most difficult Schmodernist poetry, including "The Schlove Schong of J. Schalfred Shprufshok," "The Shwaste Shland," four poems by Shrobert Schrost, two poems by Shamy Showell, two poems by Schwallace Shtevens, three Schedward Shrobinson poems, and four sh. sh. shcummings poems. All of that, in one day. One day. I'll say it again, because it infuriates me so. One day. I wouldn't wish that on my worst foe.
And what did we do in that one day? Well, see Model One. And how much time did we spend on any of the poetry itself? Six minutes.
Six minutes. Six mind-boggling, biography-filled, sparknotes-quoting minutes to understand perhaps the singlemost famous and one of the most complex poems of the 20th century. Which, of course, led me to playing massive triage in section, trying desperately to teach the WL to my uncomprehending students. I often lament the limits of the time we have to teach in section, but then I rationalize it by saying the important things are what we cover in lecture. But now, I feel like they aren't getting anything but my sections. And since I actually care that my students learn something, I am full of rage at the gross bastardization of their education. Seriously. I leave every class full of rage. And amusement, of course. But mostly rage.
Some things I've learned in lecture so far:
-It's bad to be a professor and leave your cell phone on. It's worse to not turn it off and just let it keep ringing during your lecture.
-You can give three lectures on Naturalism and its importance in American Literature, without ever mentioning Theodore Dreiser.
-The Renaissance was a period from about 1400-1650. This was going on simultaneously in Europe and America.
-The Romance, as an aesthetic literary genre, most often involves the successful marriage of two lovers. It's modern counterpart is the romantic comedy.
-In 1918, Russia and other nations underwent Communist revolutions.
-Fighting these Communists was one of the aims of America in World War I.
-The Immigration Act of 1924 had something to do with Shmigh Shmodernism. As it has so very much to do with the plight of immigrants.
-The American Civil War began in 1862.
-In 1937, the Nazi's invaded Spain during World War II.
-Always spell-check your outline and compare it with the text, lest you repeatedly misspell the name of one of the key characters.
-Don't misquote Macbeth. Particularly when the title of your text comes from that quote. "Signifying nothing", not "meaning nothing."
-It is embarassing when a student stumps you with a question about the plot of the text.
-It is even worse when you misremember a key scene of the novel and misinterpret it in front of the entire lecture.
-It's quite funny when a student interrupts your long and pointless historical digression to ask you a question about the plot.
-It's hilarious for the TA when a student, in office hours, claims that the text is more complicated than the instructor's interpretation of it.
-If you're six weeks into the semester and your TAs still haven't gotten their desk copies, you might want to check into that.
-When scheduling the first paper, it is always a bad thing to offer the student only one choice of texts to write on. It's even worse for the TA, because then he or she has to grade between 37-80 papers on the same text.
-It's even worse when you only offer one possible prompt to write on, thus ensuring 37-80 papers on the same topic.
-It's even worse when this prompt is poorly written and confusing.
-It's even worse when you couple all of these things with a lecture that contains no close reading and no argument, because then your TAs will have to read 37-80 papers on the same topic, the same text, and all with no argument or close reading.
So pray for Dubs, gentle readers. Tomorrow we continue our three-lecture exploration of Shfaulkner's The Schound and the Shury. In lecture one we didn't even open the book. I can't wait to see what happens tomorrow.