Teaching Archives

April 08, 2006

Multiculturalism and Idealism

Blog it to get it out of my head.

I was reading Diane Ravitch's book The Language Police, well skimming it really, and I was struck by something she said about history and history standards.

As she presents them, the history standards that Gary Nash and the crew at UCLA put together for the National Council on History in the Schools are built around cultural equivalence. They open with the paradigm of "three worlds meet" and explain how Native American, African, and European people and beliefs all became part of the new nation. This, sez Ravitch, is a very good way to approach the history of the various people who lived and live in North America, and if that is what we mean by the History of the United States then it will do.

But, she argues, what if the history we want to teach is the history of the ideas that formed the nation. Those ideas did not grow directly out of North America or Africa, but instead grew out of the European Enlightenment and English common law. If we are teaching the history of the nation-state, then shouldn't we give primary focus on the history of the ideas that formed the nation state?

I am writing a high school history course - part of why the blogging has slowed down is that I feel restrained when talking about collaborative work while I will write endlessly about my own personal work. But, I think I can break the academical wall of silence on this one because I am blogging away at a background issue.

I decided to follow the NCHS standards and to start my class with the three worlds meet paradigm. And yet, I have as one of the stated goals of the course, that we will be teaching critical citizenship - the goal is that students will understand the ideals of the American nation so well that they will use those ideals to judge past, present and future people and leaders against those American ideals. An ambitious goal, I admit, but you gotta aim for something.

What Ravitch misses in her op-ed style dichotomy between cultural equivalency and the history of the nation state is that these ideals never existed in a vacuum. They were accepted and articulated by particular people in particular places and then used to help them solve particular problems. And, as these ideas were used and phrased, they had consequences. People from other backgrounds encountered these ideas, adopted them, and used them themselves.

Furthermore, accepting that there the people who form the United States came from three continents and many nations and languages in each continent, does not mean that all have had exactly the same and equal impact on the nature and future of the nation. Far from it. Ideals are tied into power, and power is never equally distributed. When we examine the spread of ideas and ideals, we are examining the actions of particular people, and the consequences of those actions across power boundaries. George Washington warned that the British Empire was planning to reduce the American colonies to the status of "the Blacks we Rule over with such arbitrary Sway." Washington later advertised for the slaves who had run away from his plantation to promised freedom with the British Army. In both cases, Washington was using the language of liberty and power, expressing enlightenment ideals, and mediating between people and customs from many different groups.

That was incoherent - which makes sense because this blog post is a brain dump before I get back to work on how to write about these things without getting caught up in answering Ravitch. The point I am groping toward is that we need to remember that
1, people came from many different cultures, continents, and backgrounds.
2, the nation of the United States is unusual because its founding documents are grounded in the language of enlightenment radicalism and British country politics.
3, this language and these ideals have never existed in a vacuum, but have always been internalized and expressed by particular people
4, particular people mediate their language and ideals across unequal power boundaries, creating a middle ground of mutual accommodation but creating it in a way that favors the people who hold power.

If I can keep that tension between multiculturalism and the ideological basis of the American experiment going, I think I might just create a pretty darn good history class.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:32 AM | TrackBack

September 13, 2005

Resume out-take

I have not been teaching this semester - you may have noticed the silences on the blog.

I decided that adjunct teaching did not pay well enough for the time that it took, and so I went looking for a straight job. Nothing yet, but I am still looking.

I have to wonder how many of the first twenty or fourty jobs I applied to were lost because my first couple of resumes were not so good. I rewrote the thing today so that it now emphasizes abilities and not previous employment. Excerpts below the fold. It still needs work, but it is much better than it was.

Areas of Effectiveness

Research. Used documents found in archives, law libraries, legislation, and newspapers to explain past actions. Expanded census data to create statistical models. Built biographical tracking database. Built econometric databases with data from BLS, BEA, USDA and other agencies. Organized large data-entry project for [previous employer].

Analysis. Created statistical model to estimate per capita productivity for two states over a sixty-year period. Explained cultural patterns during era of rapid social and economic change. Explained workings of federal and state government. Redesigned databases to extract more information. Created and ran SPSS models.

Writing. Created complex documents to explain historical change. Able to make ideas and procedures clear for the reader, from how to lift a barbell to how to sing in church to why the Supreme Court decided cases.

Presentation. Experienced lecturer and public speaker. Designed and maintained web pages. Taught undergraduates and college professors. Created functional front end for database.

Expert: Wordperfect, MS Access, MS Excel, HTML, Dreamweaver.
Experienced: MS Word, css, Cold Fusion, Adobe Photoshop, Powerpoint.
Familiar: SQL, SPSS. Pascal, rexx, PL1, Fortran, Aremos.
Hardware: Built own personal computer and installed home LAN.
Languages: Partially fluent in French.

Posted by Red Ted at 03:31 PM | TrackBack

April 08, 2005

Teaching and Social Norms

This one could easily have been titled "things the toddler taught me about teaching undergraduates," but that title would have raised expectations beyond this little post.

We were talking about the 1920s yesterday, and I chose to frame the decade using art in general and literature in specific to argue that it was an era of anxiety. So, we talked about Hemingway's "A Clean Well Lighted Place" and Mary Webb's With Affection and Esteem, then moved to a nice loose discussion about changes in class identity between the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. To the first approximation, 18th century class is defined by birth, 19th by behavior, 20th by consumption, with the qualifier that all three always matter. As Flea points out, you don't take your boyfriend to the job interview.

a graph showing births declining, behavior as an uneven bell curve, and consumption increasing steadily then going asymptotic

The transition between class defined as behavior and class defined as consumption came during the "modern" era - that moment between about 1885 and 1925. I used one of our short stories, Mary Webb's With Affection and Esteem as our transition. Read the short story, it is only about 1500 words and it is very good but sad.

I argued that one aspect of the story is that the landlady is coming out of the 19th century, with class, and worth, and meaning, defined by behavior and expectations. Myrtle Brown is a more modern woman, and wants to add worth and value and meaning to her life, to pay the debt of beauty that she feels owed, by engaging in an act of consumption - buying cut flowers.

So where does the toddler come in?

The slacker section had exactly two people read that short story. After pulling teeth for a while I gave up, decided that it was short, and spent 5 to 10 minutes of class time reading it out loud. I cry almost as easily as Dick Vermeil, and I choked up at the moment when she was buying her flowers and fulfilling her dream. But, since part of the toddler's bedtime ritual is to read three books, and since his second favorite toy after the Little People Schoolbus is the closest book, I have had a fair bit of practice at reading out loud.

Afterwards we had a pretty good discussion. The kids are not dumb, but they are overworked and a bit lazy.

Posted by Red Ted at 07:55 AM | TrackBack

March 29, 2005

Kipling is HARD

I gave the kids something that I thought would be both fairly easy to do and fairly challenging in terms of their preconceptions and assumptions. It was a good exercise, and I think I will use it again next year, but I was surprised at their reading abilities this time around.

I gave them three poems by Kipling: Gunga Din, Our Lady of the Snows, and White Man's Burden, with The Ballad of East and West as an optional reading, and then asked them to write 200 words on "how does Kipling use race?"

I learned all manner of new things from the students:
Gunga Din was an African American slave (not)
Our Lady of the Snows was a middle-class housewife taking advantage of Native Americans (not)
Kipling was a racist (depends on your definition of racist)
Kipling was a racialist (yep)
White Man's Burden was satire (one common reading, I disagree with it)
White Man's Burden was anti-colonial (as above)

Or, to be fair to the kids, what I learned was that Kipling is not as transparent as I thought he was, that American students have spent a lot of time reading anti-racist material focusing on American Negro Slavery, and that most of the kids did not take the time to read the poems carefully.

I think I might add a few words of guidance to the document web pages next time around. (The links above are to the exact version the kids got.) While I like the pedagogy of giving the kids a primary document and making them work out its place in context, most of the students are lazy/overworked, and I wonder if the average student would get more out of the assignment with a little more hand-holding.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:19 AM | TrackBack

March 23, 2005

Results of the Movie Assignment

Here are the results of the Movie Assignment I gave before Spring Break.

no movie: 15 - shame!
Casablanca: 12
Wizard of Oz: 9
Citizen Kane: 3 (watched together, and all fell asleep)
Modern Times: 2
Gone With the Wind: 2
It's a Wonderful Life: 2
Meet Me in St. Louis
Pride and Prejudice
Gunfight at the OK Corral
The Blue Angel (me)

The striking thing for me is that the two sections attacked the assignment very differently - I must have presented it differently without intending to. The first section watched old movies and then talked about the content of the movies. The second section was less likely to watch the movie and could only talk about the form of the movie - long cuts, less technical camera work, different acting styles.

I had talked up Casablanca when giving the assignment, so I am not surprised to see that a lot of people watched it. I was a little surprised to see just how popular Wizard of Oz was.

We spent a half an hour talking about what you see when you watch an older movie, and how you can use movies to explore both the self-conscious issues of the moment and the unconscious background assumptions - look at the language of cigarette smoking in Casablanca, for example, a sort of sign language that we have largely lost.

I ended up having to defer German Unification until Thursday, but if I did some cultural literacy then those half hours will have been well spent. Especially if the cultural literacy leads to future cultural literacy - if hearing the discussion of the movies their classmates watched, or having liked something they saw in the old movie, the kids go out and watch more of them. We will see - that is the sort of pedagogy that can take a couple of years before you know if the idea rally sunk in.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:17 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

I read weirder things than this on my box of breakfast cereal.

A couple of weeks ago I had the kids read the short story The Nose by Nikolai Gogol and then write me a one-page thing on the class identity of the characters.

Many of the kids thought the story was strange. One told me that this was the weirdest story she had ever read.

I gave into temptation, and wrote in the margin of her paper:

"then you need to read more."

But then, maybe I just like to read very weird things. I found "The Nose" to be a perfectly reasonable bit of surrealism. And I like surrealism.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:52 PM | TrackBack

March 21, 2005

The Movie Assignment

A week or so ago I blogged about assigning the kids a classic movie, any classic movie.

This is what I came up with - paraphrasing what I remember telling them. It comes with the added bonus of capturing my teaching rhythms.

The short version:
Watch a movie MADE before 1950
Be ready to talk about how the world that made that movie differs from our own.

I should have added, make it a movie that you have not seen before.

I plan to start class on Tuesday by listing the movies on the board and then spending about half an hour talking about them. I am watching The Blue Angel myself - never give a reading assignment you can't or won't do.

Choosing 1950 as the cutoff date removes a lot of Hollywood classics from the table. I already said no to someone who wanted to watch 1952 Singing in the Rain, yes to some movies made in 1950 exactly.

We have an extra assignment over spring break. It is not on the syllabus, so it can't form part of your grade, but we are sharing the assignment and anyone who does not take part will be publicly shamed [grin].

I want you to watch a movie. You can do that. But, it has to be a movie MADE before 1950. I have some suggestions - anything by Charlie Chaplin, anything by Buster Keaton, Casablanca, Citizen Kane but you can watch anything you want to.

We will talk about the movie on Tuesday. Look for any differences between the world that made that movie and the world that we live in today.

Let me point out a couple of things that you will almost certainly notice and that have more to do with the history of movies than with the changes in society.

First, movies made before about 1980 tend to be cut more slowly than movies made after MTV. They may take a minute or more for establishing shots - showing someone getting out of a car and walking up to a house while a modern movie will show them just walking in the door. This gives the older movies a slower feel - it might seem like it is podging along - but much of that feel is the difference in cutting styles.

Secondly, movies made after about 1977 have more and fancier special effects. Don't expect to see a lot of special effects, and expect the things you do see to be less than flashy by modern standards.

Thirdly, movies made before the gaming generation tend to have slightly different plot structures. The current pattern in movies, especially action movies, is to use the same basic plot as a video game. Our hero goes through various actions and events, all leading up to a one-on-one confrontation with the boss, ending when the hero murders the boss. Expect less violence, more story.

Now, lets get back to urban life in the early nineteenth century.

Posted by Red Ted at 07:50 AM | TrackBack

February 21, 2005

Grading with the Wiggles

It is paper grading time here at the house of RedTed. It is also daddy-day-care time. I can combine these two moments by putting on a kids video and letting the boys watch it while I struggle through a couple of student works. I call this Grading with The Wiggles, and it works fairly well.

Except, of course, for the inevitable earbugs. For the last two days I have had "yummy yummy / fruit salad" stuck in my head.

I am getting ready to eat a steak in self defense.

Posted by Red Ted at 06:54 AM | TrackBack

February 16, 2005

Cultural Literacy

I got two hours of sleep Monday night. Tuesday's class was goofy.

At various points during the French Revolution I referred both to Casablanca and Johnny Cash. The first was trying to remind them that the Marseillaise is the French National Anthem. The second was in reference to the politics of right and left.

Four out of seventy admitted to having ever seen Casablanca, none admitted to Johnny Cash. I might just bring the lyrics to "The One on the Right, Was On the Left" with me tomorrow.

Lyrics below the fold.

Oh, I got about six hours of sleep last night, from 9:30 to about 4:00 when the toddler got me up. No wonder I am being easily distractible today.

EDIT - I just printed out the English lyrics to the Marseillaise for the kids tomorrow. I knew they were bloody, but my goodness!

"The One On The Right Is On The Left"

There once was a musical troupe
A pickin' singin' folk group
They sang the mountain ballads
And the folk songs of our land

They were long on musical ability
Folks thought they would go far
But political incompatibility led to their downfall

Well, the one on the right was on the left
And the one in the middle was on the right
And the one on the left was in the middle
And the guy in the rear was a Methodist

This musical aggregation toured the entire nation
Singing the traditional ballads
And the folk songs of our land
They performed with great virtuosity
And soon they were the rage
But political animosity prevailed upon the stage

Well, the one on the right was on the left
And the one in the middle was on the right
And the one on the left was in the middle
And the guy in the rear burned his driver's license

Well the curtain had ascended
A hush fell on the crowd
As thousands there were gathered to hear The folk songs of our land
But they took their politics seriously
And that night at the concert hall
As the audience watched deliriously
They had a free-for-all

Well, the one on the right was on the bottom
And the one in the middle was on the top
And the one on the left got a broken arm
And the guy in the rear, said, "Oh dear"

Now this should be a lesson if you plan to start a folk group
Don't go mixin' politics with the folk songs of our land
Just work on harmony and diction
Play your banjo well
And if you have political convictions keep them to yourself

Now, the one on the left works in a bank
And the one in the middle drives a truck
The one on the right's an all-night deejay
And the guy in the rear got drafted

Posted by Red Ted at 01:38 PM | TrackBack

February 15, 2005

Some Weeks are too Easy . . .

Some Weeks are too Easy, and
Some Weeks are too Hard
And the Weeks that lead to papers
Leave the Students working hard
Just ask thesekids,
When their brains are charred

(apologies to Grace Slick)

Last week's assignment for the students was too easy. This week's work is too hard. I planned it that way, but it does not quite even out.

When I ordered books I decided that I did not have time to make a reader, that I really wanted to talk about Edmund Burke, and so I told the bookstore to fetch me Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, Tom Paine's Rights of Man, and Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front.. All are on the list of a dozen or so books that are always assigned to Western Civ. There are traditions to be maintained after all.

Then, while putting the syllabus together, I decided that I would go crazy without a steady diet of primary documents. So, I went ahead and made an electronic reader. It will need tweaking for next year, but it works fairly well.

Last week, the electronic reader consisted of two pictures, Beer Street and Gin Lane, and the assignment to write 200 words on "Why is Beer better than Gin?" for 1% of their total grade. I got a lot of pretty good answers, including the funny-but-true anachronism "because beer pong is better than gin pong."

This week they have to write me six to eight pages on Burke, Paine I and II, and Liberty, for 20% of their total grade. I expect some train wrecks. In fact, last week it became so clear that the kids were just not able to read Burke - something I had picked because I thought it was a nice easy read - that I broke my rule and talked about a reading before the kids wrote about it. I know that I will get a good fifty papers that simply repeat what I said in class. But a good twenty of those would have been total train wrecks without the help. I still expect to be reading Casey Jones this weekend, but the pileup should be smaller.

It appears that Burke is only easy if you:
- are used to reading long rambling arguments
- are comfortable with 18th and 19th century prose
- are familiar with discussions of liberty and the state
- like early modern political theory
- are familiar with Stuart England and quickly grasp the examples that Burke presents
- know the basics of the French revolution
- and can consider 100,000 words a short work.

The students qualify on none of these - even the smart kids were all at sea.

I think that next year I will have to pick between the electronic reader and the long Burke and Paine. In the US survey I have already decided to drop the monograph in favor of the reader and a novel (Uncle Tom's Cabin for the first half, The Autobiography of Malcolm X for the second half.) I suspect that the Ed and Tom show will not go into reruns at this particular institution.

Still, the two rough drafts that have come in so far show some promise . . .

Hope is not eternal; it lasts until you read the third student paper in the stack.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:49 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 14, 2005

Western Civ readings

Well, that took too long, but I have the class names and readings for Western Civ.

Now we get to see if I am over-powering the kids. There are a couple of truly evil weeks in there, and also a couple of weeks with nothing but a couple of cartoons.

The readings are long on dead white men, but I am using them to illustrate a theme of changing notions of state, society, and liberty over time - and most political theorists before the 20th century were white men. I would rather have the kids read Karl Marx than Rosa Luxembourg. List of classes and readings below the fold.


18, Tuesday - What is Europe? Where do we find it?
no reading

20, Thursday - It's Good to be the King
McKay Chapter 16, pp 531-548,
James I 581 words.
St. Simon on the court of Louis XIV 2,000 words.
Homework AAA, due Jan 20 "James I claims that kings are like gods. Respond to his claim."

25, Tuesday - Constitutionalism
McKay 16, pp 548-560.
Locke Excerpts, 4300 hard words.
Homework BBB, due Jan 25. "What is Locke's social contract?"

27, Thursday - Absolutism
McKay 17.


1, Tuesday - They Blinded Me With Science
McKay 18, pp 595-615

3, Thursday - Enlightened Monarchs?
McKay 18, 615-627 - close read Voltaire 626-7,
Rousseau Social Contract excerpts on the General Will 3650 words.
Homework CCC, due Feb 3 "What is the General Will?"

8, Tuesday - The Atlantic Economy
McKay 19,

10, Thursday - 18th Century Life
McKay 20,
Hogarth - Beer/Gin. 2 pictures and commentary
Optional: Hogarth - Idle/Industrious Prentices. 12 pictures and commentary
Homework DDD due Feb 10 "Why was beer better than gin?"

15, Tuesday - Liberty and Equality,
McKay 21, pp 691-704

17, Thursday - Generations, Burke and Paine,
PAPER 1 DUE Feb 17
Optional, Richard Price "A Discourse on the Love of our Country" 9,000 words.
Burke, "Reflections on the Revolution in France" 98,000 easy words.
Paine, "Rights of Man", Part I, 20,000 words
Part II, 14,000 words
"What is liberty? What threatens it? What defends it?"

22, Tuesday - Nappy Baby,
McKay 21, pp 704-723. Close reading of women, 722-3

24, Thursday - Industrial Revolution,
McKay 22. Close read parliamentary reports
Homework EEE due Feb 24, "How did industrialization change women's lives?"


1, Tuesday - MIDTERM
3, Thursday - Reforms and Revolutions,
McKay 23

8, Tuesday - Karl, not Groucho
Karl Marx Communist Manifesto, chapters 1, 4. 6,300 words.
Karl Marx 18th Brumaire, chapters 1, 7 10,000 words.

10 Thursday - Sex and the City,
McKay 24,
Gogol "The Nose" 10,200 words.
Homework FFF Due Feb 10. Use Marx to read Gogol: "What social class are Yakovlevitch, Kovalev, and the nose?"

15, Tuesday SPRING BREAK
17, Thursday SPRING BREAK

22, Tuesday - Nationalism,
McKay 25,
William Blake "Jerusalem"

24, Thursday - Imperialism,
McKay 26,
Rudyard Kipling "Our Lady of the Snows," "White Man's Burden", "Gunga Din"
Homework GGG due Feb 24, "How does Kipling use race?"

29, Tuesday - The Guns of August,
McKay 27 pp 887-904, 918-19,
Songs: "Smile, Smile, Smile", "Over There"

31, Thursday - The Great War,
Erich Maria Remarque All Quiet on the Western Front,
One of the reasons Remarque wrote AQWF was as a response to the rise of the Nazi Party. How does he use the novel to oppose Naziism?


5, Tuesday - Bolsheviks,
McKay 27, 904-917,
V.I. Lenin, two speeches. 1600 words.
Homework HHH due April 5. Respond to this quote: "When Trotsky spoke, we cheered. When Lenin spoke, we marched."

