Looking Back/Looking Forward: Teaching

As we enter 2009 -- and before I get lost once again in the maze of a busy academic schedule -- I thought I'd post a few items on the projects I completed this fall and the projects that are up for the spring semester.

Teaching [will] need to be more boldly political than now, not less. And more seriously historical: things used to be different. They will be different again. -- "Introduction Radical Teaching Now", Radical Teacher #83

As with my internship at Northeastern (see below), I will be continuing my work as a teaching assistant for Professor Stephen Ortega in the Simmons history department this spring. Steve teaches Middle Eastern, Islamic and World history; I will be helping with the second half of the World Civilizations course we began in the fall. The autumn class ran from hunter-gatherer societies to the age of exploration (15th century), and this second semester we will pick up in the 1400s and continue on to the present day.

It was timely, therefore, to receive my most recent issue of Radical Teacher in the mail this past week, and find Peter Vickery's essay "Progressive Pedagogy in the U.S. History Survey" inside. Vickery describes teaching a U.S. History survey course at a state college, to students for whom the class is a requirement, and many of whom are skeptical about the relevance of history -- not to mention their own ability to actively participate in its creation. He writes:

In addition to skepticism, my students encounter an ongoing tension, namely the apparent contradiction between a key goal (finding out what actually happened and why) and a key lesson (history is constructed by historians). Far from being a source of despair or frustration, in my own mind the tension is integral to the joy of history. Learning and re-learning on the one hand the boundaries of possibility that inhere in the study and production of history and, on the other, the power of narrative, keeps history a stimulating field of endeavor.

Yet it can be difficult to convey the joy of that contradiction to students who are distracted and suspicious of the worth of such an open-ended quest. We'll see what happens this spring!

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