THIS JUST IN: Distracted students are distracted! Also: sometimes there are things that distract students! And we all know what to do with things that might potentially distract students: BAN THEM! At least that’s what we’re told by the avatars of pedagogical wisdom populating the comment threads below any article talking about students’ use of technology in the classroom.
There are facts, and there are historical facts, E.H. Carr reminded us years ago. Fact: lots of people crossed the Rubicon. Historical fact: Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BCE. A fact is embedded within a historical context–or set of contexts–that gives it historical significance and meaning. So when does a plain old “fact” rise to the level of “historical fact?” The short answer: when a historian decides it does. The fact and its context acquire historical meaning in retrospect, as they are recovered, interpreted, and presented by the historian. Caesar crossing the Rubicon is important if you care about Caesar and the developments with Rome that came out of his decision to move south out of the alps. Facts happened. Historical facts happened, but then someone asked of them, “so what?” That’s it, and that’s all.
Continue reading “Objective History is Impossible. And That’s a Fact.”
As the Spring semester is drawing to a close, and me and my students are
staggering moving closer to the finish line, I’ve witnessed some serious cases of the fuck-its break out, and spread like wildfire until it’s a virtual pandemic. From one or two students who bailed on the reading to half the class skipping out on a Friday to OMFG WHERE IS EVERYONE, this dread malady can have tragic consequences for once-promising academic trajectories. And it can be deadly for even the most nobly-intended class plans as well:
Few things are as lame as the discussion where 3/12 did the reading. More stammering, awkward pauses, & downcast eyes than an 8th grade prom
— Kevin Gannon (@TheTattooedProf) April 18, 2016
My first post as a Contributor to the Teaching US History blog is up today. In it, I ruminate a bit on our love-hate relationship with the survey course, and think about what it means to be “historically literate”:
Leave aside for the moment the fact that merely putting material in front of students is no way to guarantee learning, and consider that no other discipline makes this type of claim about their survey course. My colleagues in the Psychology Department don’t say that PSYC 101 renders a student proficient enough to become a therapist. Biology 101 isn’t sold as the only course one needs before they can operate on someone. I can’t take Geology 101 and expect the USGS to let me come along when their team goes down into the volcano’s caldera (alas). But somehow the history survey renders a student perfectly conversant–nay, intimately familiar with–US History? That’s absurd, and we need to stop presenting–and defending–the US survey this way
For the rest, head over to teachingushistory.co and check it out. While you’re there, if you’re not familiar with the blog, take some time to browse around. There’s really good stuff there from a lot of really interesting and cool contributors. Thanks to the editorial staff for letting me join the merry band of teaching historians!
In the first semester of my freshman year, twenty-five years ago (!), I took an intro to public communications class where one of the assignments was to deliver an effective persuasive speech on a current and controversial topic. Someone had gotten me a gift subscription to Insight magazine when I went to college; more conservative and less highbrow than US News and World Report, it was a poor source for research, but it had two virtues Freshman Me appreciated–it was free, and it was readily available(in my dorm room as opposed to all the way across campus in the library). That week’s issue was a SPECIAL REPORT on “P.C. Run Amok.” Boom. Speech topic. I would declaim–nay, hold forth like modern-day Demosthenes–on the “scourge of political correctness” currently prevalent on college campuses. I don’t remember much about my “research,” other than quoting Donald Kagan a lot (YALE. SMART GUY), and I’m quite sure my speech was that special type of bombastic, sanctimonious, faux-outraged crap that only a clueless white boy could muster up. Like a lot of things (read: most of them) from my freshman year, I’d like to pretend that this never happened. Yet it did. And I’ll own it, if only as a benchmark to assess how much higher education has done for me since. Continue reading ““PC Culture” isn’t Killing Higher Ed (But Your Crappy Op-Eds Might Be)”
In the pre-Civil War United States, there was a burgeoning literature and rhetoric that sang the praises of chattel slavery with increasing gusto in response to the abolitionist critique that also flourished in those years. These defenders (almost all of them southern whites) of enslaving African Americans resorted to the argument that slavery was a “positive good,” a benefit to both slave and master. Indeed, they contended, it was the very sheet anchor of social harmony in the moonlight-and-magnolias Old South. The childlike, inferior slave needed the structure and paternalistic care of a kind but stern master to survive in the modern world. These arguments, of course, were laughably absurd both then and now. But it gave the increasingly desperate defenders of an increasingly untenable worldview the comfort and assurance they needed to submerge their anxieties. Abraham Lincoln, with his usual trenchant wit, saw right through this proslavery charade, noting that “although volume upon volume is written to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it, by being a slave himself.”* Continue reading “Punting on Higher-Ed Reform; or, Austerity is For Other People”