7, Thursday - Anxiety,
McKay 28, pp 921-942,
Ernest Hemingway "A Clean Well-Lighted Place" 1933. 1,500 words.
Mary Webb "In Affection and Esteem" 1,800 words.

12, Tuesday - Depression
McKay 28, pp 942-951

14, Thursday - Dictatorships
McKay 29, pp 953-971,
Benito Mussolini, "Fascism" 1932 6,600 words.
Optional - Benito Mussolini, Appendix to Fascism, 3,500 words.
Adolf Hitler, Excerpts, 6,500 words.
Adolf Hitler, Speech on parties and intolerance, 1932, (video) http://www.earthstation1.com/WWIIAudio/Hitler_-_Intolerance.wav
Homework III due April 14. "Why was Hitler so popular?"

19, Tuesday - World War Two
McKay 29, pp 971-987,
Marlene Deitrich "Lili Marlene",
Vera Lynn "Lili Marlene" (audio clips)

21, Thursday - Cold War
McKay 30
Winston Churchill, "Iron Curtain", 1,321 words.
Homework JJJ due April 21 "Who started the cold war?"

26, Tuesday - Life After the Cold War
McKay 31,
Vaclev Havel, "The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World", 1994, 2700 words.
Homework KKK due April 26. Havel claims the world has changed, and describes that change. Do you agree or disagree with him?

28, Thursday - Terrorism
no reading, review session.

Posted by Red Ted at 04:10 PM | Comments (1)

December 12, 2004

Another exam question

I don't like this one because it buys into the Presidential synthesis. I like it because it makes the kids argue both bests and worsts.

The first 17 presidents of the United states were: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James Polk, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson. First, rank these in order from best to worst. Second, explain why the person you rank best comes before the second person on the list. Third, explain why the person you rank worst comes after the penultimate person on the list. Note, "chocolate cake" arguments will get an instant 5 point penalty; make sure you discuss at least 4 presidents.
I predict that if I use this, the winners will mostly be: Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Jackson; the losers will mostly be: Buchanon, Tyler, Jackson, and Andrew Johnson.

EDIT - linked to chocolate cake argument

Posted by Red Ted at 09:58 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 06, 2004

Exam question I might ask

I might just ask this one:

Who would win a steel cage death match between Thomas Jefferson and Catherine Beecher?
OK, between their ideas - Catherine Beecher would beat up TJ in real life, despite being a much smaller person. (She lifted weights; he was shy and afraid of personal confrontations.)

The concept is promising, but the question needs work.


Who would win a steel cage death mathc between the ideas of Catherine Beecher and the ideals of Thomas Jefferson? If you want to, you may write your essay in the form of ringside commentary. Assume that the match was held in 1850.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:51 PM | TrackBack

November 19, 2004

Choosing Readings

I am putting together my reading list for Western Civ II next semester. After reading Brad's comment and thinking about cultural literacy and these nuggets of social thought I have decided that I will indeed extend the readings with a set of short documents. I had been planning to give them a text (McKay et all), the Burke-Paine debate (Reflections on the Revolution / Rights of Man) and All Quiet on the Western Front (because it is an unwritten rule, and because I like it better than Storm of Steel).

So, what else do I want to give them - knowing that I will be distributing the reading list as an electronic reader and thus will want to use public domain etexts where-ever possible, for I make typos when I retype things.

Obviously Max Weber and the Protestant Work Ethic - although I will have to cut it down to a reasonable number of words.
Likewise I like to give Marx's Communist Manifesto and a snippet of Rousseau explaining the general will.

Beyond that I will look for readings that will support my larger narratives for the semester: decline of the Ottoman Empire, transition from absolutism to democracy, evolutions in nations and states. It is a very political structure.

Off the top of my head I am thinking:

  • Jean Calvin - something from Institutes, but what?
  • John Hobbes - something from Leviathan on the state of nature and why we need absolute government
  • excerpts from the House of Commons hearings on work conditions in England during the First Industrial Revolution. Make sure this is a woman's story.
  • A Russian short story - Dostoevsky or Gogol
  • Speeches by Hitler and Mussolini, including a link to some of the streaming Hitler video on the web.
  • Something from the Russian Revolution - Lenin? Trotsky? A bit from Quiet flows the Don?
  • Lili Marlene (because the survey is all about the cliches)
  • Kipling poems about imperialism - White Man's Burden, one other TBA (but not When the Widow Gave the Party because that one confused the kids last semester.)
  • A chapter from a French 19th century women's novel - but which one? My first thought was Madame Bovary, but that was written by a guy. I know the British much better than the French.
The problem I have is that I am very strong on political theory, strong on 18th and 19th-century history, weak on the early stuff, and weak on primary documents in European women's history.

In addition, I don't have a lot of time to put into this. I am adding primary documents because I know myself, and know that I will twitch and fret if I don't have them during the semester, but I don't want to get bogged down creating this reader the way I got bogged down creating my US1 reader this summer.

Still, it makes a nice down-time think project.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:03 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Nuggets of wisdom?

A couple of days ago Brad DeLong mentioned that he wanted to assign a reading to his graduate reading class in economic history, but that he was afraid that it required too careful a knowledge of Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. for it to be a useful reading.

I commented that I thought every graduate student in the humanities or social sciences should know Weber on the Protestant Work Ethic, just as they should be expected to know Locke on the relationship between property and liberty, Malthus's argument about population growth, Marx on alienation of labor, and the other basic working concepts of 18th and 19th century political economy.

This led me to two related thoughts.

The first is aimed at the basic tools of anyone teaching college level social sciences or humanities (History is both). Anyone who has sat through a few college classes in these disciplines, either as teacher or student, has noticed that moment where a student asks a question or makes a comment and in response the professor delivers a 5 to 10 minute mini-lecture, explaining the point, putting it into context, and then applying the concept to the particular matter in discussion that day. Those mini-lectures, call them nuggets, are something that we sometimes prepare in advance for a class, sometimes have handy because they come up on a regular basis, and sometimes have to create on the fly from our background knowledge when a student asks a tricky question. Mostly, however, they come from our general preparation in the discipline we teach or in the broader field in which we work.

Thus I suspect that not only does Brad have a fairly standard response to a student who asks, say, "but wouldn't we be better off getting rid of imports and producing everything at home" or "wasn't the American Civil War really just a conflict between industry and agriculture" but that he can also toss off a quick summary of most events in 20th-century history.

At one level a PhD program in the humanities or the social sciences HAS to prepare its graduates to deliver these nuggets on demand. They are the cultural literacy of the academic elite.

The second thought is that we also have to be willing to introduce these concepts, at least in their simpler form, to our undergraduates as well. That has influenced my approach to my reading list for next semester, which will be a separate post.

For now, however, I was wondering what those common nuggets are. Certainly all teachers have their own set of them. Some of mine are in the extended entry. Comment on your favorites.

Most of my nuggets relate to American History:

- historiography of the Lost Cause
- separate spheres feminism
- why the Great War shaped the 20th century
- republicanism and the American Revolution
- Jefferson and Sally Hemings

Posted by Red Ted at 11:49 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 17, 2004

Bad teacher, bad

I am commenting on their paper proposals today. I caught myself writing a comment that should not be written. I told a student to "lose the corncob."

So, I scratched it out and instead wrote "don't be afraid to just say what you mean, with no fancy words or backwards phrases." I meant "lose the corncob," but some things can only be said with a smile, not said in writing.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:31 AM | TrackBack

November 08, 2004

17 >> 19 (for prose style)

Tomorrow's class will be reading parts of the Beecher/Grimke debate. As I was reviewing Catherine Beecher's explanation for why women should not participate in politics I noticed that she made a point that had earlier been made by John Winthrop in his "Model of Christian Charity." However, Winthrop said it much much better; Catherine Beecher puts me to sleep.

John Winthrop:

GOD ALMIGHTY in his most holy and wise providence, hath soe disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poore, some high and eminent in power and dignitie; others mean and in submission.
Catherine Beecher
It is the grand feature of the Divine economy, that there should be different stations of superiority and subordination, and it is impossible to annihilate this beneficent and immutable law.

Both of them get longwinded as they explain their point, but Beecher is just a polysylabic babble while Winthrop is at least writing in the rhythms of the king's English. Or, better yet, Beecher makes her point with adjectives, Winthrop with nouns.

Full paragraphs below the fold.


GOD ALMIGHTY in his most holy and wise providence, hath soe disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poore, some high and eminent in power and dignitie; others mean and in submission.

The Reason hereof.

1 Reas. First to hold conformity with the rest of his world, being delighted to show forth the glory of his wisdom in the variety and difference of the creatures, and the glory of his power in ordering all these differences for the preservation and good of the whole; and the glory of his greatness, that as it is the glory of princes to have many officers, soe this great king will haue many stewards, Counting himself more honoured in dispensing his gifts to man by man, than if he did it by his owne immediate hands.

2 Reas. Secondly that he might haue the more occasion to manifest the work of his Spirit: first upon the wicked in [Page 34] moderating and restraining them: soe that the riche and mighty should not eate upp the poore nor the poore and dispised rise upp against and shake off theire yoake. 2ly In the regenerate, in exerciseing his graces in them, as in the grate ones, theire love, mercy, gentleness,
temperance &c., in the poore and inferior sorte, theire faithe, patience, obedience &c.

3 Reas. Thirdly, that every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knitt more nearly together in the Bonds of brotherly affection. From hence it appears plainly that noe man is made more honourable than another or more wealthy &c., out of any particular and singular respect to himselfe, but for the glory of his creator and the common good of the creature, man. Therefore God still reserves the propperty of these gifts to himself as Ezek. 16. 17. he there calls wealthe, his gold and his silver, and Prov. 3. 9. he claims theire service as his due, honor the Lord with thy riches &c.--All men being thus (by divine providence) ranked into two sorts, riche and poore; under the first are comprehended all such as are able to live comfortably by their own meanes duely improved; and all others are poore according to the former distribution.

It is the grand feature of the Divine economy, that there should be different stations of superiority and subordination, and it is impossible to annihilate this beneficent and immutable law. On its first entrance into life, the child is a dependent on parental love, and of necessity takes a place of subordination and obedience. As he advances in life these new relations of superiority and subordination multiply. The teacher must be the superior in station, the pupil a subordinate. The master of a family the superior, the domestic a subordinate--the ruler a superior, the subject a subordinate. Nor do these relations at all depend upon superiority either in intellectual or moral worth. However weak the parents, or intelligent the child, there is no reference to this, in the immutable law. However incompetent the teacher, or superior the pupil, no alteration of station can be allowed. However unworthy the master or worthy the servant, while their mutual relations continue, no change in station as to subordination can be allowed. In fulfilling the duties of these relations, true dignity consists in conforming to all those relations that demand subordination, with propriety and cheerfulness. When does a man, however high his character or station, appear more interesting or dignified than when yielding reverence and deferential attentions to an aged parent, however weak and infirm? And the pupil, the servant, or the subject, all equally sustain their own claims to self-respect, and to the esteem of others, by equally sustaining the appropriate relations and duties of subordination. In this arrangement of the duties of life, Heaven has appointed to one sex the superior, and to the other the subordinate station, and this without any reference to the character or conduct of either. It is therefore as much for the dignity as it is for the interest of females, in all respects to conform to the duties of this relation. And it is as much a duty as it is for the child to fulfil similar relations to parents, or subjects to rulers. But while woman holds a subordinate relation in society to the other sex, it is not because it was designed that her duties or her influence should be any the less important, or all-pervading. But it was designed that the mode of gaining influence and of exercising power should be altogether different and peculiar.

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Smart and stupid plagarism

Anyone who teaches worries about plagarism. I worry more about the smart plagarists; I catch the stupid ones easily.

So for their paper this semester I have the kids writing about Uncle Tom's Cabin and any two documents of their choice from the class reader. This gives them a lot of freedom and makes my grading more interesting, but it also makes it much harder to plagarize - especially because I am requiring an early paper proposal telling me what documents and subject they intend to write about. This should both give the kids a chance to write a smart paper and also make it easier to write the paper than it is to plagarize the paper.

I am grading those proposals now - many look very good. I am also grading homework, including one poor student who when asked "Should Andrew Jackson be on the U.S. money?" responded by cutting and pasting some 200 words from his official biography on the White House web site. At least the student changed the plagarized material, if only by deleting about every 4th sentence.

It looks like I get to have a chat about what plagarism is and why we don't plagarize.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:01 PM | TrackBack

October 27, 2004

New Homework Question

I thought of this one today - it is not on the syllabus but it might well go on for next semester.

The historical drama network has put out a call for new proposals for telemovies about American history. Write me two paragraphs presenting your proposal. The first is the precis of a true historical event, as you would tell it on the screen. The second is your explanation of why this particular story would provide compelling television while conveying useful historical information.
My (skeleton) answer below the fold.

I would tell the tale of Benedict Arnold, starting from the invasion of Canada in 1775 and ending with his life in London and career as a Brigadier in the British Army. We would open with Arnold's heroics at the gates of Quebec, then set up his position amid the honor-obsessed officers in the continental army. The first half of the show would end with his role at Saratoga, both disobeying orders and winning the battle. The second half of the movie would show his quarrels about honor and precedence, his decision to surrender his garrison to the British, the random chance that led to Major Andre's arrest, and the events that followed from that arrest - Arnold's flight, Andre's execution, and the cult of Major Andre that developped in the Continental Army. We would end with a brief review of the later lives of the major players.

This would be compelling television for several reasons. I would present it as an Aristotelian tragedy, with Arnold destroyed by the same character traits that made him great. It would be compelling as anti-history, for how dare we show a heroic side to a person whose name is still an insult. Finally, it would show the audience the importance of honor in the early 18th century; given the popularity of Michael Shaara's work on Gettysburg, New Gingrich's Civil War histories, or the recent success of movies like Gladiator and Master and Commander, American audiences want to see tales of honor-obsessed military figures. The lasting historical impact that people would take away would be twofold. On the obvious level, they would be reminded of the near-run aspect of the American Revolution, of the divided loyalties of many Americans, especially people in the middle colonies, and of the importance contingent moments in shaping larger events.

Posted by Red Ted at 02:39 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Choosing Books

I am teaching Western Civ II next semester, and I intend to change the readings.

The first change is easy, in fact the kids last semester insisted that I make this change - instead of reading Paine's Rights of Man and excerpts from Common Sense and Age of Reason I will give them Edmund Burke Reflections on the Revolution in France and Paine's Rights of Man. I will probably excerpt both books to make the reading more reasonable for a low level survey.

The second change is also easy. Last time I used Noble et al Western Civilization, The Continuing Experiment, a book I picked because I liked their choice of images (don't laugh) and because I decided that their use of in-line primary documents meant I could get away without a separate reader. But, I did not like its coverage of the Ottoman Empire and over the course of the semester I discovered that I was putting a LOT of emphasis on the Ottoman Empire. So, this time I intend to use McKay et al A History of Western Society which is not as good about its primary documents, has more words, but also has good coverage of the Ottomans.

My final decision is what to read for the modern era. I like to have them read something about the Great War. Last time we used All Quiet on the Western Front - a classic, a book much read in High School, and a book written several years after the war as a response to Nazi-ism in Germany. This time I am thinking about giving them Ernst Junger The Iron Storm - a book less read in high schools, a book written immediately after the war, and a book that was taken up by the same people who later embraced the Nazi party (although Junger himself seems to have steered clear of them). I asked Penguin for a review copy, but I suspect that I will pop into a library tomorrow and see if there is a copy on the shelves for me to flip through.

The total cost of the big textbook and the three other books brings the class to over $100, before bookstore markup on the textbook. This means no external reader. Instead I will do a milder version of what I am doing for US1 this semester, putting a few readings up on a class web page for the kids to read on line.

It should do.

Posted by Red Ted at 07:35 AM | TrackBack

October 19, 2004

Thomas Jefferson

I like to give the kids provocative statements to write homework on. This week they have 200 words to respond to the following:

Thomas Jefferson: Slimy hypocrite or impassioned voice for liberty?
They previously read Jefferson's "Summary View of the Rights of British America" and the Declaration (final version, not TJ's draft).

For today they are reading: "Chapter 18 - Manners" from Notes on the State of Virginia (Slavery is bad because it makes slave holders into tyrants), "Head and Heart" PDF (breakup letter to Maria Cosway), "The Earth Belongs to the Living" (Jefferson against Burke's idea of an intergenerational contract), "The Reign of Witches" (Jefferson explaining why Federalist rule is unnatural and will fade away, so lets not split the union over it.), and "Fire Bell in the Night" (The "Wolf by the Ears" letter about Slavery and the Missouri Crisis.)

I have already gotten some early homework by email, and it looks like this assignment got them thinking about Jefferson, liberty, and slavery. It should be an interesting discussion.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:09 AM | TrackBack

October 18, 2004

Of Kids and Dawgs and Students

As the hound and I were walking this morning I met a woman and her young lab and started talking with her about dog training. She is struggling with the dog, in part I thought because her dog command voice was harsh, hectoring, and almost mean. I did not tell her that, but I did remind her of the importance of giving the command once and once only, and then enforcing it by moving the dog. So you say "Sit!" and then if the dog stands there looking at you, you push back on the chest and down on the tail, and place that dog on its tuchus.

As the hound and I walked on, I was reminded of the relationship between dog training, child raising, and teaching.

The hound is our practice child. We knew that when we got her. And several aspects of dog raising have translated to child raising, at least so far: no empty threats or promises, enforce every command, don't give a command that won't be obeyed, praise good behavior, scold bad behavior, praise and condemn immediately or not at all, and always be consistent. This latter is the most important. Dogs and kids both like to know what is expected of them and like to have some structure in which they can act. Within that structure, go for it. But if we decide that boys should not stand on the couch, then that means that they never stand on the couch. If we decide that no more cookies means no more cookies, then we are open for petitions until we say yes or no, but once spoken that word is final.

A digression - that last sentance makes me feel a little like George W. Bush. It is a strange feeling.

In addition I have had to learn new tones of voice for dealing with the hound: dog voice and praise voice. Dog voice is a projected, moderate volume, firm voice with a snap of command. The trick for me is to articulate an exlamation point without raising my volume: I try to sound firm; the lady this morning sounded mean; the military call this command voice. Praise voice is goofy-happy. Guwd Daag! I use it whenever she does something I told her to, when playing with her, and when she resists doing something she is forbidden to do. So when she stops chasing a squirrel and lets it run into the street, she gets a Guwd Daag! just as if she had laid down on command, or gotten her ears ruffled.

Dog voice works well on telemarketers and difficult students. I don't normally bring it out in the classroom except when exerting discipline. Praise voice is reserved for the critters. But the principle behind the two - make requests or demands in a firm voice, immediately praise or correct actions - translates well to people.

With students, there are similar shared principles. Again, the most important is being consistent. If I have one stated policy for makeups or late work, then always follow it. For homework, if you were in the room when we talked about the homework, you can not write that homework for credit. If a student says something smart, or writes something clever, then say so immediately. If a student says something stupid or gets things wrong in writing, say so, and then move on. Any single goof in class is as unimportant as any single moment when a dog on heel goes to sniff a tree - you tug the leash, correct verbally, and then keep walking as if nothing happened.

There are also important differences. The first is that a dog is always a dog, but a baby grows up to be a child and then an adult. In addition, a dog is willing to believe that you are infallible - "Lord, let me be the person my dog thinks that I am" - while both children and students will catch you goofing on a regular basis. We all make mistakes. The trick there is to treat yourself as you treat others - whoops, that was a mistake. Here is how we fix it. Now lets move on.

Speaking of which, writing this was a study break from grading blue books.
"Back to work Ted!"
"Guwd Boy!"

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October 12, 2004

Exams are HARD

I have found that one of the hardest parts of teaching, that is to say something that I have difficulty doing well, is writing an exam.

My exam questions tend to be both overlong and imprecise. I went and re-read my midterm from Western Civ and just cringed when I looked at it.

I think I write better exams for US1, if only because I have taught it more often and so have a better stable to fill in from. I ask the kids to submit exam questions, then I revise those into better questions and give the kids 6 essay questions to prepare. Two of those go on the midterm, and they have to write one essay.

The advantage to this approach is that it guides their studying, encouraging them to review the things that I think are important. It also provides a reality check for me. Their suggestions always overemphasize the last two classes before the exam - recent memory can be compelling - but their suggestions also help me see what they have been getting out of the class. If I get a lot of questions about, say, immigration then I know that the kids are keeping track of immigration as a social, cultural, and political event around the turn of the twentieth century.

Below the fold I put the study questions from URU. SSU gets their study questions tomorrow, and I already know that they will be getting a very different exam.

I drew cards to pick the question - randomizing the choice is the only way to keep both me and the kids honest. Otherwise I will include a question that I have no intention of asking, just to make them study, and they will read me and figure out what I will really ask.

1) Imagine that John Winthrop was asked to comment on the United States Constitution. What would he like about it? What would he dislike?

