Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ready to Teach

Enrollment was last Wednesday and classes started on Thursday with a day off for MLK Day yesterday. That means I see my first F2F students on Monday. This morning I woke up ready to teach - all kinds of ideas swirling in my head about how to approach the new semester. I have a course release to work on a book project and am doing the usual teaching one class online, Modern America, 1912-41, and supervising student teachers. The latter varies from 3 students in nearby towns to 15 that may be spread around 250 miles in two directions. (I don't mind being dragged to Kansas City, though . . . )

My F2F class is Modern America, 1941-1968. I took a different approach to the narrative text and made it optional since they can also utilize a survey text from a previous class to get the background. Hopefully that means less complaining about textbook costs - which I find difficult given that if I require a text, they use it and are tested on it. Winkler's Homefront USA from Harlan Davidson, a nice compact discussion of the topic, is one of the other texts along with Lizabeth Cohen's Consumer's Republic. It's my first time using Cohen and I've already found the graduate student notes that summarize it in 3 pages that shows up on the first page of a Google search. Wonder how long it will take students to find that. But, forewarned is forearmed.

Another facet of the class will be studying Jack Kerouac's On the Road. I think it's important that students read some of the literature of the period so that they better understand it. in the past, I've used Peyton Place for this class but it's not longer available for the last publisher and I don't want to encourage the used book market. Plus, I can still show the Peyton Place film and accomplish some of the same results in student learning. What always amazed me about using Peyton Place was how the men enjoyed reading it. And, of course, a "banned book" is such a foreign concept in today's culture.

The anniversary of the publication of On the Road was one motivation to use it along with my visiting a Kerouac exhibit in Lowell, MA, when we had teachers there to tour the mills last summer. Getting to view the scroll of On the Road was interesting as well as the modern exhibit interpreting his life. This was in contrast to the Lowell exhibits that are in need of updating once they get more funding - the machinery was intriguing but not anything I hadn't seen before.

I found a book in our university library about the "women in black" - the females who have often been overlooked in regard to their contribution to the Beats - not only psychologically and physically supporting the men when they weren't doing so for each other but their actual artistic contributions. So it should be a fun exploration for all of us.

One of the first things students will do is examine and debate the causes of World War II. That will be a good way to review how we arrived in 1941. And, of course, it's obvious to highlight the drama surrounding Pearl Harbor with some comparisons to what our intelligence services could tell us then and how we still have some of the same coordination problems in this century. The next challenge is how to "review" the New Deal without getting lost in that massive topic while emphasizing that World War II ended the Great Depression and not the New Deal. Taking a close look at FDR and Eleanor will also be fun.

The online Modern America, 1912-41, class will focus first on Woodrow Wilson as a person and as a president before we jump into World War I. In that course, students are reading Willa Cather's One of Ours. Cather spent a great deal of time just across our northern border - that's the Nebrasks she describes in her book and much of it isn't that different in psyche than the Kansas we know down here except that we are closer to larger population centers - especially in modern times.

Another change I made this semester is just having the graduate students write the analytical papers over the Major Problems texts from Houghton Mifflin. By confining it to that group, I can expect a higher level of achievement given that they are supposed to be surrounding by historiography and not just being introduced to it.

Here we go . . . . .

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