Friday, September 24, 2010
One of my professor friends sent me an email last night. “How did it go?” I wrote back: “Did I have a glazed look when we met outside? Were my eyes rolled backwards?”
Oh, was I wired Wednesday morning! I’d just got out of the 8:30 class, and with only 3 1/2 hours of sleep. We met outside Wiekamp Hall at IU South Bend, fleeing the building as the loudest fire alarm in the world sounded a drill.
His question was, in long form, “how did your first day of solo teaching go?” Under the auspices of one of the real pros at IUSB, I taught two classes in early American history at IU South Bend this morning. Flying solo with the flight instructor in the co-pilot’s seat.
I think it went well, considering. I tried to over-prepare, I had a good PowerPoint with all sorts of interesting pictures and stuff, a good song, and I had plenty of fun interacting with the students by means of four short primary documents that we turned into mini-debates at the beginning of class. Tell you what, though, I didn’t have enough time to cover both the concept it was my privilege to elucidate--the hardening of the concept of race and the birth of racism with Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676--and the fact situations of a dozen other acts of violence all over the colonies during that 70-odd year period ending about 1720. Was this the sort of class where it was more important to fly over the fact situations and dwell on the underlining meaning?
I think so. Wars during that time had predictable outcomes: Ultimately, with both sides dependent on the same technology, the whites would win--guns wear out and the Indians didn’t have the blacksmith shops—being on the run, so to speak. So when the guns wore out it was “curtains.” What I was not prepared for was the retaliation of the colonists. A couple of authors I read posited that a hundred years of suppression of the Irish had taught the English inhuman savagery, and knowing Irish history I think they were on the mark. The Irish were “subhuman” before the colonial elite handed that qualification to the blacks.
I sure was a “beginner”! I wasn’t nervous about being alone in front of all those people--I’ve done that many times, though never with those precise things to say. The best of my musical presentations have a lot in common with this morning: that is, putting across concepts and elucidating ideas in as fun and illuminating a way possible. People have paid good money to see me do what I do; that wasn’t new, although truthfully most of the “teachable moments” in my musical past have been gigs I’ve done for free--and what did the sage say about the worth of “free advice”?
But this morning was different. This was me, Mr. novice MLS guy, in front of a classroom, with my ultimate motivation to light the lamp of history and turn students into uneasy, uncomfortable skeptics about how even they, far from being the sons and daughters of the elite, arrived in that classroom in the top 5% income bracket for the world.
If that “veteran” acquiesces in turning me lose on a classroom in January I guess I’ll know something, but even today was a big responsibility—teaching a seminal incident in the history of this country, the most important event/concept arising during the painful parturition of the nation, and I the one to do it.