2) New England, the Middle Colonies, and the Chesapeake formed three distinctive regions within the British Empire. Briefly describe each as they were at the end of the 17th century. Be sure to mention land usage, family structure, religious settlement, and political patterns for each.

3) What had more impact on 18th-century America, the Great Awakening or the Enlightenment?

4) The Indians in the Iroquois Confederacy had a long history of working with European colonists. But, by the end of the 18th century the Iroquois and the Continental Congress were at war. Briefly describe interactions between Iroquois and Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries. At what point did the conflict between Iroquois and the coastal colonies become inevitable?

5) John Adams claimed that "The real American Revolution took place in the hearts of the American people long before the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord." The textbook suggests that the real revolution came through social changes during the military conflict. What do you see as the "real American revolution" and when did it take place?

6) Compare and contrast slavery among Northern Woodland Indians, West Africans, Caribbean sugar planters, and Chesapeake tobacco farmers.

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October 05, 2004

Homework wars: week four. 2-1-1

After four weeks of student homework, the two sections are now running 2 for Urban Research University, 1 for Suburban State, and 1 pretty much tied.

I am glad - I was afraid this was going to be a walkover, but the SSU kids did a nice job reading Franklin's Autobiography and then commenting on it.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:32 AM | TrackBack

September 21, 2004

What makes a good student?

I teach the US history surveys. As part of my class prep I read other peoples' syllabi. I also pay attention to what works in my classes, and to what does not work.

Teaching at several institutions, ranging from open enrollment community colleges to elite public universities, and following news and advice from other institutions, I have noticed a couple of patterns in what makes a good student: Good students read faster and with better comprehension.

One constant that I have noticed between schools is that, to the first approximation, elite schools and open enrollment schools cover about the same stuff in their classes. Every US1 survey will review, say, Bacon's Rebellion. The difference is that the better schools expect the students to have done more reading. One extreme of this is Cornel West's philosophy seminar at Princeton, where the undergraduates might be asked to read 300 pages of Aristotle for that week's class, and then spend the entire class session talking about some of the implications of the thought. They don't spend any class time reviewing what Aristotle wrote; West assumes, correctly, that the kids will have done the reading and understood it well enough to talk about its implications.

So, when I am talking to high school students about their own college choices, I point out that in the humanities the thing to check is their own reading speed and reading comprehension skills. If they are high, go for the better schools. If they are a slow reader with poor comprehension, be careful not to go to a school that will bury you under pages and pages of stuff.

I have in the past formed a poor impression of the reading comprehension skills of students at Urban Research University, largely because many of them really struggled to make it through the monographs I assigned them. I used perfectly readable books like Olivier Zunz Making America Corporate, Edmund Morgan American Slavery / American Freedom, and T.H. Breen Myne Owne Ground, and the kids hated them, struggled to understand them, and left me in a situation where I had to walk them through the book's argument even AFTER the kids had written a paper about the book.

I bring this up because I am teaching an identical syllabus at URU and at Suburban State University. This week we read excerpts from Ouladah Equiano's famous slave narrative. The kids at URU got it - they told me not to bother with the recap and we moved straight into analysis. And, sure enough, we had a good discussion of the book and it was clear that all 45 had read it, most had gotten it, and many could talk intelligently about it. Yesterday afternoon we did the same class at SSU. This time only 4 kids out of 35 could talk about the reading, and even though all wrote me a 200 word homework on it, it felt like most of them had either not done the reading or not understood the reading. So, I spent half an hour pulling teeth to work up the basic narrative of Equiano's life before moving on to new material and making my actual arguments. It was a very frustrating class.

I am still not sure how much of the difference in student quality comes from the two institutions, how much because URU is meeting at prime time while SSU is meeting at slacker time, but I am now 20 minutes behind in the SSU class. I will cut short their discussion of the middle colonies in order to tell the tale of Bacon's Rebellion and the shift from class-based to race-based hierarchies in the colonial Chesapeake. I think I can make time for that.

I have now graded the homework that the kids wrote for that class. They had done the reading. Most of them knew the stuff we were talking about. But, for some reason, they did not feel confident in that knowledge and certainly were not forthcoming with what they knew. I have to think about my teaching style for that class and see if I can come up with something that might give them a little more self-confidence and thus get them more involved.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:23 AM | TrackBack

September 13, 2004

The Chocolate Cake Argument

Many of my students used the Chocolate Cake Argument in their first homework. This is a common argument in polemics and politics - Eric Muller castigates Michelle Malkin for using a chocolate cake argument to smear Richard Kotoshirodo.

What is a chocolate cake argument?

Chocolate cake contains eggs, milk, and flour, all of which are good things; it is a perfectly reasonable breakfast food.
As you can see, I get the term from a Bill Cosby comedy routine. But, it is a serious rhetorical fallacy. If you only present a portion of the evidence, you can make an argument for almost anything, from the banal as in the comedy sketch to the shameless as in what Malkin does to Kotoshirodo to the tragic. It is sloppy thought and sloppy reasoning.

The chocolate cake argument is also remarkably brittle. It ignores all evidence, or all meaningful evidence, contravening the speaker's point. Because it does not address this evidence, balance it, or try to fit it into the speaker's narrative, the narrative can almost always be derailed by a small dose of cold hard fact. I tell the kids that it is far better to acknowledge contravening evidence and then tell the reader why their argument is BETTER, advice that makes it much harder to argue anything you want but that makes for a much higher quality of debate.

But, it does make for weaker comedy. "Dad is great! He give us chocolate cake! . . . Daddy made us eat this chocolate cake and grapefruit juice."

Posted by Red Ted at 02:46 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


I am teaching at two institutions this semester. I have taught at both before, but this will be the first time teaching the same class at both places.

I taught at Urban Research University before I taught at Suburban State, and one of my first questions to the department chair at SSU was how the students at the two colleges compared, so that I could adjust my expectations. He assured me that they were about comparable. In previous semesters I generally agreed - students at the two schools were close enough that I felt comfortable using the same set of expectations when grading both.

After grading the first homework - Was the Columbian Exchange a Good thing or a Bad thing? - I have to say that URU students did a better job.

Of course, more of them are upperclassmen, and my URU class is at mid-day - when the good students show up - while the SSU class is at dinnertime - a slacker moment, so this is a comparison of students in two very similar classes and not a comparison across the board.

Still, URU is an upwardly mobile institution, and I continue to be impressed by the students.

URU won the first homework; lets see what happens over the rest of the semester.

Posted by Red Ted at 02:42 PM | TrackBack

September 01, 2004

First Class

Thoughts after the first class.

My first day of classes is pretty standard no matter which class I am teaching.
I introduce myself
I have the kids introduce themselves to each other as part of my attempt to build a community of scholars
I go through the long, tedious, and scary syllabus - you have to make things clear, and that means a draconian syllabus and an understanding professor.
I begin the ritual forgetting of their names.
And we have a discussion, the same discussion every time although I get to my point in various ways.

I call the discussion "Why History? Why _____ History?" with the blank being filled in with the subject matter of that particular class. When I teach Western Civ we talk some about the difference between Western Civ and Modern Europe, this time I focused more on the role of history in a liberal arts education.

I had the kids do a board exercise - they tossed out ideas, I made them defend their suggestions, and the results went onto the blackboard: If you were suddenly named to the core curriculuum committee of [name] University, what classes or skills would you insist on making everyone learn because, well, no well-educated person should be without these skills.

Try it yourself - make a quick list if only in your mind, and then move to the extended entry.

Students at both schools, Urban Research University and Suburban State School, ended up at the same final point, but they got there by very different paths, in part because an exercise like that generally follows the direction of the first person to speak.

So at URU the first person to speak insisted that everyone should have an introduction to the humanities, part of that school's extensive liberal arts core, because cultural literacy is an important part of education. From there they quickly moved through cultural literacy and self-knowledge to personal capability - writing, numeracy - and thence to political awareness. They emphasized psychology, because (feh, wrote this on the board and erased before transcribing, paraphrase) "that is how you know who you are talking to when you talk to yourself," literature, and the like. They also had a strong focus on citizenship, including local history and local studies, political science, sociology, and so on. I have a pretty impressive group at URU - a Kuwait vet, three entrepeneurs, a couple of audio-video professionals, actors, singers, a member of a signed rock band, and of course the smart suburban kids who make the bulk of the population at America's elite and sub-elite universities.

Suburban State took it a different direction. The first person to speak emphasized that a core was a bad idea, that rather than requiring people to study things there should be no requirements but rather high expectations that they would choose to form themselves into well-rounded individuals. The next suggestion focused on writing because expressing oneself is a key life skill, and from there the kids quickly moved to an extensive list of life skills - writing, public speaking, numeracy, etc - and thence to cultural literacy. They had very few suggestions for good citizenship - no political science or sociology - although we also had not made a lot of time for that. In addition our discussion of why history moved quickly into a public policy discussion as we looked at the basic proposal that we study history in order to learn from the past. The kid who suggested history fessed up immediately that he had suggested it because he thought I was fishing for it, not because he could explain why it mattered, but that then led to a useful discussion of why it mattered.

In the end I was able to steer both classes to my big point, the point I had intended to make with the whole exercise. I argue that a good liberal arts education will make a person more capable in their economic life, richer in their individual life, and a better citizen in their public life. History hits all three of those bells, if only because the reading, interpreting, and writing skills that form the basics of the discipline translate well to any career that involves discovering and then making sense of a mix of reliable and unreliable information.

Go back to your list. Did you cover all three aspects? Was there something in there that I left out? Comment comment comment!

Class went better at Suburban State, but the kids at Urban Research were more impressive.

And so to prepare for the class on first contact. I think I will give the Hiawatha lecture, not only because I can, but because the reading is scant on Indians and I have to make sure they are covered well during class.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:18 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 31, 2004

1st Day

Today was the first day of classes at Urban Research University.
Tomorrow is first day at Suburban State.

I am teaching US 1 at both locations, one section each, and finishing my writing. It is not the best combination - not enough money and not enough writing - but it will have to do.

Of the 40-odd people in the room, almost all were there to fulfill a distribution requirement. I wonder how many I will still have in a week.

It was strange to wear long pants after 3 months of shorts.

And so to take off the monkey suit.

Posted by Red Ted at 03:08 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 27, 2004

As if the school year were starting

I feel as if the school year were starting.


Over the last two days I have gotten a good dozen hits from searches on the term Reading Log. I am currently #18 on Google for that term.

What I can't guess is whether this is because kids are being told to start a reading log and want a model for what to do, or if it is because kids were told to turn in a reading log at the end of the summer, and want something they can crib off of.

I might very well change the syllabus to insist on an electronic submission of the long paper. I probably won't, but only for technical reasons regarding chasing down plagarism.

Let me explain.

There are some folks who will cheat no matter what. All you can do is make it more difficult for them to cheat effectively, but they often spend more time getting around security than it would have taken them to just do the darn work. Luckily, these folks are rare.

There are also some folks, many more, who will cheat if it seems easy and costless, will be more likely to cheat if they are in a climate of pervasive cheating, but would be perfectly willing to just do the work themselves. The trick in managing a classroom is to keep the first group from creating a climate where the second group feels impelled to cheat - either to hold their ground or because "everyone is doing it."

It turns out that there are two basic approaches to academic cheating. Both are comparably effective - the first is a little better at the first crowd, the second better at the second, larger group.

You can either proctor aggressively, letting the students know that their work will be tightly policed, that you will assume cheating unless they can prove their innocence, and then follow through. Tight proctoring and aggressive enforcement works on the first group, but it can also either turn off the second group or create a climate where students take cheating as a challenge, living down to your expectations. Finally, this aggressive approach can turn the classroom from a collaberation to a battleground.

The other effective approach is to emphasize honor. Schools with a strong honor code, enforced and impressed on the students at regular intervals, make a more fertile climate for the incorrigibles, but do a better job of keeping the swing students on the straight and narrow. It also creates a good classroom environment.

What you don't want to do is just trust that the kids won't cheat. They will. You have to do something, the question is whether you prefer to use hard or soft power.

Asking for electronic submissions of papers is fine if you will be grading on the computer or lugging floppies on vacation rather than a stack of paper. But I prefer to grade in a purple pen. So if I asked for electronic copies, it would be in order to submit them to search engines. Instead I will rely on visible soft power and less visible structural restrictions. What do I mean?

I explain plagarism early and spend a lot of effort building up the classroom as a place of collaberative learning. The kids help write the exam, and I draw them into discussion as much as the survey format lets me. I also structure the assignments to make it harder to cheat.

The kids have weekly homework assignments, about 200 words on some provocative topic: "Should Andrew Jackson be on the U.S. money?" They also have a long paper on Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. I can easily tell when someone turns in a paper that is completly unlike their homework. In addition, their paper has to make extensive use of both Stowe and two of the electronic documents from our class syllabus. The odds of someone buying a term paper that will do this is minimal, and I will have my eyes open for papers that include very slick discussions of Stowe and very clumsy discussions of the other material, well, that is a paper worth typing in a juicy paragraph or two and then searching.

We will see. I find that most blatant plagarism is the work of desparate and unprepared students, and is very easy to spot. And, considering the goofy nature of most of my write-ups on the reading log, I pity anyone who tries to turn them in as their summer work.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:38 PM | TrackBack

August 09, 2004

Syllabus fun

Well, the weather turned crisp, which means that it is time to update the syllabus for next semester.

After last time I have made a few changes:

  • dropped the monograph
  • moved the course packet from paper coursebook to electronic reserve
  • edited the course packet - still doing this
  • dropped the paper that was due on the monograph, which means re-arranging the colonial era to better fit what we will be doing.
  • changed the paper topic on Uncle Tom's Cabin so that they can write what they want so long as they include at least two of the items from the class reserves. This should reduce plagarism to cut-and-paste subsections of the paper, and that is fairly easy to spot.
  • promised a bonus on the class grade to anyone who will have shown me proof that they voted in November.
  • decided to abridge some of the longer primary documents
  • decided to add documents on the Salem Witch Trials
  • made some minor changes in what to read each week.
  • arranged to host a mirror of the page on my homepage
  • decided to use a few mp3s on the web page and perhaps as in-class music.

I still have to re-read the text, double check the documents, pick the rest of the music, and do the abridgments. But much of that is donkey work.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:23 AM | TrackBack

July 08, 2004

New Gig

Well, Suburban State University just called; they have at least one slot of US1 available. I will be teaching there and at Urban Research University.

Looks like I will make enough to pay daycare next semester - any further classes will actually increase household income.

I am torn by this. I like to teach. I also feel that I should be spending more time with the boys. And yet, by Sunday night, I am also exhausted by the boys and looking forward to having Monday available to get work done without little people running around underfoot.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:33 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 04, 2004

Spotting Plagarism

Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Making Light comments on a Kent University student who recently complained about getting called for plagarism, apparantly he plagarized for the previous three years and was not accused of anything and so he thought it was OK to keep doing it.

I rather liked her formula for spotting plagarization:

Now, given his evident attitude, he canít have been a very gifted plagiarist. Few students are. Unless theyíre better-than-average writers, itís often enough just to monitor their semicolons: If they come and go, the studentís cheating.
I don't check semicolons, but I do watch for complex v simple sentences. She also suggests going back through plagarists' older work to check for repeat cheating. That works, if you have copies of it all. I know some professors insist that students turn in all papers twice, once as hardcopy and once by email. They then check the electronic copy for plagarism, and then archive it for future reference. As an adjunct, the only thing I keep are the final exam blue books, and those only because the Commonwealth of Virginia mandates that they be kept for seven years - I may be in Jersey now, but I still keep the blue books.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:37 AM | TrackBack

June 03, 2004

What do we do with a witch in Salem?

To the tune of "Drunken Sailor"

What do we do with a witch in Salem
What do we do with a witch in Salem
What do we do with a witch in Salem
Early in the Semester?

Make the kids read more than a little

Somewhat seriously, the last time I taught US part 1 I decided that I should include the Salem Witch Trials, something I had avoided in earlier years. So far I have handled them poorly twice, in both cases because the kids did not get enough information to understand what was going on. The first time through we used a stock reader that included a brief anecdote about the three girls going into fits and pointing at one of the accused witches. The students simply could not imagine what was going on - the events in that courtroom were so foreign to their experience that they refused to grapple with them. The second time I gave them no reading about the witch trials and instead made a few comments about witch trials as a response to the Dominion of New England - for a while the Court of Oyer and Terminay that was hearing the witch trials was the ONLY active court in all of New England, and so many people took their greivances there in the guise of a witchcraft accusation.

Neither worked well, so this fall I will devote an entire class to the trials, give the kids some reading on the trials, and use the witch trials as a chance both to explore women's history at the end of the 17th century and to immerse the kids in the world of wonders.

So, I am making a stack of primary documents and thinking about what to do with them. My current thoughts are to simply make them write a short homework on the witch trials and then trust to the interest of the subject to keep them going, to have them write a full paper on the trials and give them the resources to do so, or to devote the class to a witch trial, with students playing roles. The latter is the high-risk alternative - I don't know if I have the confidence to pull it off.

But first, to see what I can find in the convenient documentary collections. I suspect that if I assigned all of Cotton Mather's Magnalia Cristos America I would see a rebellion.

Posted by Red Ted at 05:22 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 10, 2004

Sometimes the exam is too hard

Sometimes the kids do badly because they don't study.

Sometimes the kids do badly because the exam was comprehensive and they tried to cram for it.

Sometimes the kids do badly because they are stupid.

Sometimes the kids to badly because the teacher did not teach well.


Sometimes the exam is too hard.

At least one kid nailed every ID and every essay question I gave them, but most of them did very poorly indeed and no one had a sustained excellent exam. I had lots of flunked exams, and no honest As. So, I made some notes about how to teach this material differently next semester, and then I curved the final four tenths of a GPA or about one notch (i.e. B exam is effectively a B+.)

Part of what I did wrong was to give them a question that I should have focused more on during the semester but that was better suited to be a study point than an actual exam question.

How did the long decline of the Ottoman Empire shape European History from 1600 to the present? Is the decline of the Ottomans the most important narrative for the modern world, or is the modern world more indebted to other movements, ideas, or events?
Instead I should have given them one of the things from the study sheet that more closely tracked what we did over the semester, perhaps
Starting with an agricultural society and working up through the First Industrial Revolution (1750-1850, centering in 1800), the Second Industrial Revolution (1870-1930, centering in 1900), and the Third Industrial Revolution (1970s to the future, centering now), discuss the roles of men, women and children in the work place. What were their responsibilities? How did gender roles change with the start of each new industrial revolution? What is the relationship between job requirements and gender roles?
I asked that one on the makeup exam, and those kids did OK with it. It is a big tedious fill-in-the-blanks question, but from the answer to such a question you can get a feel for how much history did the kids pick up by the end of the semester.

So we learn, every time we learn. Considering that this was the first time I have taught Western Civ from my own syllabus, it will do. I give myself a C+ (passing but needs a lot of work) for my first section, B+ for the second, for the reasons I indicated in an earlier post.

And now I get to turn in grades and focus on writing for the next couple of months. It will be good to write.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:29 AM | TrackBack

May 04, 2004

Random Numbers and Exams

Yesterday the kids got the study sheet for the final. I give them a list of "live" essay questions for them to study with, then give them a limited choice of questions on the exam proper. The theory is that by doing this you structure their studying to make it less likely that they will panic and cram the wrong information. Instead, you encourage them to review what the instructor thinks are the main themes of the class.

As usual, the questions are so so.

Just now I laid out the basics of the actual exams - two sections and the makeup. I used a random number generator to choose one essay, then picked the second essay to complement the first and make sure that the kids could not write the same material twice. I did this in part because I could and in part because I had warned the kids not to work too hard gaming the exam - using random essay questions keeps me honest, at least as long as I like all of the questions.

And so to write.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:37 AM | TrackBack

May 03, 2004

Last Class

Today was the last class for the semester.

It was a grey rainy day. I was tired. The kids were tired. My conclusion was something of a downer. Now I feel tired again.

I think the final exam study sheet stunned them. I will blog it after the exam.

I forgot to talk about the homework with the first section, instead I let them go early. The second section gave me some useful feedback about what worked - they want more use of the board, more visual learning opportunities, and to replace Rights of Man with a selection of readings from Burke and Paine. I can do that. I can also buy a box of laser-printer acetate sheets and make my own display pictures to use on the overhead projector. I might well dig through Project Gutenberg and put together a reader next time I teach Western Civ. If nothing else I will trim the readings down and offer a few more things outside the textbook.

One of the really striking things all semester long has been the difference between the two sections. I think that everyone who teaches multiple sections of the same class notices this - each section has its own personality, and often one will emerge as the "smart" section. But what is the difference between a "smart" and a "dumb" section?

For this semester, at least, it appears to be a mixture of the room, the instructor, and a few key students. The first class is dumb - literally they don't talk. The second section is more lively in class and does better on papers and exams.

