Thursday, October 28, 2010

Readings on women's studies and pedagogy, anyone?

OK, so there's this group that I offered to chair in a fit of madness. Among other things, I need to come up with some ideas for a common reading that we can discuss at subsequent meetings, something about women's studies and pedagogy. (Personally, I'd prefer just to take some time and talk about women's studies and pedagogy, but some of the other members of the group seem to want to make it a Big Organized Thing! With assigned Readings! Maybe even an entire book, since we have the budget for books!)

So, any suggestions? I'd prefer something practically focused, about the challenges of teaching women's-studies-related content at an institution like mine -- not super-selective, in a pretty conservative part of the country, with lots of first-generation, vocationally oriented students -- and especially in gen ed courses. (Actually, I think what I really want to read is the book-or-article equivalent of Dr. Crazy's or Heu Mihi's blog posts on this topic, only I don't think I can get away with suggesting a blog post. Which does not preclude my shamelessly begging for suggestions on my own blog, because who's going to know?) I'm really hoping to avoid anything either heavily theoretical or confessional and self-indulgent.

Oh, and this faculty group is interdisciplinary, so pieces that are not exclusively English or humanities-focused would be a plus.

Tall order, I know, but y'all are awesome so I figured you might have some ideas.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Shakespeare dreams

My DVD of the new Macbeth with Patrick Stewart arrived the other day, so I decided to watch it to celebrate my last grading-free night for a while. So, naturally, I dreamed about Macbeth, only not Stewart-Macbeth (which is just as well, because that would be a serious nightmare). No, in my dream the Folger and another theater were putting on rival productions of Macbeth, so I went to see both of them. And one of them was a very avant-garde production where there was no seating and the audience got to wander all over the theater and follow the actors around (and, in fact, had to do so, because the sets were full of weird arches and nooks so that you could only see the action from one particular angle). You could even come up on the stage and, for example, stalk the murderers while they were stalking Banquo. It was cool, if completely impractical.

Most of my Shakespeare dreams involve performance. I never seem to dream about teaching Shakespeare, or about being a character in Shakespeare, and very rarely about reading or doing research on Shakespeare. (Except for that one dream where I discovered the original manuscripts of a bunch of Shakespeare's tragedies, and Severus Snape was a character in all of them. He had to be edited out of the final versions because he kept running around concocting antidotes for all the characters who got poisoned and telling the rest of them when they were being idiots, thus converting all the tragedies into non-tragedies. That was an awesome dream. I was very disappointed when I woke up.)

But most of the time, even in dream-world, I'm very conscious that the play is a play. I used to have a recurring dream in which someone forced me to act in a stage production at short notice, ignoring my protests that I didn't have any of the lines memorized. ("You call yourself a Shakespeare scholar and you don't KNOW this stuff by heart?") Usually it was one of two parts, Emilia in Othello or Nerissa in The Merchant of Venice, and I would end up having to ad-lib it. I don't think I've had that dream since grad school. Perhaps it was really a paper-and-dissertation-anxiety dream in another guise.

I wonder what sort of dreams people who work on non-dramatic literature have about their texts?

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Am halfway through grading the Brit Lit midterms, a long and involved process which entails spreading all of the exams out on the floor from best to worst. I was getting depressed, and also a little lightheaded from the extra beer I allow myself on such occasions, so I've decided to knock off for the night.

Scores so far (out of 50, with 45 as the real maximum expected grade): 48, 44, 44, 42, 39, 36, 34, 32.5, 31, 30, 29, 27.

This is a typical distribution for a gen ed literature course at Misnomer U.: two distinct peaks, with only a handful of exams falling in long valley in the middle. The bell curve is upside down. This doesn't make determining grades particularly difficult -- it is obvious where the A and C spikes are, and the fact that there is a long and sparsely populated B-range just means people are less likely to argue about their grades. But it does make teaching the class damned hard. It's kind of nice to have a visual representation of why it's hard, a reminder that it isn't just me. (Maybe I will leave the exams on the floor for the rest of the semester.)

What do y'all's grading distributions look like? Bell curve or bloodbath?

Friday, October 1, 2010

What I learned about college from the movies

One of my freshman comp assignments requires the students to pick a movie set on a college campus and analyze how it represents higher education. I've been using this assignment for six or seven years, ever since I was a grad student, and cheerfully grading paper after paper about movies I'd never seen. But now that I am a person with a middle-class income and a Netflix account, I decided I was going to watch all the movies. It was quite an experience. I kinda thought I knew a little bit about colleges, having spent almost half of my life studying and / or working at them. But now I see I had much to learn from the movies:

1) At all colleges, there are exactly two fraternities, one of which is populated exclusively by obnoxious, uptight preprofessionals, and the other by likeable underdogs. (N.B., the underdogs remain underdogs by definition, even though it is obvious from the beginning of the movie that they will win all competitions and the obnoxious guy's girlfriend. It's magic.)

2) Harvard Law School is very very very very hard. Unless you are blonde, in which case it is easy.

3) You can have a complete college experience without ever setting foot in the classroom or interacting with a faculty member. But you cannot have one without football.

4) All deans, presidents, provosts, and other authority figures are alumni of the college where they work, and have unfinished business from their undergraduate days. Most of them also have attractive female relatives.

5) Sometimes, your RA turns out to be an undercover Secret Service agent.

6) All classes are held in massive lecture halls with tiered seating.

7) Everybody who is not in a fraternity lives in the dorms, even grad students. All roommates dislike each other at first sight, but become bestest best buddies by mid-semester. (In the unlikely event that your roommate befriends you immediately, you should seek psychiatric help, because there is a good chance that you are actually schizophrenic and have hallucinated him.)

8) All colleges are either Harvard, Princeton, MIT, or imaginary.

9) The janitor is way smarter than you are.