Warning: this post may be less restrained than some (and I might even swear). I'm not unhappy, just in a kind of ornery mood. (It might be because I'm sitting here in my sweat. I went running at the Rose Bowl tonight for over an hour, came home and found that a water main had broken up the street. No shower for me. If it isn't fixed soon, I'll have to make a late night trip to the gym in order to bathe.)
Today, we had our monthly noon Social Sciences Division faculty meeting. As usual, I stayed quiet, though I perked up a bit during a brief discussion of the new Internet filters. (All of my colleagues are adamantly opposed.)
But then we launched into another discussion about creating "smart classrooms." This has nothing to do with real teaching, mind you. A "smart classroom" is one filled with all sorts of technological gizmos: DVD players, wireless Internet access, various modern projectors, and lots of something called Power Point. I am now convinced I am the only tenured professor in America under 40 who has no idea what Power Point is. To me, it sounds like a basketball term (wasn't Magic Johnson kind of a "power point" guard at 6'9"?). Anyhow, my colleagues all seem to be busy showing videos (or DVDs) and creating fancy Power Point projects for their classes. It all sounds dreadfully dull, and I'm just not interested.
I show -- maybe -- one or two videos a year. When I first started teaching, I showed a lot of them -- largely because I was afraid I wouldn't have enough to say. Now, God help me and my students, I have plenty to say. I know damn well that my students spend enough time interacting with technology outside school; the last thing they need is to sit mutely in front of a TV screen. I'm not saying that videos don't have their place -- in an art history class, I would imagine that they would be essential, but too often I think they (and all the other fancy-shmancy stuff) are just cover-ups for mediocre teaching.
I am sick and tired of having folks with doctorates in education (Lord help us) tell me that "lecturing is an outdated teaching style." Well, it's still a damned effective teaching style if it's done well. I put a lot of time and energy into crafting articulate, interesting, lectures, largely because I believe that for most students, it remains the most effective and memorable way to learn. I do invite discussion and debate in some of my classes, and I welcome questions -- but I cling tenaciously to the old-school notion that my job is to be an interesting, compelling, and provocative deliverer of information. (And along the way, raise up young feminists and pro-feminists.)
The content of the information varies: today, at 8:50AM, I lectured on the 20th century drop in age of menarche (from over 16 to under 12), and its impact on American girlhood. At 10:25, I lectured on the concept of arete and the relationship between Hector and Andromache. And at 1:00PM, it was time for Charles II, James II, and the Glorious Revolution. (Ya gotta love the community colleges with the breadth and diversity of the teaching loads!) Especially with the first topic, I invited questions and discussion. It's vital that mine not be the only voice heard in the classroom, especially in the gender studies courses. But though it was an interactive forum, mine was still the dominant voice. I'm not ashamed of that, though from the sort of exasperating edu-speak I hear from some of my well-meaning colleagues, I am apparently hopelessly out-of-date.
One thing that would improve college teaching immensely would be mandatory drama and speech classes for all new faculty. Forget the expensive technology. Teach them how to use their voices, how to modulate their tones, how to string together an exciting narrative without notes. Teach them to make the passion that is surely inside them manifest in their words and in their movements. Teach them the forgotten art of the genuinely engaging lecture. Twelve years of college teaching (and over 120 classes taught in that time), as well as thousands of student evaluations, have made it clear to me that students really prefer a professor who is willing to bring his passion and energy into the classroom.
This is not to say that good teachers can't be both great lecturers and skilled employers of the latest technology. I have a few colleagues -- a very few -- whom I know to be both. But I do know that the college culture is one where innovation and novelty tend to be prized more than the ability to teach effectively using the same methods used for centuries. No one writes grants to get money to teach professors how to tell good stories using their memories and their voices alone. I think that's a pity. I, as the son and grandson of teachers, delight in knowing that I use little or nothing that those who came before me would not have used. I take inordinate, perhaps excessive, pride in that.
I expect to spend another 25 years teaching, perhaps more. I am always interested in developing new classes and discussing new ideas. But I have yet to see the need to show many videos, or to have a smart classroom, or to put up Power Point whatevers for my students. Don't wire my classroom. Give me a cup of coffee, put chalk in my hand, put me in front of a blackboard, and let me do my damn job.
UPDATE: I'm not going to delete any of this rant (what else is a blog for if not ranting), but I do want to apologize to my readers who might have Ed.D degrees. I am sure there are many lovely, thoughtful, interesting people out there with those letters after their name -- I just have not had the good fortune to yet meet any.
And the water is running. Hugo can bathe. Matilde's squeals of relief resound through the home.