The first section meets in a small amphitheater. There are only about 50 seats but they rise up in tiers through the classroom. The room has a complete multimedia instructional setup, which I chose not to use because I chose not to put the time into building multimedia for only one section - it would have doubled my prep time at least. The room is optimized for teaching where one person stands up and imparts wisdom to a receptive audience. It does not have to work that way, but that is the tendency of the room.

The second section meets in a ratty upstairs classroom. The room seats about 40, and the overall dimension is wide, not deep - the farthest student is only about 30 feet from me. It is easier for me to fill the room with my voice, and instead of being on stage I am simply at the front of the room. As a result the room encourages more intimacy and conversation between teacher and students - I do think that the first room is a little intimidating and frightnening while the second room is more emotionally comfortable despite being cinder blocks and a blackboard. It is just a classroom, and there are loads of those.

The instructor also differs. This is my first time teaching these lectures. In fact, I generally write the draft lecture the day before class, refine the draft the morning of class, and rewrite the class as I deliver it. What this means is that the second class gets a much more polished and refined product. It also means that, for some reason, the second class always takes longer to cover the same amount of material.

Finally we have the very important role of sparkplug students - the folks who are always willing to talk and often have something good to say. The first section had one, and he is probably going to flunk the class because he has not yet written his papers. The second section had two, and both are perfectly understanding when I call on "anyone but the usual suspects" or when I ignore their hands and urge the rest of the class to speak. But, they do a good job of priming the pump and, after I spoke briefly with them the fourth week they do a good job of helping keep the class moving.

Let me explain that last. When I was an undergrad I realized I was a big talker, so I would talk three times at the start of class to make my own points, then would only talk the rest of the class if it would advance the discussion - I talked to other students but not the professor. The pump-primers in second section are not that focused on other students - it is hard to talk when folks are all in a row and the reading is mostly textbooks - but they do help keep discussions moving.

So, what makes a smart class? I think it is the three-way combo of room, instructor, and students. What does this mean for me, the instructor?

Firstly, remember that the more polished classes tend to run better. I don't expect to be teaching from scratch until I get a full time job, although I now feel a little more willing to tackle Western Civ 1 especially in a weaker academic setting.

Secondly, I need to think about ways to make dead classrooms more lively - perhaps I should have tried the Phil Donahue approach, re-arranged the chairs so that I had clear walking aisles, and taught the first section from the middle of the stands and not from the lecture pit at the front of the room?

Posted by Red Ted at 09:13 AM | TrackBack

April 25, 2004

What I mean, not what I say

This was written by a very nice student who has trouble articulating herself clearly. I know what she meant, but I was amused by what she wrote:

During World War I the average woman in the work force was still relatively high ...
It is remarkably difficult to express ideas clearly in written prose. I struggle with it, and I make my students attempt to improve their skills at it.

I am not sure if their homework improves over the semester because they become better writers, or because they start out blowing off the assignments and later on put more time into them.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:13 AM | TrackBack

April 19, 2004

Sartorial Armor

We covered most of World War II and the Holocaust today. Surprisingly, I did not break down in class. Not so surprisingly, the closest I got to losing it was not in the discussion of the Holocaust, which I had braced for, but in my discussion of the Great Patriotic War, the USSR's effort to drive out and then destroy Nazi Germany.

In part I was able to handle the Holocaust because I had prepared for it. I had gotten upset on Saturday, while writing the class, and then given myself time to relax. I had also, in a gesture that I understood and that the kids probably did not catch, wore a dark grey suit and a black tie today. I normally teach in blazer and chinos, but I dig out the go-to-meeting outfit on November 11 and on other days when I need a bit of sartorial armor. Today I told myself it was my mourning suit, and as usually happens when we wear clothes that affect our self-perceptions, the garments provided a needed emotional crutch.

Let me give some context for the Great Patriotic War. Back in the early 1980s, while in high school, I went on a trip to the Soviet Union. Several dozen of us went, met some Russians, looked at the sights, and were American teenage tourists. It was a good trip.

At one point we went to a Moscow movie theater and watched a film. I have no idea what it was about; something involving a man, a woman, love, and a thriller plot. At one point in the movie the narrative plot stopped for a flashback: the soundtrack volume jumped noticeably, the actors were replaced by 1940s newsreel footage, and we were treated to dive bombers, explosions, and devastation. I missed it, but some of the other folks on the trip looked around and noticed that most of the older Russians in the theater cried during this sequence which, to us, seemed jarring and out of place, breaking the flow of the movie.

I did not tell this story to the students; I just mentioned that if you mention the Great Patriotic War to a Russian (former Soviet really - not just Russia) of the war generation, then they will cry. The war was devastating and deeply emotional. Between over twenty million Soviet citizens died in the war, perhaps as many as twenty five million. That is an inconceivable number. It was while recounting the Great Patriotic War and explaining how it was that the Soviet people were willing, even glad to incur these costs if it let them repay the atrocities that the Germans had inflicted upon them, that I struggled for self control.

One of the hardest things to do is to recount strong emotion, or stories of strong emotion, to another without channeling that emotion yourself.

Wednesday we will finish the war and start the Cold War - the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War are linked so I teach the two together. I have broken up the sadness of the Second World War in a manner that, while it is decent pedagogy, lightens the emotional load on the instructor.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:36 AM | TrackBack

April 18, 2004

Cabaret and Schindler's List

I am prepping the class on World War Two for Monday. The current plan is to start the war, fight the early war, and then cover the Holocaust. I will leave the late war for Wednesday's class on the Cold War; my notes are already six pages of 14 point, and that is more than enough for 75 minutes.

I got very upset yesterday reading and prepping. I will get very upset tomorrow when we will cover it. I will probably get upset again on Wednesday when we will end the war. The middle of the twentieth century is hard on me - the down side of teaching with a lot of emotion and of working to build historical empathy in the students is that I end up with a strong emotional reaction to that week's material.

To put it in terms of popular media, Wednesday was Cabaret, tomorrow will be Schindler's List. I am not sure what Wednesday will be - probably the bastard child of the Manchurian Candidate and a suicide bombing.

Posted by Red Ted at 03:52 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 16, 2004

Exam questions I won't be asking

Here is one I won't be asking, at least not in this format:

Who would win a steel cage death match between the Enlightenment and Nationalism for the title of "Most influential modern intellectual movement"?
Your answer should be in the form of ringside commentary.

... And the Enlightenment reaches back and, YES, hits Nationalism with empirical evidence, now that's a heavy blow. Nationalism staggers, it backs up, and WHAM, here comes Nationalism with emotional attachment to the state, OUCH, and it was followed up with, yes, a string of folk tales. One after another. Those brothers sure are looking Grimm. The Enlightenment is looking confused, YES, it is searching for rational explanations behind each narrative, there it goes, off into the corner chasing the folk tales. And look at this, here comes Nationalism, it has snuck up behind the Enlightenment while it chased down evidence, and OOF, it has jumped on the Enlightenment's back and is piggy-backing on centralized government and rational bureaucracy. Oh, it hurts to have your best weapon used against you like that. But wait, the Enlightenment turns, and, YES, it undercuts Nationalism by applying universal criteria to the state, and now Both are down. Its a bloodbath in there let me tell you ...

Luckily, it is a steel cage match, so Pietism can not show up with a metal folding chair.

Why yes, I am a history geek. Why do you ask?

Posted by Red Ted at 12:36 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Zeroing the curve

I hate this part about teaching, especially at the adjunct level.

The kids read an easy book, Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. I then had them write an easy paper: "How did the Great War change the surviving members of Paul Baumer's Generation". Not surprisingly, almost all the kids repeated Remarque's argument about a lost generation.

Now I have to grade them. I have already read them and ranked them and made a few notes about things they did well and things they did not do so well. But the kids want a letter grade.

Historically, I save an A for the top 3% to 5% of my students, A- for the top 10 to 15%, and B+ for the rest of the top quarter.

Historically we give a straight C for someone who can read an easy book and recap the argument. Most of the kids did that, and that is really all I asked them to do. If I hand out fifty Cs I will face a mutiny, and rightly so.

Of the sixty-odd students who turned in papers, one is superior, three are better than the rest, and five are just under the top group. Is that an A, 3 A-, and five B+ or is it four As and five A- out of sixty papers?

I will probably go with the second curve, which means that at the end of the semester I will have to add a new column to my private grade sheet, and place these sixty students on my lifetime percentile chart so that if asked I can write a meaningful letter of recommendation.

Because, these days with grade inflation, the grade just does not matter. What matters is the teacher's willingness to say "so and so is in the top 25% of students I have ever taught; their work shows these traits ..."

Still, it would be convenient if we had a standard scale relating those hard percentile judgements with the softer letters that hit the formal GPA.

Done ranting. I will grade up on this paper and down on the final. The final is gonna be a bear.

The next time I teach Western Civ I will either not assign AQWF or come up with a more challenging paper topic.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:05 PM | TrackBack

April 15, 2004

What I was intending in class

Eric Muller is not happy about my description of the speech section of Wednesday's class: "
I can think of lots of moods I might be in when teaching about Nazism. Silly ain't among 'em."

Silly was perhaps not the best word, but when I give a stump speech - especially a stump speech from a radical politician - I do my best to convey the sentiment along with the words.

Sometimes it is as simply as pitching my voice tenor when reading excerpts from William Jennings Bryan and the "Cross of Gold" speech, at other times it gets closer to the physical - I have not yet done Billy Sunday's slide but I do repeat Eugene Deb's body lean.

For the Hitler excerpts, I moved my voice up and down, changed the timbre from angry to sentimental and back again, and otherwise delivered the words instead of just reading them. I also banged on the podium, waved my hands in the air, and otherwise shifted my usual gestures to something closer to what AH used in his rally speeches.

When people use body language and tone changes that are not usual for their situation, it is commonly read as being either dangerous, confusing, or silly. All three are responses to a breach of decorum.

And, face it, pounding on the podium is not a standard teaching performance - at least not in the classes I took. Nor is it the standard mode for a televised political speech or political advertisement, the venue in which most of the students are used to seeing speechs.

So, these readings are different, this one was hopefully shocking, and if I did it right then the kids will be caught with a sort of cognitive dissonance where they both see how and why his thought was so reprehensible and see how and why his thought and presentation were so compelling. I don't know about that, I do know that they get very silent and very tightly focused whenever I read a radical politician; they were especially focused this class, perhaps because Hitler is so very evil.

In classes where I deliver excerpts from a speech I end up on a bit more of a performance high than I normally get after class, and that performance high is indeed a guilty pleasure when it comes from playing a Nazi.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:34 AM | TrackBack

April 14, 2004

Guilty Pleasures

Teaching Nazi Germany is a guilty pleasure.

On the one hand, the guys are morally reprehensible. Even in their early days, before they started murdering anyone other than their political opponents, they used words and thoughts that are double plus un good.

And yet, when I read their stuff to the class, especially when I rant and shout, and bang my fist on the table, and wave my hand in the air, and do everything but trim the goatee down to a toothbrush moustache -- well, it is good clean fun. I like the public performance part of being a teacher, and quoting radical politicians lets me give fun stump speeches.

The kids meanwhile are in that awkward ground where the professor is acting silly, the silliness is entertaining, his voice and body language tell them that these words matter, and the words themselves are not what they are used to hearing. They do pay attention, though whether through embarrasment or wonder I can not say.

I gave them a couple of paragraphs from his May 1 1923 speech (excerpts below the fold). I checked this video of Hitler at a party rally before class to make sure I had the gestures right.

As I said, Adolph Hitler's speeches are a guilty pleasure.

These are the paragraphs I read aloud performed in class today:

. . . If the first of May is to be transferred in accordance with its true meaning from the life of Nature to the life of peoples, then it must symbolize the renewal of the body of a people which has fallen into senility. And in the life of peoples senility means internationalism. What is born of senility? Nothing, nothing at all. Whatever in human civilization has real value, that arose not out of internationalism, it sprang from the soul of a single people. When peoples have lost their creative vigor, then they become international Everywhere, wherever intellectual incapacity rules in the life of peoples, there internationalism appears. And it is no chance that the promoter of this cast of thought is a people which itself can boast of no real creative force - the Jewish people....

There are three words which many use without a thought which for us are no catch-phrases: Love, Faith, and Hope. We National Socialists wish to love our Fatherland, we wish to learn to love it, to learn to love it jealously, to love it alone and to suffer no other idol to stand by its side. We know only one interest and that is the interest of our people.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:52 AM | TrackBack

April 12, 2004

Mussolini on Fascism

Digging around the net for a primary document to read in class, and a little confused about Italian fascism, I found this translation of Mussolini's own definition of his political philosophy.

It is one thing to read that fascists exhalted the role of the state, it is another to read the words in which they did so:

The Fascist State , as a higher and more powerful expression of personality, is a force, but a spiritual one. It sums up all the manifestations of the moral and intellectual life of man. Its functions cannot therefore be limited to those of enforcing order and keeping the peace, as the liberal doctrine had it. It is no mere mechanical device for defining the sphere within which the individual may duly exercise his supposed rights. The Fascist State is an inwardly accepted standard and rule of conduct, a discipline of the whole person; it permeates the will no less than the intellect. It stands for a principle which becomes the central motive of man as a member of civilized society, sinking deep down into his personality; it dwells in the heart of the man of action and of the thinker, of the artist and of the man of science: soul of the soul
I am glad I found this - fascism had been a term tossed around without clear definitions and, despite or perhaps because of Benito's pompous, abstract, and preachy tone, this gives a good feel for why the movement was so popular and for why it was so very very dangerous.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:56 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 10, 2004


I see that my sitemeter has gone up sharply since I last worked on the blog. Both Brad DeLong and Matthew Yglesias were intrigued by my throw-away suggestion that Lenin is like Dr. Frankenstein.

Hi to all the new visitors, although I suspect that most of the new visitors have come and gone already.

For what it is worth, I did not make the expliit comparison between Lenin and Frankenstein in class (the kids did not even know the punch line to the classic Frankenstein story, why confuse them.) I did use the tension between goals and means to help explain things, although I focused more on the 1903 split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.

Posted by Red Ted at 06:41 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

April 06, 2004


I am having a lot of trouble putting together tomorrow's class. So, I will vent here, and treat it as a think piece, and then go finish prepping class.

Tomorrow is "Reds" - the class on the Russian Revolution. I know I want to review Russia from 1880 to 1917, that I want to remind them of European socialism in the late 19th century, and that I want to get into the 1920s and the NEP even though that is technically covered in Monday's reading.

What I am having trouble with is getting excited by the material, and because my best if not only asset in the classroom is that I get really excited about the material, I might well have a LOT of trouble tomorrow afternoon.

The challenge is to bundle the hope, the despair, the violence, and the total upheaval of dragging a nation, kicking and screaming, from the 1820s into the 1920s, and to do so while being fair to the good intentions and brutal side-effects of the transition.

That might be my hook, not the question of why the least industrialized Great Power was the first to see a Marxist revolution but rather the tired romantic trope of a planner and revolutionary whose dreams exceed human ability and who relies on science at the cost of humanity. Lenin as Frankenstein has a certain cliche'd charm to it, and it would let me introduce the interpretive dilemna of the John Reeds who see no evil for the goals are good and the modern conservatives who see no good for the means were so destructive.

Hmm, we had Being John Malkovitch, we might well try Being Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:18 AM | TrackBack

One too many

I taught the Great War on Monday. I broke down in second section, made it through the first section OK.

One of the students asked me after class why I was more likely to break down in the Great War than in World War 2 - about 2 in 3 against perhaps 1 in 2. My answer was that while the second war had more total deaths, more destruction, and was a more total war, the first was in many ways the death of hope and the death of optimism. I buy enough of the myth of the Lost Generation to argue that the Great War blew apart nineteenth-century optimism, and that saddens me. I almost want to call it the death of innocence, but that is not quite right. I want to say rather that it was the tipping point where a society of individuals was replaced by a mass society, and where the notion of human consequence was buried under human numbers, but that is not it either.

I need to think on this more, other than to say that the Great War marked the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, from the Victorian to the Age of Steel, and that change saddens me even though I get frustrated with Victorian hypocrisy.

In any case, I was still shaken up from class and turned on my book on tape on the ride home. Mystic River is wonderfully written. It is also both sad and permeated with an aura of tragedy to come. I could not continue listening to it. So, after waiting months for it to come to me through the library I returned it before finishing the first tape. Perhaps I will try again sometime when my emotions are not so fragile.

It was one too many sadnesses.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:58 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 31, 2004

Why the Great War?

I just finished writing up lecture notes for this afternoon's class on The Guns of August - I am stealing Barbara Tuchman's title for my class lecture. One of the students commented last month that their previous (high school) history classes tended to skip over World War One and focus on World War Two. I am going the other way. We have three lectures on the events of 1914-19 (The Guns of August, The Great War, Reds) and two for the Second World War (Gathering Storm, Second World War). Why? I do believe that the first was the more significant conflict. It destroyed the 19th century empires, approved Nationalism as the dominant justification for state organization, and opened the door for Communism. The second war, despite its far greater human cost, was in many ways the second act of a three act play.

When I cover the great war in US surveys students have trouble imagining the network of interlocking alliances and mobilization schemes that led first one and then another Great Power to declare war, much less do the grasp the joy that came with the declarations of war. Why go dancing in the streets at the thought of marching off?

The answer, of course, is that for many people in 1914 War meant a brief clash of arms, some marching, and a return home covered in glory. There had been a great many short wars, most of them victorious colonial wars, and no one imagined what was to come.

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March 30, 2004


Do you like Kipling?

I wouldn't know, I've never kippled.

Now that is an old joke, yep.

Yesterday the kids kippled. As they came into the classroom I gleefully announced that it was Poetry Day, to which most of them replied "cool." I then handed out sheets with Kipling's "The Widow's Party" on one side and "White Man's Burden" on the other.

Partway through the class we stopped to talk about Kipling - I used him as a window into imperialist ideology.

Interestingly, the first section thought WMB was parody it was so over the top. The second thought it was straight. I gave them the poem very differently - for the first I reviewed the US role in the Philippines as they read, for the second I had them read the poem out loud.

I am always amused at the way that presentation shapes interpretation, and I struggle to present my materials to the kids in a way that is fair to the materials and useful for the class plan.

I do like Kipling. Much of his stuff is occasional poetry, like "Our Lady of the Snows" and much of it is doggerel, but good doggerel and good occasional poetry are hard to write. More, Kipling is deeply bounded in place and mind and that makes him a fine window into the Edwardian age. I like authors who are bound in time for they are easier to use to do history.

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March 24, 2004

So when is the modern anyhow?

Later today we will talk about optimism at the end of the nineteenth century.

The text labels the period 1850-1880 the Age of Optimism, 1880-1914 is the Belle Epoque. Both are marked by a mainstream opinion of, well, optimism and faith in progress. Both are eras of planning and systemized knowledge - these were the years when academic social science departments developed and when social scientists began to try to improve and alter the condition of urban residents.

And, these are also years that can be labeled modern, especially the period from 1880 or so to 1940 or so. The problem with the word Modern is that it has too many meanings and sub-meanings. On the one level modern means right now. On the other hand, modern refers to several points during the past when people who were doing things used the word for "right now" to describe what they were doing at the time. So we have modern literature from the late 19th century onward, modern architecture in the 1920s, modern art with Picasso and the boys, and so on.

Today's class is about the Age of Optimism, and I keep wanting to talk about modernity as I do so. I should resist that urge and keep the focus before 1880, but I use optimism to set up the Great War and I feel the need to argue that the prevailing tone from 1850 to 1920 was optimistic, with a constant undercurrent of pessimism and despair especially from the artistic worlds.

To my mind, the predominant culture of the turn of the twentieth century was an attempt to grapple with, for lack of a better word, modernity. On the one hand this was done by mastering knowledge - if we can measure it, study it, we can know it, and if we do it professionally rather than like the enlightenment dilletantes, we can use this knowledge to shape the world. The Enlightenment has long long legs. On the other hand there was an attempt to accomodate to modernity by denying some aspects of it, whether the brutal medieval fantasies of fiction, the movement to gothic architecture, or the rise of therapeutic culture that attempted to alleviate the stresses of urban living and rapid transition. Jackson Lears calls this second aspect anti-modernism in No Place of Grace but it is modernism all the same.

Modernism as such belongs next week when we do the turn of the twentieth century, but I think I will talk about it twice.

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March 22, 2004

Whales and Poppies

Last night I watched the DVD of Whale Rider and read Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. Both are powerful. Both are about lost generations, one told in terms of magic and hope, the other in reality and despair. Not surprisingly, I could not sleep last night.

