Thursday, October 01, 2009

Lacking Imagination

We're working on a new way of doing general education here in the Northwoods. And on one level, the plan sounds really interesting. And I don't want to turn into a curmudgeon before I'm 50 (coming close, though).

But I'm having a hard time imagining how anything I teach will fit into this form of general education.

It's the same issue I tend to have when we talk about interdisciplinary teaching.

When I look in other areas of NWU, areas outside my department, I don't see much being taught that relates to what I teach and I'm having difficulty imagining how I fit. We don't have a British history person, much less an early modern European historian, or a medieval European historian. We don't have theater people who really like early modern theater. Our women's studies folks begin in the 19th century.

So when we talk about these general education and interdisciplinary teaching, and I mention my concerns, I'm told, "we have to be student centered about our teaching; you need to stretch."

Right now, I'm stretched in one class from classical Greece to the 20th century. I'm stretched in that class between two continents. In another class, I'm stretched into teaching about a local immigrant group because that's the text the department chose. It's not that any of these things are bad, but I'm pretty much stretched as far as I can be in my classes. In only one class am I teaching to my strengths.

The thing about stretching, is that I studied early modern drama because it's fascinating to me in ways that the 20th century just wasn't and isn't. Nor do I find the Romantics that fascinating, or graphic novels, or television. Those fields are plenty fascinating for people who are fascinated by them, but I'm not. I just lack the imagination to want to teach those areas.

I suppose I could take comfort in thinking that it will all work out in the years it will take to change the curriculum, and that I've got tenure and they're not going to fire me because I can't stretch so far. But mostly I'm upset because realizing how much I lack imagination makes me aware again of how limited my intellect is. And I'm tired.

(And I taught some Milton yesterday, so I was reminded of that pretty strongly then, too.)

(I wish the next person who tells me I should stretch got told s/he has to teach Milton next semester, because really, all s/he has to do is stretch a little, right?)


  1. I suppose what worries me is that there aren't more folks working in your area -- if you're the only one on campus discussing that time period, then there seems to be a serious gap. Perhaps some of the other folks need to expand their horizons?

  2. As an early modern british historian on a campus without a Ren lit person, I feel your pain. I want to say to people - -it really matters to study not just places far away, but places long ago.

    Did you follow the whole discussion of Judith Bennett's History Matters at Notorious, Historiann, Tenured Radical & ADM last spring? It's relevant to this discussion.

  3. Anonymous5:36 AM

    Why is it that early modern scholars, from whatever discipline, are expected to stretch forward in time, but those 18th, 19th, and 20th c people aren't expected to stretch backwards?

  4. I was just thinking that -- why can't the other scholars stretch a bit?

    And also: when did "student-centered" come to mean "not teaching students what they need to know because they might not claim to find it interesting right at first"?

  5. (Not to mention having to stretch to teach composition....)

  6. I cover 5500+ years of history in my teaching so I hear your pain! But at least I do have two colleagues in literature who're right in my century so I don`t feel so alone.

    However, other scholars' definition of stretch is often quite interesting. I couldn't contain myself when my modern British counterpart called to split the term-long modern British survey (1714-present) into two term-long versions. Because no one can cover 300 years in one course!

    I laughed myself silly at that, I did.