by Paul Harvey
[warning: short but ill-tempered and rather off-topic rant to follow]
This is a brief, off-topic rant, -- as blog czar, I get to do that once a year or so, the rest of you, don't get any ideas -- just to get it off my chest before the school year starts and I resume my mind-numbingly time-consuming duties as "assessment coordinator" for my department (translation: gin up some "assessment numbers" from mid-term surveys and the like, so that the committee that oversees that at my university will leave our department alone and not throw yet more tedious make-work, errr . . . I mean assessment strategies, our way -- courtesy, ultimately if not completely, of Margaret Spellings and her crowd).
[side note: I'm not referring to the work done by the Carnegie Foundation for Teaching and Learning, or the like, just to be clear. I have read and learned much from the scholarship on teaching, that comes from such groups; the point here is the constant exhortation by experts to do what we do all the time anyway, in contrast to the silence on far more important subjects].
In sum, why are there so many workshops urging faculty to learn to teach better, and so few workshops urging universities to hire more regular faculty and dramatically improve the faculty-to-student ratio?
Many higher education bloggers and writers, Historiann included, publish and post regularly on the ongoing demise of tenure-track faculty, not at elite institutions but most everywhere else, as the adjunctification of higher education proceeds apace. There's the real scandal, not whether liberal arts professors should be denied hall passes because they haven't adopted clicker technology or "formative assessment questionnaires" yet.
Historiann's cri de coeur is in response to Homework for Profs: Perfect the Art of Teaching?, an article which advises us that "Liberal Arts educators “need to talk more about what and how we teach college students” so that we can “engag[e] 21st century college students in the kind of learning that will lead to success in life, work and citizenship.” Oh, yeah, dang, I've completely forgotten to do that almost every day of my professional life, guess I'll start doing it now.
And then, from the same piece : “[E]veryone’s teaching needs regular rejuvenation and context.” Hell, everyone needs someone to lean on, I guess; this author, however, needs a new sentence to lean on. "Everyone' teaching needs . . . context" is like saying "everyone's sink needs water."
I'll finish with Historiann's words of common sense:
I write this not as a skeptic of the value of thinking about pedagogy and of improving one’s teaching–but, and level with me, dear readers–isn’t that what we do all of the time, throughout the year, without going to workshops or special “colleges?” Isn’t this what we do, when we assign all or mostly new books to our classes each term, so that we can keep up with the current literature in our fields (and not incidentally, avoid boring ourselves with the same old readings)? Isn’t this what we do when reviewing previous drafts of lecture notes to see what’s outdated or less useful, and to add new material based on your current readings and research, or to speak to the specific themes we;re emphasizing in this or that semester? Aren’t we always adding new visual images, new ideas, and new slides to our PowerPoint lectures? Do any of us set out intentionally to bore our students to death? Do we enjoy being out-of-date and out-to-lunch in public?
I remember hearing about that legendary college professor who worked from yellowed note cards, or off of lecture notes on legal paper from the 1930s that hadn’t been revised since they were first drafted. Remember him? Me neither. I never met that guy or took his class–it was always someone’s brother’s roommate, or someone’s girlfriend’s sister who was in that class, and usually at another college or university. That professor is largely an urban legend, but “Centers for Teaching and Learning” are set up and funded to guard against him in universities across the country. (Do they also sponsor a “Center for Defense Against Unicorn Attack?”)
I feel better already! So now, back to American religious history.