What kept me up was thinking about the Great War and about the paper topic I am giving the kids. They have a paper due on Remarque in a couple of weeks and I need to give them the detailed paper topic. My preliminary thought was to ask them

Compare and contrast Germany before and after the Great War, use Remarque for examples. Show how the war changed the people and their society.
but after re-reading Remarque I am not sure that they will be able to write that paper, or at least write it well. Remarque focuses on his themes of the lost generation, the futility of warfare between nation states, and man's inhumanity to man; he only discusses the change between pre-war and postwar understandings within the context of Paul Baumer and the other members of the lost generation of schoolboys.

I thought about adding a little poetry to their assignment, to give them a better picture of the world before the war, and I discovered that I had been thinking about the optimistic side of the Belle Epoch while most of the avante garde, realist, and neonaturalist authors of the era, especially in Germany, had been pessimistic about the merits of industrialization and the new society. I had been thinking about Kipling's "Take up the White Man's Burden" and Teddy Roosevelt's popular persona, while they were closer to Edward Munch's painting The Scream or Nietzsche's nihilistic optimism as he declared that God was dead and that this was a good thing.

I dug around a little and rediscovered the Bartleby Project at Columbia University - the best argument I have seen in a long time for ending or limiting the current practice of long copyright laws. One of the things that they have scanned and archived there is a set of early twentieth century Norton Anthologies of Poetry. So I was able to check a 1920 book on the new poets and compare it to a 1917 book of mostly optimistic war poetry. I found a couple of good thoughts there, and on some of the very good online resources on the Great War.

My current thought is to give them four poems to supplement the novel:

and then ask them what it means to be a lost generation? Or, perhaps, how did the war affect the generation who went to war..

That might be forced, but I like the parallels in the two poems about mortality and poppies and the two very different takes on the lines from Horace. I do not know if the difference between the first two and the second two is one of generation or one of experiences; I suspect both. Neither is a great question

I will not use fiction, although I was tempted to compare Kipling's meditation on the loss of his own son, Kipling, The Gardener, with Owen Machen The Bowmen, a story that millions of English believed was true because they wanted something like it to be true. The problem is that most of the readily available short fiction is mourning fiction or is self-conscious writing wrestling with the problem of the lost generation. I thought about using Hemingway's In Our Time and I do assign bits of that to the US History courses, much of my take on the social impact of the Great War is influenced by Hemingway's painful set of wonderfully crafted short stories, but that is what we have Remarque for and we don't need to read two things that cover the same ground.

I keep coming back to Kipling, perhaps it is the attraction that I have for a poet who focuses on making sense of his era. I could probably have saved the kids a lot of reading if I had just assigned The Widow's Party and White Man's Burden to set the scene and then The Gardener and to close it off London Stone.

And so to have some breakfast and think on this some more.

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March 21, 2004

Dirty Minds and Poor Metaphors

From the most recent batch of homework:

"The idea [of socialism] was rampant in the minds and on the tongues of those living in the nineteenth century."

Over and above the bloated and awkward quality of the writing, this metaphor made me blush.

Fess up - how many of you immediately thought about fellatio when you read the sentence?

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March 11, 2004

Grading with Gollum

Perhaps I need to change my grading style to something closer to Ellen Fremedon when she goes grading with Gollum.

Hates them. Ssstupid sstudentses, don't even read the textbook, no preciouss. They writes, and writes, and sscrawls and scribbles-- our eyes, precious, we must ruin our poor eyeses on their scratchings-- but they don't think, do they, precious? They never thinksss. Gollum. No, no thinking for them, sstupid studentses. Too good for thinking, gollum But we'll show them, preciouss, yess.

Thanks to Crooked Timber for the link.

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March 07, 2004

I am mean (Course Evaluations)

I got my evaluations back from last semester, where I taught the first half of the US Survey for Urban Research University. I learned a few things about myself - some of them will affect my teaching, others will not. Here are some random thoughts, written down to get them out of my head so I can sleep.

The first thing to remember is that 95% of the kids who responded only took the class because it was a distribution requirement. Without the liberal arts core, they would not have been there. Still, they had a strong opinion:

I am mean.

Why am I mean?

I do not give the grades that the kids think they deserve - a third of the students at Urban Research University expect to get an A in every class. I give about 4% A, 10% A- - which means that my students are going to be very cranky. The funny thing is, when I give 15% grades of A- or above, I feel like I am grading high.

Before I next teach there, I will double check with the department chair to see what the department's grading guidelines are - if someone is in the top 25% of all students you have ever taught, what grade did they earn?

My paper comments focused too heavily on form and not heavily enough on content. It is easier to grade form, and I fix it whenever I find it, but I did try to look at their argument. I need to work on giving more useful comments to the B papers. That is useful feedback.

I lecture a lot, which I knew, and the kids found it boring with many of them complaining about what I thought were interesting digressions. I will think about changing the entertainment level in class - although I won't be using Powerpoint I might add some multimedia. I may look into better ways to do small group activities - I stopped doing them after the students told me they would rather have me lecture them. It is hard to do a comprehensive survey, to people who don't want to be in the class and don't do the reading and can't talk about the class material, without lecturing. Perhaps shift to more postholing? Definitely open more classes with questions, do more close readings of documents in class - something I am doing this semester.

I am conservative. That will surprise the readers of this blog. And I don't do a good enough job of letting people who are talking nonsense dominate the class. Did I phrase it that way? Apparently a couple of the kids felt shut down or intimidated if they disagreed with my "conservative" understanding of history. On the good side, they really liked the way I dealt with slavery and racial issues in the US Survey. So that is a good thing. I do need to work harder at encouraging the folks other than the usual suspects.

I need to tweak my workload. They did not like my reader - thought it was boring and a waste of time. I will think about how to make it punchier. They also thought the workload was too high for the level. I do think that, with the regular homework assignments, I can go down to one paper. Several also wanted more frequent grading opportunities - quizzes and such - and not just a midterm and a final. Duh - what do you think the homeworks were? They pointed out, and I already changed this semester, the hole in my homework policy. Kids were attending discussion and then turning in homework the next class period summarizing what we covered in class. My current policy is that homework comes in at class time or not at all (exceptions for sick and out of class), and you can drop your lowest grade. I will look into lowering the reading load next time I teach at URU. Of course, the average student reported spending 4.2 hours a week outside of class on my coursework, and that feels LOW. Then again, many of the kids at URU are carrying 15 credits and a full time job - a combination that only works if you don't do much work outside the classroom.

Overall, a lot of the evaluations were kids being cranky because I gave a hard class and gave meaningful grades. I thought I had done better than that, and my initial feedback was that I had done a good job that semester, so these numbers and comments were a bit of a surprise.

And so to bed.

PS - I tried to leach the useful comments out of the noise, and those are the meaningful changes I intend to make. You never teach a class perfectly, and if they felt this cranky then there are things I have to change before I achieve my desired evaluation: "this class made you work very hard and everyone should take it because it is so good." But that will be a long way away at this rate.

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March 01, 2004


I am grading blue books today. Such fun. I graded homework earlier, and I still have to do the second pass on the papers (otherwise the folks who got graded before lunch get a full letter grade lower than the folks who get graded after lunch.)

I started reading identifications. So far I have one that was just plain sad - a gamish of names and dates as every ruler and every conflict between 1500 and 1815 was thrown into a single identification. I won't reproduce that, I don't find those funny.

What I DID find funny was this:

Jean Jacques Rousseau was one of the most sexiest men of the enlightenment.

You can see what the student was trying to say, but it calls to mind those wonderful Spinal Tap distinctions about the fine lines between "sexy" and "sexist", between "clever" and "stupid."

Especially because nine out of ten women surveyed thought that JJR was not in the least bit sexy.(1) The tenth was his teenaged housekeeper, who he forced to sleep naked with him, but when he was tried for fornication outside of marriage because of how he treated his female help, JJR won the case by claiming that the prothesis he wore to treat his urinary tract problems made it impossible for him to have sexual relations. Now THATS sexy. Yep.

(1) Department of Unverifiable Statistics, Journal of Irreproducable Results, May, 1492.

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February 24, 2004

3 Individuals

We are writing the final exam today. The kids submitted questions, and I am taking their questions and my notions and putting together a list of six essay questions for them to prepare outlines for. Two of the questions will be on the exam, and they will write about one of them. It is my standard format for a blue-book exam.

As expected, one student came up with a question that I was able revise into the sort of question that you can easily spend hours discussing in a bar or on the internet:

We talked about "great man" history. If you were asked to name the three most important and influential individuals - rulers, scientists, philosophers, or other - in Europe between 1600 and 1815, who would you name? Why these three and not others?

My answer is below the fold.

Off the top of my head, I say:
Isaac Newton
Louis XIV

The last was the only tough decision. I think that the French Revolution was very important, but which one individual would you hang the entire revolution on? I could have picked J.J. Rousseau, or the Duke of Orleans, or Lafayette, or Robespierre. I picked Mirabeau because he was the iron rod that stiffened the Third Estate and pushed them to become the National Assembly rather than being sent home.

If I had changed the start date to 1500, the list would have been Martin Luther, Louis XIV, and John Locke. And no, I am not sure why adding Luther transformes Newton into Locke.

And so to work on the exam.

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February 23, 2004


The following is the opening sequence for today's lecture on the Industrial Revolution - straight from my teaching notes. I often write out my introductions and use sketch notes for the rest, even if I then paraphrase the written text in class. I wanted to blog this because of the final quote from Blake, where the soft affections "condense into cruelty" beneath the hammer of the mills. It is a wonderful phrase, made more so because I recently finished Jacquelline Carey's pretty good trilogy about cruelty, affection, and love, a trilogy organized around the notion that something can be yeilding but not weak, and that "love as thou wilt" if taken seriously is an amazingly versatile and subversive thought, differently but equally as radical as "workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains."

I Dark Satanic Mills

Did anyone see the really good little movie "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys?" In it a group of alienated Catholic schoolboys in 1970s South Carolina start, among other things, reading William Blake. Their teacher, a nun played by Jodie Foster, warns them that Blake is dangerous and they should not be reading him.

Blake was dangerous - a deeply spiritual man, a mystic, firmly religions and completely disaffected from both the Church of England and the new Dissenting churches that grew up around the Industrial Revolution. He saw the new cities and the new society as a this-worldly battleground between God and Satan, and he was not quite sure how things would turn out.

William Blake, (1757-1827) writing at the turn of the 19th century, wrote about life in the cities, life in industrial England, and about the mythic past available to Albion as it stretched its modern sinews. We mostly know him for "Tyger Tyger, burning Bright / in the Forests, In the night / What immortal Hand or Eye / could frame thy fearful symmetry." In England, they know him for the English national hymn: Jerusalem "And did these feet in ancient times" which contains the question I want to ask "And was Jerusalem builded here / among these dark satanic mills."

Those mills, who he elsewhere has speak saying
"Loud roar my Furnaces and loud my hammer is heard
I labour day and night, I behold the soft affections
condense beneath my hammer into forms of cruelty"

are for Blake a symbol of Satan's presence in the physical world. Lets look at those mills, at how they came to be located in England and then across Europe, and at the changes they created.

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What to say?

I am finishing up the lesson plan for the first of two classes on the First Industrial Revolution. The second class, Working Men/Working Women, will examine life in the mills, the way that industrialization changed the gendered division of labor in Europe, and the creation of working class identity and working class culture. Today's class will be the broad overview of the years between 1750 and 1850 and the combination of technologies and markets.

But, I don't quite know how to frame and present the class. I find myself wanting to make a literary move, framing it in terms of William Blake's "dark satanic mills" or Tolkein's nostalgia for an imagined rural past in the Scouring of the Shire. I suspect that this means that I should give a straightforward lecture on machines and markets, railroads and Adam Smith.

I love history, but the thing I struggle with is how best to frame a story to make it new, interesting, and useful.

EDIT - much better, as usual blogging about a difficulty helped me see the answer. Tolkein is out, as is the debate about the good and bad of industrialization. Instead Adam Smith and the classical economists are showing up to close the lecture. Good lads. Soundtrack for the class in the extended entry.

As I was thinking about class over breakfast I had the lyrics to Byker Hill get stuck in my head. I dug out the Young Tradition and played it. Theirs is a much more, well, traditional recording than the other one I have, by Boiled in Lead.

Byker Hill

If I had another penny
I would buy another gill
I would make the piper play
The Bonny lads of Byker Hill.

Byker Hill and Walker Shore
Collier lads for evermore.

2. The pitman and the girls are trim
They drink bumble made from gin
Then to dance they do begin
To the tune of Elsie Marley.

3. When first I went unto the dirt
I had no coat or no pit shirt
Now Iíve gotten two or three
Walker Pitís done well by me.

4. Geordie Johnson he had a pig
He hit with a shovel and it danced a jig
All the way to Walker Shore
To the tune of Elsie Marley.

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February 17, 2004

Molasses Spill Again

I feel like that town in Massachusetts where they had the great molasses spill, for my brain is again being slow and sticky.

Let me just say that little people are very much fun, and now that his face is recovering from the bruising during delivery and the post-delivery slime-sucking mosh pit(1) the littlest man looks rather cute and somewhat like his big brother.

Let me add that it is nice to have J's dad around to help run errands and chase toddlers and help J while I am out teaching, but the man has gotten high maintenance in his old age and he absolutely exhausts me.

Finally, while I got good sleep last night I am still a mite fragile - Monday's class turned into a free association recital on the French Revolution, with me asking one section to compare Robespierre to the War on Terror (2) I wanted to cover the entire French Rev within France, got as far as 1793 and Robespierre.

Tomorrow we get to talk about Napoleon Bonaparte and the wars of the French Revolution, which should be different fun.

Footnotes below the fold.

(1) Littlest man came after a remarkably quick labor - 2 hours after the epidural J was ready to go, 3 or 4 pushes and we had a baby. He came so quick and easy that the slime was not properly squeezed out of his chest and face, and then the nurse spent 15 minutes squeezing, squeegie-ing, and suctioning him so that he could breath easily. He is fine, but he spent some time being watched because he made little kitten mews with every breath from the slime in his chest.

(2) Similarities - notion that revolutionary or special time is not subject to the same legal conditions as normal civil government, notion that the state must act with rigor against enemies in order to protect the rights of sincere members.

Differences - regular procedure even if unlike previous legal procedures, detainment not summary execution, precise laws leading to limited results not a general law of suspects leading to sweeping results, war on terror attempting to preserve an existing society not make the world anew.

I should not have asked the question - too political for too little gain even though I framed it as how best to deny someone who claims they are similar. The kids either do not follow the news or do not wish to talk politics with someone who grades them. I suspect a mixture.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:16 AM | TrackBack

February 15, 2004

Sunday morning

The littlest man comes home today. The little man is having a nap. I am taking a quick break before doing some housework and then getting ready to go fetch mom and baby.

My thought for the moment is twofold: it is a good thing that Monday is the American and French Revolutions, because I can teach those in my sleep; and the kids may not get their homework back on time.

And so to put sheets on the bassinet.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:22 AM | TrackBack

February 11, 2004

Outline - State Power

State Power

Enlightened Monarchism
Warfare - Prussia - Fred
Women - Austria - Maria Theresa
Wars and Consequences
Land - Russia - Catherine
State Power - Poland

I decided to combine the national narratives with thematic narratives, and work chronologically rather than introducing the three empires and then talking about them analytically.

I am still going to talk about the hate triangle between Freddie, Maria, and Kate. If only because it amuses my American irreverence to call the exalted rulers by their nicknames.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:34 AM | TrackBack

Freddie, Maria, and Kate

When I teach the US survey, I bring two or perhaps three sheets of paper with an outline. Today I brought 9 sheets of paper, and covered 8 of them. I really do need more notes to teach Western Civ than I need for US.

My conceit of a "hate triangle" between Frederick II of Prussia, Maria-Theresa of Austria, and Catherine of Russia worked moderately well. It would have worked better if I had been able to get through the partition of Poland. Ah well, perhaps I can include the partition on Monday when we do the American Revolution, for the founders were well aware of what happened to Poland (and of the problems that came with a regularly elected lifetime king) and consciously shaped the US Constitution to avoid becoming another Poland.

What surprised me was that in a class dealing with Frederick II and Catherine the Great, none of the students asked me any questions about sexuality. It is just as well; I am trying to remember the extent to which Frederick batted lefty and all I can say is that unlike James I of England he did not let his love life interfere with his decisions as a monarch. I might write up the myth of Catherine and the horse and use it as a window into Enlightenment era pornographic political slander.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:31 AM | TrackBack

February 10, 2004

Teaching Plans, or Freddie, Maria, and Kate.

Tomorrow we are talking about State Power - a discussion of absolute monarchs focusing on Eastern Europe in the 18th century. I could just as easily have titled the class the Freddie, Maria and Kate show, because I tend to organize this era around the hate triangle involving Frederick II, Maria-Thersa, and Catherine I.

I have two potential stories to use to cover the material for tomorrow, and I am not sure which would work better. So, I will write them both up here. Then I will pick the better and use it as my introduction for tomorrow. Both narratives will have to cover: Prussia, Austria, and Russia; enlightened despots; women and the enlightenment; 18th century warfare; and the War of the Austrian Succession, the Seven Years' War, and the Partitions of Poland. It would be good if I also talked about agricultural specialization and the increase in market production with the concomitant movement of peasants off the land and into cities or into cottage industry. It is a LOT of stuff to cover, which is why I am looking for a story that will help the kids put all the pieces together.

My original plan was to be very schematic: start by talking about Voltaire and absolute monarchs, follow by tracing the rise of Brandenburg-Prussia, complete with a discussion of 18th century land warfare, up through 1740 when Frederick II takes over; tracing the expansion of Austria through 1740 when Maria-Theresa takes over and is met by unrest because she is a woman; quickly moving from Peter I through Peter III and marrying Peter to a German noblewoman named Catherine. After that scene setting - which will probably take 40 minutes - I would quickly fight the war of the Austrian Succession, jump to the 7 Year's war, and have Peter save Frederick's bacon before Catherine overthrows her husband and has him murdered. The end of the class would then be a discussion of Frederick, M-T, and Catherine as they applied Enlightenment principles to governing their empires towards the end of the 18th century. Finally, the sacrificial sub-section would be a discussion of economics and agriculture. This structure would work, the only trick would be not getting bogged down early on. The kids are writing homework on the Enlightenment and Women, so I will have to make time to talk about it, probably early on right after my preliminary remarks where I explain what we will be doing in class - they always talk more during class if they start out with a discussion.

The alternative plan looks quite similar: it is also centered on the hate triangle between the three rulers and it covers much of the same material. The difference is that instead of introducing all three nations and then having them fight, I would move more thematically: introductory remarks; rise of Brandenburg Prussia to 1740, complete with discussion of 18th century warfare; then discuss women and use that discussion to inform our narrative of Austria and Maria-Theresa; Fight the war of the Austrian Succession; introduce Russia and run all the way from Peter I through Peter III. I might also fight the 7 Year's war before I introduce Russia. The ending would me much like the first, looking at these three states to the end of the 18th century, showing just how far enlightenment ideals went, and then closing with agricultural economics. The big difference is that it moves their discussion later on, moves Russia later on, and breaks the narrative of war and partition with a long digression on Russian History. It is more discursive and less schematic, almost a stream of consciousness narrative, and I risk leaving Russia out entirely if I get bogged down early.

In any case, I do intend to focus on the three rulers - if only for the fun of talking about Freddie, Maria, and Kate and their hate triangle. (Actually, Catherine sort of admired Frederick, her lover and the army hated Peter III's adolescent hero-worship that led him to withdraw from a long and bloody war right when they were about to win. Still, Catherine had Peter murdered not for his war policy but because she despised his very bones.)

For now, I will write up notes on the various building blocks, for the biggest difference between the two class narratives is the order in which I will introduce my sections and the clarity with which I distinguish between the various topics. The second is smoother and more interesting, the first might be easier to take notes on.

EDIT - spelling and moved below the fold.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:42 AM | TrackBack

February 09, 2004

Random teaching thought

Class went well, at least I liked it.

We did intellectual history: enlightenment thinkers and some of their ideas. On Wednesday we get to do the Freddy and Maria show - enlightened monarchs in Eastern Europe.

I am putting the full writeup on my teaching blog, not here. I just wanted to use this forum to comment that my notion of starting by explaining why I love the Englightenment and why I hate the Enlightenment seemed to work well as both an overview of the movement and a chance to suggest the relationship between a historian, moral judgement, and the events of the past. I argued that a historian wears two hats: we seek to understand the past and recapture the choices and decisions that people in the past made, and yet as human being we also judge the people in the past, just as we judge everyone around us. The trick is to make those judgements not directly by our criteria but rather on the standard of the best practices available at the time.

