Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Teaching Post-Spring Break

Here's why I don't like Spring Semester: Spring Break.

Also Conferences.

It may not work this way everywhere in the world, but at the universities I have taught at, we go to conferences in the Spring, and we have Spring Break. What this means is that just when we have gotten our classes off the ground, and everything is cooking, we are slammed with midterms, and BAM, after midterm, a week off (don't mistake me, I loved that week off, I wrote nine hours a day, it was bliss), and just after that -- for me, anyway, and several of us here -- conferences.

I'm going to the CEA. Other professors, other conferences. We can leave students things to do, or find guest speakers, but it's not the same, it disrupts the semester, and by the time I get back, it's almost May. The semester's winding down. We're moving in on Finals, and the students already have their heads out the door.


All by way of saying I'm in a snarly mood these days.

I gave my freshmen Natalie Angier's essay on why she is raising her daughter as an atheist ("Atheism and Children," published by the Center For Inquiry sometime last year I think -- this link has the whole thing pasted in: and ai were they furious. Mainly they were furious that she was "doing that" to her helpless eight year old.

It's a class in argument -- we're working on Rogerian argument right now, which was why I gave them this essay, not just to piss them off. So I asked them why they thought Angier was an atheist.

"Probably raised that way," one said.

"Um, well," I said. "Maybe. But not likely. Any other ideas."

They're sulled up. They want me to tell them she's evil for raising her kid like this. Which I'm not going to do, they can see that. So they aren't saying a thing.

"She rebelled," said one of the cooperative middle-aged women. "Grew up and rebelled against her teaching."

"All right," I said. "Or?"

Those were the only answers they could think of, though.

I went over the rules for Rogerian argument again. How if they had to learn to think like the opposition. About common ground. How they can't just dismiss Angier, say she's evil, they have to pretend they believe, even if they don't believe this, that she's as well-intentioned and as intelligent as they are. Blah blah blah.

Today we're doing Curtis White's essay, the one from the current Harper's, "The Spirit of Disobedience," which, hah, if you haven't read that one, I can't wait. I'm not sure I'm persuaded by White, but I do know it's going to annoy them even more than Angier.

White says -- among other things -- that the true religion of America is neither Christianity nor Enlightenment values, but Capitalism; he says that we should, like Thoreau back there during slavery and the Mexican war, refuse to support a government that is doing evil things in our name; and he says that we should reject the culture of Capitalism.

His point: "If the work we do produces mostly bad, ugly, and destructive things, those things in turn will tend to recreate us in their image."

And this I find hard to disagree with.

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