Sunday, June 19, 2011
Even sweeter is that I get to talk about a subject I love at work. While other people must slave over a hot grill making food, deal with irritable customers in food and retail service, and perform manual labor, I talk about history, a topic I adore. What could be better?
Well, there's a problem. The people I teach either know little to nothing about my subject or don't care to know more and are only there to fulfill a 3 credit requirement in humanities. They take my class because it's the least of all evils among the humanities, which also include literature (which they hate because they think it's all about reading), philosophy (which is over their heads), and religious studies (which they couldn't care less about). So history it is.
I have a pretty bad reputation for being a hard ass on my campus. I guess technically, the students aren't wrong if you take into consideration that they've never been made to do much of anything before reaching college. I make them read the book. Blasphemy, you say! Read the book? You bitch! Yes, they must read the book, and I include questions on the test related to the book. In fact, you won't pass a test in my class if you don't read the book since on average 35% of the test is related to the textbook. However, since so many of them can't understand the book since they've rarely been required to read for knowledge and have only been forced to read for testing, this is a huge undertaking for those students. (Yes, I know the question on your mind is: What the hell are they doing in college? I know.)
I also require students to attend class and take notes. I tell them the first day of class that just because they paid tuition doesn't mean they can just blow off the class. $ doesn't = passing. I like to explain it this way. Think of tuition like a cover charge to a bar. Do you expect to succeed once you're in the bar just because you paid to get in? No. Tuition is just like that. Then when you get in the bar, you buy drinks. Books are like drinks. But do you get the man or woman of your dreams to go home with you just by paying to get in and buying drinks? No. You must do some work to get them. Classes are just like that hot guy or girl. They take some work to get what you want.
But my job is made almost impossible by the way history is taught in high schools in this country. I can be funny, smart, know my subject inside and out, but when I'm dealing with students who have never had to take their own notes because teachers always printed them out for them and don't understand that you must think to understand a subject because they've been spoon-fed all their lives, my job becomes a chore.
Here's an example: One of my students recently got a question on a quiz (open book, mind you) wrong because he didn't seem to understand that when the book stated that the Russian Civil War was occurring and Wilson sent troops to help the White army in that war, we had troops participating in the war. The book never said those exact words, but it's expected that students would understand the troops were fighting in the Russian Civil War. But because of what I think was loosey-goosey teaching by his high school teachers that encouraged the total bullshit mantra of question everything, he wants me to give him the points for that question because the book never truly said the troops were fighting. Of course, this question is also influenced by the way our government and media present what troops are doing to the rest of us so many Americans actually believe you can have troops somewhere a war is occurring and they wouldn't be fighting. The combination of this media/government propaganda about war and this student's subpar high school history instruction has lead to him thinking he knows a great deal where in reality he knows little.
He claims it's the book's fault. It's not clear.
Okay, so this isn't a little rant anymore. My bad. But the finest American historian we have today, David McCullough, is in the Wall Street Journal today talking about the failing of teaching history in this country. Take a look for an insightful discussion about history and the way it's presented to the generation which will someday lead this country.
I'll leave you with the wonderful harmonies of Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon, and sweet baby James Taylor (he's the low voice) in Wonderful World. This was when music was something more than what you looked like (no picking on poor Art! LOL). You can look like that when you have a voice like an angel.
at 1:55 PM