Thus while I get very frustrated at the way that many enlightenment thinkers made up stories about their past, and I judged them for it using Franklin's satire: "What a wonderful thing it is to be a reasonable creature, for we may find a reason for anything we wish to do" I also placed those stories within the context of reaction to the Counter-Reformation and within the context of a generation of thinkers misled by the implications of their guiding metaphor. The enlightenment was about light, shedding the light of reason into the dark corners of tradition and superstition. Their metaphors, their language, their examples all hinged on the image of bringing light into dark places. But, if you want to change the world and you have a candle, you need to locate yourself within a dark room and not outdoors at noon. In other words, in order for their metaphor to tell an attractive story about their project, then all that came before them had to be wrong, ignorant, or stupid. And so, they found it easy to tell and easier to believe stories that made the past appear to be stupid - the notion that everyone before Columbus thought the earth was flat was an enlightenment tall tale, as is the very concept of the medeival period as the "dark ages."

Oddly enough, the notion that the people who came before were stupid and ignorant, while we bring reason, light and knowledge to improve on their understanding, is a notion that continues to be popular at the present. It may well be the most lasting legacy of the enlightenment.

And from here, I think I can go back to the writeup that the kids will see.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:12 AM | TrackBack

February 08, 2004

Teaching Grumbles


I prep classes a day or two ahead of time. I don't write out my lectures, and while I make a rough plan of my lectures at the start of the semester I leave things loose because, well, I know I will be revising them a day or two before the class regardless of what I had planned so why duplicate the effort.

In any case, I had a general idea of what to cover this week, and on Friday I sketched out a rough outline and some filler. I expanded that yesterday and started to do some reading. Tonight, after a day of errands and chasing the toddler, I go to finish writing up my lesson plan and I decide that I don't want to do half of my preliminary proposal.

So, I get to revise it almost from scratch - and while I know that plan A will not work, I don't yet have a plan B.

What do I want to say about the enlightenment? How much religion do I want to get into? Why am I focusing so heavily on England and France? Should I do more countries? (Frederick and Catherine and Maria Theresa are due on Wednesday)

I might look into Augustan England and France under the ancien regime. Let me double check the textbook and remind myself what information the kids will be bringing to the classroom.

And all I want to do is go to sleep early. Bother.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:55 AM | TrackBack

February 06, 2004

Love it and Hate It

On Monday we will be talking about the Enlightenment. I suspect that I will open class by explaining to the kids that the enlightenment was a very good thing - an outpouring of reason, a movement against cruelty, a search for a rational society that respects rights and liberties - and that it was a terrible thing - largely because much Enlightenment thought was rationalization, not reason, justifying the way things were rather than working for human happiness.

In other words, I judge the enlightenment and find it both promising and lacking. I suspect that much of my gut anger at many of the enlightenment dudes comes because they could have done better. There is something more annoying about a promising project that falls short than there is about an idea that is just plain stupid or dangerous.

I was reminded of Matthew 7:1 as I thought about these opening remarks "Judge not lest ye be judged." Checking the text I find the second clause to that statement is perhaps more useful "For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."

In modern language, the problem with judging is not in making a decision about whether an action or a decision is good or bad, the problem comes if you make that decision on bad criteria. This makes sense - I had forgotten Matthew 7:2 but I have long interpreted Matthew 7:1 in that way. So when we study history we are constantly forming opinions, judgements, about historical actors and historical decisions. The challenge is to judge them on the correct terms. Just as Paul Finkelman argues in Jeffersonian Legacies that we can not measure Thomas Jefferson's decisions about slavery against late 20th-century norms but instead must look at the best practice of Jefferson's day, so too we must come up with reasonable criteria for all our historical judgements and all our policy judgements. Kantians would call it the categorical imperitive; New Testament folks would call it the golden rule; I explain it to the kids as being fair. And, as I also point out to the kids, the criteria you choose for your judgement will have as much to do with your decision as do the facts of the case.

One of the things I most dislike about the enlightenment is the extent to which many enlightenment thinkers felt it necessary to make up stories about their opponents in order to discredit them. The story about Columbus and the flat earth - enlightenment propaganda. The notion that religion and science must always be opposed - enlightenment propaganda. The concept of a "dark age" following the fall of Rome - enlightenment propaganda.

To be fair to the enlightenment dudes, many of these overstatements were created within the contexts of polemic, and polemics are generally aimed not at elucidating truth but at the total destruction of your enemy's position. I read polemics, both for work and as I follow contemporary politics, and I do not care for them. Let me give some contemporary examples and then I will go back to class prep.

Brad Delong has been spending the last week or so attacking the Bush budget, Bush economic policy, and the internal workings of the Bush White House. He eloquently explains exactly why it is that he refers to the Bush team as "those clowns." He does not care for their procedures, their policy, or their institutional honesty. However, as he makes his critiques, he is also fairly clear about the criteria he is using: he wants to see an honest broker, he wants to see policy decisions that look to the future, he wants the Treasury Department to maintain independence and not be the tool of White House speechwriters. I get the sense that he respects many of the people in the Bush administration, or rather that he respects what they have once done. His anger at them comes in part because they are trashing the work he did in the Clinton administration, and in part because they ought to know better.

In contrast, let me introduce a troll, one JadeGold, who has been posting on the Bill Hobb's blog, especially on a discussion about Bush's military service record. At one point in that discussion the topic turned to GWB's military aptitude tests. A poster claimed that GWB scored 25% on pilot aptitude, 50% on navigator aptitude, and 95% on officer aptitude. JadeGold responded with incredulity. How could GWB be good at anything? My response to the same numbers was that they match my preconcieved notion of GWB: he is not book smart; he is very people smart; he has the knack of appealing to and inspiring service people and this has made him an effective Commander in Chief.

The point to this contrast is not just that DeLong is a good guy and JadeGold is a stupid troll. It is a question of style. DeLong uses the norms of collegial controversy; he praises the person of their opponent while denigrating their policies. JadeGold refuses to believe anything good about someone they dislike. It is polemics, the same sort of scorched-earth polemics that led the enlightement dudes to make up stories about the past.

And so to write up a handout on Burke and Paine

Posted by Red Ted at 11:05 AM | TrackBack

Thomas Paine and the Rights of Man

Our first paper topic is on Thomas Paine Rights of Man. The paper is due on Wednesday, February 18, in class. The question is deceptively simple: "What were the rights of man? Why were they controversial?" This handout is a brief historical background to Thomas Paine and his book.

Thomas Paine was a professional rabble rouser. He inspired the American Revolution, defended the French Revolution, and spent much of his later life trying to create a third revolution in Britain. He was acquainted with Timothy Burke, a Member of Parliament, spokesman for several ministers, advocate of religious toleration, and defender of the American Colonies during the Imperial Crisis of the 1760s and 1770s. The two men exchanged several letters in 1789.

Burke had long been a supporter of constitutional government and human rights; Paine was thus surprised when Burke first gave a speech in Parliament condemning the French Revolution in February, 1790 and then, in November, 1790, issued a long pamphlet, Reflections on the Revolution in France. This pamphlet was written in the form of a critique of a political sermon given in November, 1789 by Richard Price, a Dissenting English clergyman, but it moved on to a complete critique of the National Assembly and its actions. Burke argued that rights and liberties were a contract between those who lived before, those now alive, and those not yet born. He identified that inter-generational transfer of rights with the inter-generational transfer of property, especially landed property, and argued that the National Assembly's expropriation of church property completely destroyed the social contract. He said more than this brief precis; Burke's book is the foundation text of modern conservativism. I flipped a coin as to whether this class would read Burke or Paine and almost assigned both. If any of you are interested in conservative thought or conservative politics I strongly suggest that you read Burke.

Burke was answered by a who's who of the British left, including enlightenment feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. The most famous reply was written by Thomas Paine from Paris. The first volume of Paine's Rights of Man, Feb 1791, was a direct and detailed refutation of Burke's pamphlet. The second volume, published in Feb 1792, was a call for revolution in Britain and in the rest of the world. Paine's books became the foundation texts of the English working-class movement. Selling them was declared a seditious libel and several booksellers were charged with this capital offence for daring to spread radical thought in cheap editions. Following Paine's later book, Age of Reason, the British government shifted from political to religious persecutions and successfully prosecuted a number of English radicals for blasphemy for selling Age of Reason, thus halting sales of Rights of Man.

For your paper, dig through Paine's book, both volumes, and figure out what he means by his title: "Rights of Man." I suggest that you look both for abstract and detailed descriptions of these rights. As you do so, ask why Paine's depiction of rights was so dangerous that people were tried for their lives for selling the book, and so attractive that English radicals continued to take that risk and spread Paine's ideas.

Posted by Red Ted at 02:48 AM | TrackBack

February 05, 2004

The Joy of Astronomy

Yesterday's class went well. I called it Starry Messengers after Galileo's book, and we talked about the scientific revolution of the 15th-18th centuries.

The kids had homework, "Why was astronomy so dangerous?" and were thus primed to speak, but that was not the only reason class went well.

I think that the big differences between this and my two previous classes, which did not go well, are that this time I
- was working with a defined and manageable chunk of material
- was largely paralleling the textbook
- used no maps
- was really psyched about the material.

I like ideas and the history of ideas, and this class was all about ideas and about the interplay between science and religion. I even got to teach John Locke's psychology of experience and ideas, one of my favorite little sub-lectures. I even used props to make Locke's point - I borrowed a yellow block from the baby's toybox and then held it up as an exampe of the color yellow and the shape of a block. I then used it to make Locke's point about the absurdity of religious prosecution, threatening to punish the class if they did not assert that the object in my hand was a blue ball. And, of course, they could say it was a blue ball but they still saw a yellow block, for external force and coercion can not change our ideas, only reason, logic, and new evidence can change an idea for Locke.

Perhaps on Monday, when we talk about the enlightenment, I will give them Franklin's approach as a contrast - practice and experience can shape behavior, and morality is a matter of behavior and habit; you can train yourself to be more nearly perfect.

Posted by Red Ted at 07:18 AM | TrackBack

February 02, 2004

Europe and the World I - preclass outline

Opening Remarks and Review
Long Distance Trade
Columbian Exchange
Sea Dogs and Fur Traders
Imperial Consolidation

Posted by Red Ted at 01:08 AM | TrackBack

February 01, 2004

The value of homework

I was grading homework during the football game this evening.

I am reminded of another very good reason to assign regular homework - after reading the wide range of quality and coherence in these first homeworks, I now know that I will have to simplify my arguments and make sure to stick in the general vicinity of the textbook chapters in my lectures.

Tomorrow I get to talk about Europe and the World part 1. I will spend tomorrow morning reviewing my plans and making sure the story is clear and simple. I might use the following rhyme to open class:

Sugar and spice and slaves held for life
That is what first empires are made out of.
I can't think of a comparable rhyme to use when we will talk about the second set of European empires at the end of the 19th century. But I have a gift for doggerel, so I am sure I will think of something.

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January 29, 2004

College Athletics

John Chaney just won his 700th basketball game, at Temple. I am glad to see a good man achieve an important milestone.

I fall into the old-school liberal arts category, for I feel that athletics are simply one form of a person's total education. More, due to the oddities of the coach-athlete relationship, a coach is a teacher who will have a profound impact on a few students while a normal professer will have a thin impact on many students and a profound impact on a couple of students each year; coaches are in a close and intensive relationship with their athletes, and that power carries obligations.

I admire Chaney because he is coach as instructor. His basketball progam wins games, not as many recently but still enough, but more importantly he turns out mature, responsible adults. Chaney is a mentor, and while he screams and yells at his students he cares about them: "What's so important to me, to be able to climb, and reach down and lift up others." That caring shows. I also respect the fact that he teaches basketball starting with the footwork and moving up; I have long believed that if your feet are set correctly, everything else follows - in life as in athletics.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:29 AM | TrackBack

January 28, 2004

Lesson Plan

Here is the skeleton outline for this afternoon.

L'etat, c'est moi!

  • Reformation
  • 30 Year's War
  • How Absolute were Absolute Monarchs?
  • France
  • Austria
  • Russia
  • Sovereignty

Normally I only get through four or five numbered items on an outline. But, normally I only get through two pages of sketched notes. I have under two pages of notes - I fear that this means I have under-noted my material. I will have to work to not get bogged down.

We missed class on Monday, so I am squeezing in the reformation in 15 minutes - I wonder if it will make any sense.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:18 PM | TrackBack

Class Writeup L'Etat C'Est Moi!

We missed class on Monday because of the weather and I merged the highlights of Monday into the first 20 minutes or so of today. I left my Monday notes at home because I was afraid of getting bogged down; it turns out I needed them - I did remember correctly that the Ottoman Turks took Byzantium in 1453 but I almost said 1543.

I arrived early for first section and spent time working on names. I ran late talking after first section and dove right into second section without reviewing names. I will get them later.

I did a basics of religious history:
Roman empire splits into two, west falls east survives, Christian church divides with it, West claims power, East under emporer, Orthodox and Catholic. Add Islam, just did Mohammed and the first generation around 672 then jumped to Ottoman Turks in 1300s - left out Arab expansion, Crusades, Mongols, Seljuk Turks, Reconquista of Spain and all the good stuff.

In early section I explained Christendom during the Roman empire, in late section I did not introduce concept until 30 year's war. Worked better in the first section.

From there I laid out the reformation quickly - Catholic church - Confraternities, christendom, Pope validating secular rulers, church, state and kingdom intertwined. Indulgences, abuses, Martin Luther 1517, 95 Theses. I quickly laid out the argument that Luther split the church where other conflicts did not because of printing press and disgruntled German (and French) nobles and minor princes.

In afternoon section one student responded to rhetorical question by suggesting that Luther was unwilling to be bribed into silence. Good point - Luther was stubborn and did refuse to be bribed or intimidated. But, so too were the Albignesians, the Lollars, Jan Hus and his followers. And, while the German princes jumped on the Reformation bandwagon, earlier splits had seen the King of France championing an alternate Pope in Avignon and maintaining split papal courts for decades. I basically repeated Eisenstien's argument about the printing press, although I softened her determinism.

I skipped over most of the wars of religion, with some brief references to France, and got into the 30-year's war. This too was sketchy - high points were Protestant revolt leads to religious war leads to great power intervention leads to mercenary armies all over the place leads to desolation. Winners were Brandenburg-Prussia and Sweden. Austria lost any meaningful Holy Roman Empire but strengthened crown control over Bohemia and laid the groundwork for its expansion into Ottoman territory the second half of the century.

Finally we were able to discuss absolute monarchs. We did a brief board exercise talking about monarchs, their attributes, and the extent of their power. In both sections I was able to make the big point that they had no checks on their power in theory but very limited administrative capacities. They all added to their administrative capacities and started building bureaucracies independent of the nobility, but this simply raised administrative capacity from minimal to not much.

We did case studies: France, Austria, Prussia. Second section had introduced Louis XIV early during the wars on religion, and I forgot to give a close study of Louis and Colbert. Note, remember to do mercantilism in second section as part of Monday's class on colonization.

I closed with a review of sovereignty - the notion that the sovereign power acts without check or limitations. Pointed out that there are different forms of sovereignty - the Tsar of all the Russias is sovereign in his word - can sign an order and it becomes the law of the land. The British King in Parliament has the same authority - once a law is passed by parliament and signed by the king it becomes the law of the land regardless of all prior law or all notions of constitution - the constitution is what the King in Parliament says it is just as the Russian constitution is what the Tsar says it is.

I used this, and the earlier discussion of Christendom and the Treaty of Westphalia to suggest the roots of modern nationalism - a sovereign state, with a state church and a state bureaucracy, will inspire loyalty and identity among the people who live in it.

Unanswered questions - why did Sweden fade from great power status after 17th century? I said that they were unable to hold onto the shores of the Baltic, and not populous enough or mercantile enough to survive with just Sweden's land. I could just as easily have said that their 17th century strength was an aberration created by early adoption of new military tactics and a run of good generals and inspiring leaders. Neither answer fully satisfies me - I need to dig into it.

Overall, I was cramming two classes into one. I was poorly organized and a little scatterbrained from being sick over the weekend. I need to do better next week.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:35 AM | TrackBack

January 26, 2004


There are big differences between urban and suburban colleges and universities.

There are also big differences between residential and commuter colleges and universities.

Suburban State U has a lot of students living on campus, but at heart it is still a commuter school - perhaps it is that the faculty and staff all live a ways away.

Why do I say this?

They closed for a mere 3 inches of snow.

I am used to urban schools and residential schools where classes continue for everything short of a hurricane.

Now I get to merge my class plans for today with my intentions for Wednesday.

EDIT: ah HA - we have another snowstorm scheduled to start during the afternoon rush hour. Now cancelling school makes a little more sense - even though here in our inner suburb the streets were all plowed by 7:00am.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:01 AM | TrackBack

January 21, 2004

Random Thought

One more random thought before I go write.

I keep fighting the urge to walk into a classroom on the first day and say:

"Hi, my name is Ted and I will be your professor this semester."

Posted by Red Ted at 09:24 AM | TrackBack

First Class

Class 01: Introduction. What is History? Why European History?

Syllabus Review
Western Civ or Modern Europe?
Lay of the Land
Class Narratives
Historical Theory

And so it begins

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Class Writeup

Here is the writeup for the first day of classes. I will double this on the personal blog and the teaching blog, with a couple of minor edits. I think that in the future this blog will only get excerpts from my writeups, and for that matter the teaching blog will not get things like my comparison of students at Urban Research University with students at Suburban State University.

Class Writeup,
January 21, 2004
Introduction, Why Western Civilization

First day of classes is always exciting and a little scary, as is first day at a new university. The combination was more so, especially as I was running late after getting the syllabi copied.

I want to call the two sections morning and evening, but of course one is late afternoon and the other is at dinnertime - perhaps afternoon and evening, or just early and late.

First section was in a sloped lecture hall. It is a nice space, with a fancy electronic control desk and a small blackboard. Afternoon class is in a more traditional classroom. There is an overhead projector shoved off in the corner. In both classes I dragged out the overhead so I could use an acetate. The screens blocked most of the blackboard, so I will need to limit my use of maps this semester.

Most of the class was spent going over the syllabus. In both sections I did introductions, although in first section I forgot to have the students introduce themselves to one another at the start of class. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and I do not know if I will have morning section introduce themselves to one another on Monday.

After syllabus review I ran over some basics. We talked about the difference between Western Civ and Modern Europe. Most of the discussion was on Western Civ, and I fear that many students are still expecting Western Civ and not the Modern Europe that we will be covering.

Here are my teaching notes for that discussion - neither section followed them. Instead we did a board exercise where the students speculated on the differences and then I closed with a mini-lecture. Morning section went through the syllabus faster, so we spent more time on the board exercise.

Western Civ or Modern Europe?
Board exercise, put both items up on board - ask class to figure out the difference
Looking for culture, society v change over time, point out east-west
1920s, era after Great War, same time as Great Books idea at Columbia then Chicago.
Western Civ 1 differed from Great Books in that it included Semitic regions of middle east - at least up until Roman Era when dropped them again.
Western Civ 2 very like Great Books region.
I argue, movement of ideas east to west, tied up in NorthWest European Protestants, status consciousness, racial awareness.
Modern Europe goes west to East, recognizes central role of Ottoman Empire from 1500 to 1920s, story is that of the decline of the Ottomans and the rise of new multilingual and eventually multinational empires in Central and Eastern Europe.

We are doing Modern Europe.

We finished with a brief map exercise laying out the major regions, rivers, mountains, and linguistic zones. The big point I wanted to make was that Germany is a region for a long time before Germany emerges as a nation. I think they got it, unlike the kids at Community College who were still confused about the distinction after weeks of class.

I spent a lot of class time on the narrative structure I intend to follow. I had planned to do that discussion as a separate part of the class, but in both sections we talked about narratives while talking about the syllabus. I hope I was clear.

Finally we finished with a brief discussion of contingency, path dependency, and change over time. This is the first semester I have put that mini-lecture on the first day of classes. I intend to refer to the concepts a lot the first couple of weeks to get them used to thinking that way. I put Agency on the board but decided that I did not have the time to define it. I will introduce that concept next week, not sure on which day.

First impressions of the students - compared to URU these students are whiter, less tattooed, less pierced, and more men have more hair. Both sections had several guys with hair down to their shoulders, and I can only think of one guy out of a couple of hundred URU students with that much hair. One of the fun little things about teaching on several campuses is seeing the differences between student culture - Swarthmore students used to do silly little finger waves, Amherst kids dressed preppy, UVA women always wear makeup to the gym, and so on. So far I like the kids here and am looking forward to the semester.

We will see how many got scared away.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:38 AM | TrackBack

January 20, 2004


I like the start of a semester. It is a happy time with a bright future.

I spent this afternoon at Suburban State University getting my ID and my parking pass and getting ready for my first class tomorrow. I got to walk around a new campus, with friendly helpful people, on a bright sunny but cold winter day.

Then after I came home I sketched out what I plan to talk about. It will be a standard first class: introduce myself, explain the syllabus, explain the difference between Western Civ and Modern Europe, lay out the class narrative, discuss what it is that historians study.

I know I have blogged about planning the class before, but let me say a couple of words about Western Civilization and Modern Europe. I forget if I blogged this already, and it did not come up in a site search. Both courses cover the same general region and the same general era, but the two classes are very different in purpose and structure.

Western Civ was invented at the University of Chicago and Columbia University at the beginning of the 20th century as part of the reaction by American intellectuals to the flood of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. These professors were terrified that the flood of immigrants - poor peasants, largely Catholic and Jewish - were going to swamp the native born elite and the descendents of Protestants from Northwest Europe. They drew on their heritate of Protestant republicanism and argued that this particular cultural heritage was essential to civilization, that the germ of society had passed from the Greeks to the Romans to Northwest Europe to the United States in an unbroken succession, and that as torchbearers for civilization they had a moral duty to insist that people conform to their ideals or accept second-class status. This is a reductionist view, seeing cultural elites desparately fighting a rearguard action against what they saw as the march of proletarian doom, but it works well enough for me to use it tomorrow in class. I will double check Joan Rubin's good book on Middlebrow culture before class and Jackson Lears on No State of Grace, but I am pretty comfortable with this interpretation. Western Civilization is the story of art, ideas, all that is best and brightest, and the story of elite culture as it was transmitted to the 20th century Americas. It has widened since then, obviously, but there is still a strong focus on art, literature, and written culture.

Modern Europe, by contrast, is the history of the people who live in a region of the world. It leaves out North America as much as possible, but includes Turkey and the Ottoman empire. If the story of Western Civilization is the forward march of progress as it moves Westward across the Atlantic, the story of Modern Europe is the steady shrinkage and final disappearance of the Ottoman Empire as new empires and nations emerge in Central Europe and move Eastward. Modern Europe talks about the growth of democracy and nationalism, as does Western Civilization, but there is less focus on elite culture, less focus on art and literature, and it discusses all FOUR of the major religious families of Europe, talking about Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims rather than privileging Protestants.

The class at Suburban State is listed in the syllabus as Western Civ, but they normally teach it as Modern Europe and that is how I intend to teach the class.

And so to run errands and then fetch the baby. Sausage and peppers for dinner tonight.

Posted by Red Ted at 03:43 AM | TrackBack

January 14, 2004

Writing and arguments

The revised chapter four might be pretty good, I always have trouble judging the quality of my work.

It is also going to be a very short chapter, under 40 pages. At several points I am afraid that I am being too short and too elliptical - it is always hard pushing down just hard enough on the cheese knife, and giving the reader enough detail so that they can follow what is going on without drowning them in complexities. My cheese slices tend to vary widely: too skinny, too thick, and back to skinny again. When you add this to my troubles in framing an argument, well, I write some total crap.

What I have not decided is what I should do about a side point. Let me explain that here, as a public think piece. I am writing about Protestant leaders during the first half of the nineteenth century. I am tracing the changes in their conceptions of church and church, how the evolving climate of church and state affect interdenominational relationships, and how religious groups develop a currency of legitimacy and mutual recognition. This chapter is focusing on the emergence of evangelical identity.

One of the recurring aspects in the rhetoric of evangelicalism is an opening to "Christians of whatever denomination" who happen to agree with the basic premises of the speaker. Often this appeal to all denominations is made as part of an attempt to delegitimize, unchurch, and even bring down civil penalties on another religious group. When engaging in this sort of political rhetoric, the attacker leaves himself open to the charge that they are seeking the exclusive sanction of the state, that they are trying to replicate the British Establishment only with the speaker's religious denomination in the catbird seat. To divert these accusations, polemical bigots tried to say that it is not Presbyterians against Catholics or Methodists against Universalists, it is all Protestants against popery or all who believe in eternal punishment against those who would subvert the meaning of oaths.

I think that these points will go into extended footnotes, not into the main body. They are asides from my core argument.

They also remind me that I wanted to blog about oaths, honor, and the differences between the book and the film version of Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. But that is another essay, to be written when I am not being productive.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:44 AM | TrackBack

January 13, 2004

Class Blog

I am fine tuning my syllabus for this semester, and I am trying to decide if I want to create a blog for the class.

The big question is what would I use the blog for. I normally set up a web page for my classes with the syllabus, exam study questions, and paper topics on it. I have been writing up class sessions from my perspective on this blog, if nothing else to help me figure out what to do next.

What I imagine doing is actually pretty boring: put up a blog to use to share class skeleton outlines, and a couple of paragraphs about what I thought we covered, and as a place for students to comment.

On the one hand, I don't want to spoon-feed them the notes: taking notes is part of what we learn in college and take into the working world. On the other hand, I rather liked writing up my classes and I suspect that the kids would also like to see the writeups.

In my experience at Southern Research University, the good students will find the class web page and read the professor's outline, the weak students will flake out and go play games.

What the heck, I want to try it and adjuncting is the right place. Time to set up a new blogspot and see about getting ftp access to an account on Suburban Comprehensive University's web server.

Blogs, a wonderful place for a think piece.

ps, any suggestions on how to use blogs as courseware?

Posted by Red Ted at 10:47 AM | TrackBack

January 08, 2004


I am teaching Western Civ this coming semester.

I am still tweaking the class schedule - do I want to assign a paper due at 3:00pm on a Monday on the first night of Passover? Probably, but I will make it clear that I know I am doing it and that I will accept papers early or by email if kids want to go home for the holiday.

I also need to figure out what to ask the kids to do with the readings. We are using Tom Noble et al, Western Civilization, a book I picked because I liked the pictures and primary documents it includes. Don't laugh - pictures matter a LOT in Western Civ. We are also reading three primary documents:
- Tom Paine Common Sense, Rights of Man, Age of Reason

- Marx & Engels The Communist Manifesto
- Erich Maria Remarque All Quiet on the Western Front.

I intend to have the kids write about Rights of Man and AQWF. I am still tweaking the questions - I like to put the paper topics on the syllabus when I can. I know that the question for Rights of Man will try to get at the enlightenment roots of the French Revolution, and also on the extent to which the Revolution was an overturning of all that went before. For Remarque, I want a question that will get the kids to think about how the Great War changed the participants and their society - I buy into the notion that the Great War killed the idea of Progress, at least in its simplistic Belle Epoque variety, and was the crucial moment when people realized the full meaning of modernity. But how to guide the kids to that with a paper topic that will not leave them bogged down in the horrors of trench warfare?

I have till Monday. I will think on that. And now I will go write a little and think about tomorrow's interview.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:45 PM | TrackBack

January 03, 2004

Skimming v Reading

I got through graduate classwork by reminding myself that "skim has the same number of letters as read." In other words, I adopted a philosophy that had been explained to me by my undergraduate advisor during the first week of freshman year: You can never do all the work. Part of college is figuring out what work you have to do and what work you can skip.

Let me give an example. I got tired of reading America's God which I have been nibbling on for months and reading a chapter at a time for weeks. So, this morning I gutted it - read the sections about the people I write about, skimmed through chapters, read beginnings and endings, and made it to the end. Gutting gives a less deep appreciation of the argument, but it also got the book off my desk so I could write.

I am thinking about this because, after looking over the syllabi I was working on yesterday, I seem to be assuming that my students also know that they can not do all the work. They don't know that, or at least many of the students at Urban Research University did not know that. I need to remind myself to mention it on the first day of class at Suburban State in a couple of weeks.

And so to write.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:55 AM | TrackBack

January 02, 2004


How much reading can I expect a student to do?

I just finished my draft syllabi for the West Coast job. I will proof-read them later then email them out.

For the Age of Jefferson, I think I have assigned too much reading. I am used to teaching over a 13 week semester, this is a 9-week quarter. I am used to teaching students who are taking four or five 3-credit classes. These student will be taking three 4-credit or 5-credit classes.

The rule of thumb is to expect 2 hours outside the classroom for every hour inside the classroom. Folks vary on whether that includes time spent studying for special events like midterms and papers, or if that is just for the plain baseline reading. I am expecting my students to spend 10 hours a week reading and doing homework, which means that I can reasonably assign 200 to 300 pages of reading each week. Well, 300 is unreasonable, especially if it is heavy stuff.

Here is my proposed workload for one week.

Week Three: France
Monday: Personal Tragedy
Tuesday: Salons
Wednesday: Revolution
Thursday: Constitution
Jefferson, Autobiography, 1781-1789 54-101
Federalist 1, 10, 25, 29, 38, 39, 51, 72, 73.
Jefferson, Letters, 1783-1790, Peterson 843-919.
Write a 2 page paper responding to the primary documents in some manner.

It is a hefty reading load, but the class is intended for juniors and seniors at a pretty good comprehensive state university.

Expectations are hard to manage, especially because the kids will always complain that you have given them too much work. It can be hard to separate the signal from the noise. I lost a lot of sympathy for poor overworked students the semester where I had some whiners complaining that I was killing them, and then the end-of-year survey showed that half the class was putting in 3 hours a week or less outside the classroom.

Still, there is such a thing as assigning more than the kids can do.

And so to work up Western Civ

Posted by Red Ted at 10:57 AM | TrackBack

Western Civilization

The worst class I ever taught on my own was the first time I taught Western Civ. I did an even worse job with one of my TA jobs, but that was because I and the professor wanted to assign completely different readings, present the class material very differently, and were essentially teaching completely different classes. Oddly enough he is one of the people I model my own classroom performance on - I just assign different readings and tell different narratives.

That first Western Civ was bad for several reasons - I did not have a lot of confidence going in, it was a Community College class with all the problems with attendance, preparedness, and maturity that go along with teaching at a CC, the textbook was terrible, half of the assignments sucked. The underlying problems with the class are somewhat like those with the other badly taught class - I was trying to conform to a set of speficications that did not suit my teaching style. Let me explain.

That particular CC, which actually has a great English department and OK US history, has a European historian who believes that students can not read and that students must be able to master the "stuff" of history. So, she uses a simple textbook, her classes are spent practically reading the textbook (students can and do follow along with the text on their desks), and every ten days or so she has a multiple-choice exam quizzing the students on their ability to regurgitate the textbook. The whole thing is a mile wide and an inch deep.

That CC wants its adjuncts to use this teacher's syllabus, to use her writing assignments, and to use a standardized multiple-choice midterm and final exam. So, I used the test bank that came with the textbook and put together multiple choice tests. It failed. The tests were too hard for the kids, even using the test bank I was spending about as much time creating the exams and running them through scanners as it would have taken me to grade essays, and my teaching style did not fit the testing methodology.

You see, what I like to focus on is change over time, the story of history, the people and the choices that they faced. If I can conjure up the past, get the students excited about the events, and encourage them to see both patterns in behavior that translate universally and particular characteristics that make each moment unique, then I have done what I intended. I use the surveys to teach the students to think like historians, not to make them memorize names, dates, or paragraphs from the textbook.

The problem with this teaching style is that it requires that I have a good textbook and that the students read it. The textbook that semester sucked. The students did not know how to read. And, I was too caught up in doing the classroom my way. I did recover during the second half of the semester; I threw out the multiple choice exams, gave them short essay exams, and made them write. That worked a lot better because now the evaluations were compatible with my teaching style.

I was reminded of this experience because I was putting together class titles and readings for my next Western Civ. I am getting psyched about it. It helps that I picked the book, and chose a fairly good one. It helps that I am writing the evaluations. And, it helps that I am picking a couple of core narratives to organize the class rather than trying to figure out whatever pattern someone else may have had in mind. I will give the kids the narratives in the syllabus and on the first day of class - part of my "no surprises" teaching style.

My current thought is that there are two big narratives between the end of the religious wars and the present. Each of them has some sub-categories.
Nations and People

  • Rise of absolutism
  • Rise of empires
  • Rise of democracy
  • Collapse of absolutism
  • Collapse of empires

Making and Doing

  • Industrial Revolutions
  • Classes and Masses
  • Gender roles and female emancipation

In other words, I see one big story following political organizations as they evolve from kings with "absolute" powers and weak governance into empires with "absolute" rulers and strong governance into democracies. Different nations do this at different rates, and the meta-narrative of the modern world is the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Feh, this is poorly articulated. I will need to work on it.

The second big story is that while agricultural communities have strong gendered divisions of labor and are only moderately productive, industrialism in the three waves of industrial revolution has increased productivity, increased standards of living, shattered old social orders, and shattered the gendered divisions of labor.

I spent some time after dinner today going through the text, going through the schedule of classes, and portioning out readins while coming up with class titles that are catchy and that reinforce the themes I want to cover. Thus, the classes for March are:

Mon 1, The First Industrial Revolution, Noble chapter 20
Wed 3, Working Men, Working Women
Mon 8, Royalist Reactions, Noble chapter 21
Wed 10, Socialism, Marx & Engels, Communist Manifesto
Mon 15 - NO CLASS - Spring break
Wed 17 - NO CLASS - Spring break
Mon 22, National Unifications, Noble, Chapter 22
Wed 24, The Second Industrial Revolution, Noble Chapter 23
Mon 29, Optimism
Wed 31, Europe and the World II, Noble Chapter 24

I still need to review my themes, review class titles, and make sure that I will be telling my linked narratives and also explaining an enoughness of the "stuff" - kings, and elections, and battles, and ideologies. I will keep tweaking this for another week, but the basic outline is down. Now I need to figure out paper topics.

Oh, and one oddity. One of the students in that first Western Civ class worked at the county library. We became friends, and before she left for Americorps she was our primary babysitter. Even in a terrible class, some things work OK.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:22 AM | TrackBack

December 29, 2003

Interesting tedium

I am working on syllabi this week. I need to prep a US part 1 and an Age of Jefferson for a job followup, and I need to have Western Civ 2 ready by early January.

For all of them, I have picked the readings and sketched out the general plan of the class. Now I get to go through week by week and then class by class, pick class titles, and figure out exactly what to have the kids read for each class. For the Western Civ, I am also keeping a separate WP file with my notes on what I intend to talk about that day.

I have spent much of today filling in the Jefferson class, going through Merril Peterson's LOA Jefferson: Writings and picking letters. It is fascinating work, it is also frustrating.

Oh, and at the moment I am assigning WAY too much work even for a 5-credit class. Build it up and trim it down, that is the solution.

And back to reading people's mail.

Posted by Red Ted at 07:24 AM | TrackBack

December 23, 2003

Europe or Western?

The discussion about a Western Canon below and on Sheila's site reminds me that I have to make a big decision by Jan 20 - earlier than that actually since Suburban State U wants syllabi ahead of time so they can post them.

Am I teaching Western Civilization part 2, or am I teaching Modern Europe. What is the difference between the two? In a nutshell, the Ottoman Empire and the United States.

Western Civilization was invented as a subject around the turn of the twentieth century by a group of professors at Columbia and Chicago who feared that the distinctive features of "higher" culture were being swamped by a tide of mediocrity, modernity, and immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. They came up with the idea of Western Civilization as a way to preserve and protect their particular culture and heritage. The idea was popular and it spread to the heart of middlebrow culture, especially through programs where people sold collections of "greatest works" or, like the book Sheila is riffing off of, made lists for people to read so that they could feel educated.

The odd thing about Western Civilization is that the geographical focus of the class travels. Western Civ part 1 starts in the Tigris and Euphrates. It quickly moves to the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, then to Greece, then to Rome. The first two thirds of the class are centered around the Med, as was civilization. After about 800, the Med largely vanishes from the textbooks, only reappearing briefly for the crusades and for discussions of worldwide trade during the Age of Exploration.

Western Civilization part 2 covers everything West of the Urals, West of the Dardanelles, and North of Sicily. North Africa, the Ottoman Empire, and Egypt are ignored. But, it adds the United States and Canada, places first colonized by Spain but soon taken over by Britain and France and populated from Germany and Ireland. The North Americans who invented Western Civilization insisted on being included, even though they worried that they were not up to the intellectual and cultural level of their ancestors.

European history, by contrast, reminds us that the most important power in Europe from about 1400 to about 1800 was the Ottoman Empire. More, the history of modernity is the history of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. As it faded, other nations came to prominence. Where it pulled back, or was driven back, or had its provinces calve away from the Empire, Eastern Europe, and Egypt became separate entities - the Austrian Empire was carved out of the Ottoman Empire. After 1920 all the land empires got broken into pieces. Austria-Hungary - mostly former Ottoman lands - became a mass of small states. Egypt had its freedom confirmed. The middle eastern provinces were carved away from Turkey - which had renamed itself during its own modernizing revolution - and carved into new nations ruled by the Arabs who had revolted against the Turks and governed under the mandate of the victorious powers. Modern Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine/Israel, and Egypt owe their borders and their administrative structures to the post Versailles breakup of the Turkish Empire.

Just as the Second World War was a recurrence of the themes of nationalism and communism released by the Great War, held in the lands once belonging to the land empires, so too have the political crises of the modern Middle East grown out of Versailles.

In other words, leaving the Ottomans and later the Turks out of the story of Europe limits and twists the basic narrative. However, the folks who were imagining Western Civilization did not want to admit that they got their ideas from "infidels and musselmen." So, they wrote them out of the canon. Most Western Civ textbooks do not spend much if any time in Turkey.

Of course, the folks who invented Western Civ at the turn of the twentieth century could not have known what would happen: Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottomans were still empires, and Turkey was the "sick man of Europe." What I find more striking is the extent to which we have kept the idea of Western Civilization around, if only as the title for our survey of European history.

I was not thinking about the borders problem as I was choosing my textbook. I picked Noble et al Western Civilization because I liked their use of images and supporting documents, not because they covered the East. I need to dig up the book and check for Turks as I plan lectures. I will need to remember to include the Ottomans in class lectures. I suspect that Noble will have done a better job than Spielvogel, whose piece of crap textbook mentions Islam in the 600s with Muhammed and the early expansion, then drops it entirely until the late 20th century.

And so I have done some thinking about teaching, I have procrastinated, and now I must go walk the hound.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:18 AM | TrackBack

December 21, 2003

Grading Up

We complain a lot about grade inflation, but I find that the last step in working up class grades is making sure that I gave enough As.

I give a lot of grading opportunities: homework, discussion, two papers, two exams. Everyone screw up at least one of them. Even my hero forgot to do 3 homework assignments, lost 3% of her final grade, and finished with a calculated 3.44 for the semester. Six tenths of a point - a C on each homework or a B on two of them - and she would have had an A-.

On the first pass through the grades, out of 70 students I had one A and two A-. You generally want to give about 3% A, about 10% A-. The total grades A- and above should float between 10% and 13% of your students. With 70 students, I was low - an indication that I have been flinching as I grade just as the fact that the final had more C- than C or D suggested that I was flinching on grading the bad exams. I am a grading wimp sometimes.

So, I went back, double checked a couple of out of character blue books, double checked blue books and discussion grades for folks who were very close to a grade margin, and ended up with one A and five A-. That is about right.

On the low end, I am flunking one, giving one D, and three C-. I have more C than C- grades, suggesting that my flinch on the final did not extend to a flinch on overall grades. I am actually light on grades of D and below - if the curve were relatively normal I should have about the same number of D and down as I do of A- and up. But, two students took an incomplete that will become an F if they do not get papers to me by February.

I check my grading curves as a form of quality control - if your grades are bimodal, or skewed high or low, or show a flinch then that is a sign that your teaching or grading may not be working as intended.

All in all, the curve looks pretty good. The class average is about 2.58 - a low B-. That used to be the gentleman's C. There has been grade inflation since the 1950s, but history departments still try to protect the A.

And so to fill in bubble sheets.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:06 AM | TrackBack

December 18, 2003

Class Thoughts

I am thinking about how to structure Western Civ for the spring semester - need to write a syllabus in the next few weeks.

One thing that I am contemplating is creating a class blog to use for discussions.

I am not sure if I would give the entire class writing permission, or write something after each class and invite them to comment on it, or what?

One more thing to think about as I drink my coffee. Speaking of which, coffee is done. Ta !

Posted by Red Ted at 08:01 AM | TrackBack

December 17, 2003

Grading Philosophy

One section has their preliminary grades done. The other section takes their exam tomorrow. Friday I will review all the exams and make sure that the good exams are getting the good grades, the bad grades are going to the bad exams, and so on.

While grading essays this morning I encountered a recurring philosophical problem with grading. Consider two essays, both written to the same fairly specific question. One hits everything that the question had asked about, and does a so-so job. The other only answers a part of the question, but does so suberbly. How do you rank the two in a way that is fair to both students?

I keep in mind that students talk to one another, and I do not want them to think that they can write whatever they like and get a good grade. To be fair to the folks who fulfill the exercise, I have to limit the folks who miss details. Of course, to be fair to the creative folks I also have to make sure that they have opportunities to be creative - something that is missing on the exam I just gave.

I tend to mark down for missing coverage, even if I suspect that the student could have covered the whole question had they tried. I have to grade on what they wrote, not what I thought they wrote, and so just as I grade garbled sentences for what they said and not what they meant, so too do I have to grade the exam they wrote and not the exam they could have written. In the past I have put a soft cap of C+ on off-topic essays. I might revise that, perhaps taking a full letter off, perhaps just playing it by ear.

One of my best students wrote me what would have been the best essay in the class, but she did not hit the whole question. She got a C+ on that part of the exam, a B overall on the exam, and I will see how I feel about it when I re-read exams on Friday.

There is a place for goofy and open-ended questions, and I did not give enough of them this semester. I will add that to my list of changes to make for the next time I teach this.

Posted by Red Ted at 02:32 AM | TrackBack

December 16, 2003

Exam day

The first group of kids have their exam today. It is a tough exam, but I think it is fair.

I gave them the questions ahead of time ( I think I blogged about this last week ) and then went through the study sheet and put the exam together last night. The goal is that by guiding their studying you get them to review the material that you want them to reinforce. In this case, I pointed them hard at the Civil War, at the American Revolution, and at the doctrine of Separate Spheres.

I will share the questions after exam week is over.

And so to be an ogre (and work on chapter 2 as I do so.)

Posted by Red Ted at 09:06 AM | TrackBack

December 10, 2003

Last Day

Yesterday was the last day of classes.

We did evaluations, then finished off reconstruction, then reviewed the exam, then talked about readings. Finally, I gave a brief wrap about hope, the future, and republican liberty.

I have two brief thoughts I want to share from yesterday.

The first is that the exam study sheet I gave them might have been a little too big - it produced stunned silence from both sections. I tried to design it so that the people who have been keeping up with the work will have an easy time studying while the people who have been slacking will get creamed on the final. I told them the first day of class that the final would do this; they have been warned. We will see how they do.

I am not going to post the questions here because I suspect that the kids will do some google searches. I will tell you that they have 67 identifications to master, 30 from the first half, 37 from the second half, and that I gave them the questions for four short essays and four long essays. The exam will have two choices for each essay, they write about one. I design the study sheets this way, and try to write my exam questions, so that they will reinforce the information I want them to take away from the class as they study. If you know that the exam will include the Coming of the American Civil War, you will study it.

I suggested that they: review their notes, brainstorm all 8 essays, review the text, outline all 8 essays, and then quickly review the identifications. If they do it in that order, the identifications should be easy to remember. I fear that some of them will panic, will study the identifications first, and will spend all their time memorizing TOO MANY items and never prep the essays. I try to give too many identifications as a matter of policy - the idea is that no one can flash card them all from scratch, but the people with good overall knowledge will be able to easily review and polish.

The other thought from that class is a more general thought about evaluations. For their last homework I asked the kids what reading we should drop from the syllabus and what material the class did not spend enough time on. I am still reading their answers, but as I expected they want to drop the monograph we started with and they want more women's history. I had not expected to be told that we needed to spend more time on the American Civil War, but looking back I agree that we were a little scant about the war, its conduct, and its consequences.

It is fashionable among many professors, especially on the adjunct level, to say that evaluations are crap. They are not. Or, at least, they are not completely crap even though some evaluation questions are remarkably craptastic. Let me get a little pompous and explain.

At its best, a college class is a community for learning. The professors job is not to impart infallible knowledge - "fact" - in some Rankian sense. Our job is to nurture that learning tendency, guide their readings and writings, and provide the students with the tools and incentives to do that learning. The most important thing I can do up there at the front of the room is get the kids excited enough about the material that they want to do a lot of work. I do that by making the students partners in our learning community.

Making the student a partner means that you have to take them seriously. They know what it is like to take our course - we only know what it is like to teach it. If they buy into the notion of a community of learning, and most college students do at some level, then they can also tell you what worked and what did not work. I regularly ask my students "what works" - sometimes I do a midterm evaluation, sometimes I add a form to the evaluations, this semester I gave them graded homework about which readings to drop. Many students take that question seriously, and I got a good dozen very thoughtful and very useful answers.

I am still digesting their answers, but so far the general trend seems to be that I am good on enthusiasm (I knew that), that my extensive use of narrative and biography grabs their attention, that some of them want more and some want fewer facts, and that I assign a LOT of work. Apparently some "writing intensive" classes give less writing than my dinky little survey, but Urban Research University is still resolving the legacies of its dysfunctional past.

A poorly written evaluation is a popularity survey, and evaluations are correlated with workload and grading policy. There are a lot of poorly written and poorly conceived evaluations being used to make hiring and promotion decisions. Like anything else, Sturgeon's Law applies.(1) But, evaluations are also correlated with teaching ability and, most importantly, the teacher's ability to create the community of learning. I went back to one of those Rate-Your-Profs web pages, I forget which, and looked up the professors at my graduate school. The pattern that I saw there seems about right for a serious academic school - the people with the best ratings and the glowing recommendations also topped the scale for workload. The most common message was "you will work a lot in this class, and it will be well worth the effort." I have to admit, that is the sort of evaluation I strive for. I think this semester went well - I will be very curious to see the official evaluations when they come back from the data service next semester.

And so to work on chapter 4 - FINALLY

(1)Sturgeons Law - Theodore Sturgeon, "90% of everything is crap." He came up with this while reading unsolicited manuscripts at a science-fiction magazine, but the concept is widely transferable.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:16 AM | TrackBack

December 05, 2003

Planning the Train

There is a common form of exam question called The Train: four individuals are placed in a contrived situation and then handed a somewhat improbable topic of conversation that involves some of the core questions of the class. The students re-create that conversation. It is a question form that creative students love, square students hate.

One final exam question I am working on for the study guide is a variation on the train:

"A mad scientist socialite has decided to host a dinner party using her new time machine. She has invited John Winthrop, Benjamin Franklin, Catherine Beecher, and Abraham Lincoln and you to dinner. During dessert the conversation turns to XXXX. Recount their conversation - you may use made up quotations or you may simply summarize their main points. This portion of the exam should take you about 50 minutes to write.

I presented this question to the students on Thursday so I could get some feedback from them. They made some useful changes - flipping out Angelina Gimke in favor of Catherine Beecher - and they also helped me figure out what XXXX should be. What question will best get students to review our reading on these four, review the class notes where we discussed them, integrate that knowledge with the other things we learned this semester, and then easily write a coherent essay?

I am bad at writing a good exam question.

My initial thought for XXXX had been: What is the nature of a just society?

The morning section hated that, and proposed: How Should society work? The morning section was also a little intimidated by the question - I got the silence that told me they were hoping it would go away.

The afternoon section also disliked the question: it felt contrived, people worried that it was a measure of reading skills not overall knowledge; they thought it was poorly connected to the rest of the class; and they feared that having a big question like this would suck up study time from other questions. I did not tell them that ALL my comprehensive questions are comparably nasty - they will figure that out on Tuesday when they get the study guide. I did tell them that if I used the Train, I would make sure that other questions also used these people and their ideas; studying for this essay would help them study for other essays.

The afternoon section talked about whether they should have specific sub-topics - what did each person think about economics, gender roles, political power, etc - but came down on the side of a broad fuzzy question. The best thing I have from them is: What should an ideal America look like?

I don't like either question as currently written. "Look like" is very unclear, especially because of the phrase's use to refer to ethnic and gender composition in recent years. "Society" is also a terribly broad word. I will look at the exam questions that they submitted for the study sheet, write up some other questions, and then work on the Train only if I decide to use it.

I was hoping for a question that would encourage the students to talk about: John Winthrop on love as the glue that makes a hierarchical society work, and about Providential promises and rewards; Benjamin Franklin on patron-client relations as the glue that makes a hierarchical society work, and about the Republic of Letters and the aristocracy of talent; Catherine Beecher on male dominance in the political and physical world, female dominance in the moral and emotional world, and the need for women to eschew confrontation in order to dominate the world through domestic love; Abraham Lincoln on the dangers of letting a minority control a majority, and on the importance of government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Perhaps a question about social hierarchies - "What sort of social hierarchies produce the best society? and how should a society resolve its internal conflicts?"

By George, this blog has produced another useful think piece. It is remarkable how many of our problems we can solve for ourselves by simply explaining them in a letter to someone. In this case, I will hit publish and "send" the letter. Hope this was interesting for you to read.

And so to grade.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:23 AM | TrackBack

December 04, 2003

Writing Templates

I am not a good writer: I have trouble formulating my ideas, I ramble, I get discursive, I describe when I should be arguing. I also write for a living. It is a tricky combination.

I find that I have to struggle with my structure, and one of my more powerful writing tools is to build a set of bullet points laying out my argument. I then break a chapter into running headers with one header per bullet point. Each running header, has its own little introduction, body, and conclusion. If I do it correctly, the 60 page chapter is compelling, tightly argued, and coherent. If I do it poorly, and I often do, then all the running headers want to be second and the chapter bloats and becomes unreadable. So, I tear it down and begin again. It takes me a lot of time to write anything worthwhile.

Via Kevin Drum I see that folks are making fun of the Texas "educational miracle" for lowering its testing standards and then declaring victory. One of the things that folks are snarking is the five paragraph essay, a tightly structured piece with an introduction, three supporting points, and a conclusion. In its strict form, the topic sentences for the body paragraphs form the entire introduction and conclusion, and each body paragraph also has exactly three supporting statements.

This is the first time I have ever seen that particular writing template defined. Oddly, however, I have had students ask me if I was expecting them to use a five paragraph essay. This is because I push the students to: lay out an introduction where they say what they are going to say; write a series of body paragraphs where they make a point, introduce evidence, and explain that evidence; and then build to a conclusion where they take their initial premise and show how they have expanded or improved it. Of course, I also tell them to brainstorm, then write the body, then conclude, and finally write their introduction.

The problem with the five point paragraphs, I think, is that there is mechanical structure and then there is a structured argument. The five point paragraph, or any other mechanical rules for construction, work because they simplify decision making and provide a model. Five structured points is a wonderful improvement over the stream-of-consciousness that many kids write with. To see what I mean, go to new.blogger.com and click on some of the recently updated blogs. At least one will be nongrammatical stream of consciousness; it will be unreadable. And, if the mere fact that there is a structure makes something bad, then all sonnets must be contrived and therefore worthless. In other words, structure often improves our creativity by restraining some excesses and forcing us to think about what we are doing. There are oddities to the five paragraph essay - I was taught to use two pieces of evidence for every point, footnote anything after that, and ALWAYS explain your evidence - but as a writing tool it is no worse than being told to learn to write sonnets.

But, a well crafted essay will also show structure from paragraph to paragraph just as a sonnet will advance an idea through the three rhymed subsections. Some people can take the lead sentences of their paragraphs, copy them down, and have an outline of their entire argument. Others take an outline and turn each bullet into the topic sentence of a paragraph. In both of those cases, the crucial structure is not that there are bits of evidence all proving the main point but that the ideas in the paragraphs build upon one another to lead to a conclusion. On many of the current crop of papers I complained that their paragraphs, while good, could be shuffled without changing their paper in any appreciable way. That is a sign of a poorly structured argument.

So, if the Texas schools, and other schools, are telling their kids that the strict five paragraph essay is the only way to write, then they are doing a terrible disservice to their students - especially if they are grading on form rather than content. However, having a few standard paragraph structures is a perfectly reasonable writing technique, and writing to fit a template is one valid way of breaking students from writing rambling messes.

The challenge for the schools, and for the poor folks in business or education who inherit the students from these Texas schools, is to remind the kids that structure is only one part of effective writing. Once they have the knack of tying a paper together, they need to work on argument, on grammar, on originality, and on ways to throw a curveball. Just because you have learned to write sonnets does not mean that you should only write sonnets from then on. I do think that the problem with a five paragraph essay is not the tool, it is that lazy teachers, distracted administrators, and poorly conceived exams have led the Texas schools to confuse means and goals.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:21 PM | TrackBack

December 02, 2003

Civil War

We finished the sectional crisis and fought the Civil War today.

I was a little light on the American Civil War, but we will finish the war on Thursday. I am now only about 10 minutes behind schedule.

What I focused on today was the disparate Northern and Southern responses to the events of the sectional crisis. I showed, using Bleeding Kansas and Bleeding Sumner, that the Republicans went from a batch of people in the 1860s equivalent of tinfoil hats to the major opposition party because Pro-slavery Democrats in Kansas and Preston Brooks in Congress visibly demonstrated everything that the Republicans had been warning about. They abused the law to maintain minority control over majority desires, and when challenged they used force to get their way. It now appeared plausible that there was a conspiracy against liberty by slave-owners, and Republicans mobilized on the basis of anti-slavery (limiting the power of Southern slaveholders, especially Democrats) where no one had been able to get a Northern majority while pushing abolition (free the slaves, build a society based on human equality).

In the end, the deep South lost an election and seceded. In fact, during the summer of 1860 fire eaters had promised to secede if Lincoln won the election. The interesting question about the coming of the war, for me, is the timing. Not just "why did the civil war happen in 1860 and not earlier?" but also "why did the Deep South secede BEFORE Lincoln could be inaugurated?" This latter question comes with the followup of "Why did the Deep South secede to protect slavery even though the Republicans repeatedly insisted that slavery was purely a state matter that the national government should stay out of?"

The answer to the second question is that both sections decided that the other had dropped all notions of fairness, of the proper relationship between majorities and minorities in a democracy, and of good faith conduct. The Whig party had died early in the Deep South, the American or Know-Nothing party had never created much of a foothold outside of Louisiana, and so in 1860 the current crop of politicians only had experience with a one-party system. In a one-party system, by and large, there are no second chances. Once someone gets control of the state government then they have control until the next major political realignment - which could be decades.

I argue, based on the work done by Michael Holt and others, that the Deep South wanted out before Lincoln took power because they found the following sequence of events not just plausible but inevitable:

  • Republicans win Presidency and Congress
  • Republicans appoint their partisans to post offices and patronage positions across the South
  • Partisan appointees start newspapers and begin to organize a Southern Republican party.
  • Southern Republicans make a class-based appeal to poor whites and non-slaveholders.
  • Southern Republicans use the same slave-power argument that had worked in the North to marginalize the old Southern political elite.
  • Class politics in the South lead to a temporary victory by a Republican coalition of poor whites and patronage appointees

  • Republicans in state government emancipate slaves, tax slavery out of existence, or otherwise destroy the institution.

Now, any outside observer will tell you that this scenario is pretty far-fetched. For it to work, the Republican party would have to maintain national dominance long enough to build strong state parties in the South. It is far more likely that if Southerners had worked to discredit the claims of anti-slavery rather than proving those claims, that the Republicans would have collapsed and gone away just as the Know-Nothings and Whigs had. Political parties were fragile. Slaveowners in the upper South convincingly argued in their secession conventions that Republican rule would pass, that the party system would contain their anti-slavery efforts, and that seceding because you lost an election was like cutting off your arm because your gloves were dirty.

In the Deep South, no one believed in second chances, and out they went. The Deep South seceded to protect slavery, pure and simple.

From there I ran through the standard narrative of Fort Sumpter, Call for Volunteers, Upper South secedes because it will not put down secession. We talked briefly about why Civil War soldiers fought, then I reviewed the weapons and tactics of the war. On Thursday we will talk about race and the Civil War, the odd way that emancipation took place, and Reconstruction after the war.

I want to close with a contemporary political comment, one I did NOT make in class but have been making, tangentially and incoherently, on this blog. The crucial factor in the collapse of the Second Party system and the coming of the American Civil War was firstly, the loss of all distinctiveness between Whigs and Democrats, which led to the Whigs being replaced by the Know-Nothings, and secondly, the loss of all regular political conflict within the deep South, which led Southerners to secede after they lost an election because they could not imagine ever getting another chance at power if they stayed in the union.

If you have been keeping half an eye on politics the last few years, the parallels should be obvious and frightening. Ralph Nader and the Green Party made an argument in 2000 that looked very like the argument made by Know-Nothings in 1853: the two parties are essentially alike, we need to throw the bums out, and our single focus idea is more important than the false issues that the standing parties have been arguing over. There are differences, of course, the most obvious being that 1, anti-Catholic bigotry is no longer mainstream behavior while environmentalism is fairly mainstream and 2, that it worked for the Know Nothings and did not work for the Greens.

There are differences between 2000, and 1853 - most obviously that George W. Bush and his advisors know their politics and, rather than continuing a me-too process of homogenization between political parties (Uniter not a Divider) they instead pursued sharply partisan political policies. These may not have been wise, they were certainly divisive not uniting, and that was the point. After three years of GWB, no one will buy the argument that the two political parties are a batch of interchangeable partisan hacks.

The other parallel is more disturbing. To some extent - not irrevocably yet - the split between "Blue" and "Red" states is mirroring what went on in the Deep South and Upper North in the 1850s. They are becoming one-party states. And, the trend is for one-party domination to extend, in part because people are changing the customs of partisan conflict. Two-party politics work because the basic procedures are devised along the same basic principle of the cake-cutting thought experiment. If you and I want to cut a piece of cake into two even slices, and both of us are greedy, the only wise thing is to have one of us cut and the other choose the slices. In political terms, people set up rules of the game that they are willing to abide by regardless of whether they are ahead or behind at that point in time. So, roll call votes take place within time limits, electoral districts are rearranged only after the US Census, and so on.

At the moment the Republican National Committee are being the worst offenders. The challenge is to rebuild notions of political due process; the danger is that we will get into a tit-for-tat escalation until, someday soon, twentyfirst-century Americans will contemplate drastic action rather than accepting the results of an election they are sure to lose.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:21 AM | TrackBack

November 26, 2003

Starting the Thanks list

I got some good news yesterday and today, and I want to start making a list of things that I am thankful for.

Some of these are personal, others are professional.

In my personal life, I am thankful for wife and son; both are wonderful. I am thankful that three out of four grandparents have met the baby, and all three are active if not healthy.

I am thankful that we will be in a position to host a feast for twelve people, that is its own blessing despite also being a lot of work.

In my professional life, the thanks are smaller, or better, shorter term.

My advisor likes chapter three, finally. I am thankful that I may have learned how to write a chapter.

I have an interview next week, there I am hopeful that something will come of it.

Some of my students are wonderful. Teaching a bright, interested student is a fine experience, and I am thankful that I have had it this semester. So too is being able to make someone excited about material that they had expected to hate, the power to convert is a fun power to have.

Despite my flashes of the blues this fall, it has been a good year. And I am thankful for it.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:32 AM | TrackBack

November 25, 2003


I wrote a short blog entry last night, but it appears that the packet-loss demons ate it. They have been lurking in our wires for the last week or so, appearing for their occasional meal, then going back like trolls under a bridge.

Today I collect papers from the students, and for the next week I get to go into a grading frenzy. I am bringing chapter four with me to office hours, knowing that I am not going to see it again for a while. Chapter four does indeed have problems much like the previous draft of chapter three - I am still having trouble laying out a clear argument and I am still having trouble making it clear to my reader why each paragraph and each sub-section matter.

Based on the improved homework these last few weeks, and the pretty decent rough drafts I have been seeing, the kids will have done fairly well on the paper. I had them read Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and then tell me, according to HBS, what was wrong with American society? UTC contains language that today is offensive - fighting words - and parts of the plot and character depictions are painfully racist. (Compare the black characters, who are all stupid, inarticulate, passive, and essentially female with the mulatto characters, who are all intelligent, good looking, active, and more male - even the women). Still, the book was a scathing critique of slavery, of the market economy, and of "male" gender roles. I hope we will have a good discussion today.

There are only four more classes left, it is hard to see where the semester has gone too. On the bright side, I got a job interview. I will be doing a phone interview in a couple of weeks for a teaching job on the West Coast. I really really want this - of all the things I applied for it was the best match for me.

But, first I get to collect papers and then settle down for a long weekend of grading, of family, of cooking, and of playing with the baby.

And so to work

Posted by Red Ted at 08:49 AM | TrackBack

Uncle Tom

We talked about Uncle Tom's Cabin today.

We were supposed to talk about all sorts of things: the Kansas Nebraska Act, Bleeding Kansas, Preston Brooks' assault on Charles Sumner in the Senate chamber, the rise of the Republican party and decline of the Know-Nothing party, Abraham Lincoln and Southern secession.

By the time I finished covering all I wanted to say about UTC, we had 10 minutes left. I used them to preview Kansas and Nebraska.

It is a good thing that I saved an extra class for review, because we are going to need that extra time.

But, we had a really good discussion about Tom, and Eva, and St. Clare, and Marie, and heros and villains, and religion, and slavery. The kids think I should assign the novel again next year.

Now I get to prep a quick dinner before company arrives. I do not know how much blogging I will do over the next few days. Between houseguests, hosting Thanksgiving, and grading papers I may need to remind myself to sleep.

And so to cook sausage and mushroom gravy for tonights dinner, and bread for stuffing, and muffins because I can.

Posted by Red Ted at 05:57 AM | TrackBack