One of the more logical things to do while giving one final exam is to grade another final exam. Efficiency, use of time, and all that. This proceeding does, however, have certain dangers. The instructor must refrain from shaking her fist at the heavens, grimacing, laughing, and/or any other overt expressions of disapproval. It is also advisable to be what you could call professional. During one final exam of my innocent undergraduate years, I found myself watching the instructor while I briefly rested my overworked right hand. A student had finished up early, so he took the exam, flipped it open, and started marking it. After the first couple of pages, he stopped marking it, flipped all the way to the end to see if the student had finished, and then wrote a grade inside the bluebook cover. (Bear in mind that I was still just resting my hand; he wasn't exactly devoting hours to the exercise, or even minutes.) At that moment, it occurred to me that I could spend the rest of the exam expounding on Star Trek: The Next Generation instead of poetry, and still get a good grade. I didn't, but it was tempting.
I'm teaching Rupert Brooke's "The Soldier" today (a reliable sign that semester's end is nigh), and am once again reminded of how an English exchange student I had about three years ago reacted to the poem.
We were talking about "The Soldier"'s Wordsworthian evocation of nature's beauties and spiritual effects--not least of how the poem defines England strictly in terms of the pastoral. By this point, the student was rolling her eyes a bit, but when we got to the apparently perpetual "suns of home," not to mention all those flowers and non-freezing rivers, she could no longer restrain herself. Was England really this spring-like all the time?
Speaking as someone "on the ground," as it were, I found myself vaguely bemused by this tumblr quarrel. As an example of "Christian privilege," "[y]ou don’t have to be familiar with another faith’s scripture in order to 'get' the allusions and references in the literature taught in high
school English classes" sounds good, I suppose, were it not that one's Christian students (even at the college level) are very likely incapable of recognizing most allusions to the N.T. Aside from a very tiny minority, most of my Christian students have the same grasp of N.T. narratives/concepts/quotations as do my non-practicing and non-Christian students--that is, they know what's accessible via popular media. (I've yet to have a student who couldn't recognize a Christ allegory at twenty paces.) And they are also unlikely to recognize anything beyond the basics, if that, in terms of liturgy (in whatever denomination), iconography, etc. From shop talk I've heard over the years, this is as much an issue at Christian colleges, whether Catholic or Protestant, as it is at secular institutions. In other words, the instructor has to go into the room assuming that the Scriptural references will be "unfamiliar" to everybody; it's why I have the "you know, if you're an English major, you're going to have to read the Bible [insert discussion of different relevant translations here]" lecture in my regular repertoire, right alongside "seriously, there's no escaping Paradise Lost," "you'll have to reconcile yourself to reading Shakespeare," and "yup, get yourself a copy of The Pilgrim's Progress."
Which is another way of saying that there's no necessary contradiction between emerging from a culture and being, in many ways, foreign to it. It's why I argued many years ago that one of the common objections to such-and-such "studies" programs--the argument from narcissism--didn't make much sense.
I did this kind of assignment once as an option (which few students took), and haven't repeated it, in large part because I'm dubious about the ethics of siccing random students on Wikipedia. Granted, the results might not be any worse than the current Victorian literature page, but still. I think asking students to investigate and write about Wikipedia is valuable, but having them mess about with the site unsupervised is problematic (shouldn't students be comfortable citing sources before they contribute to a site which demands citations at the drop of a hat?).
I don't usually have to "guess" if my students have done the reading or not. It's apparent within the first five seconds of asking a question. Even in an online setting, surely dead air on the discussion boards would make this clear? More to the point: college students are usually adults. It's up to them if they want to do the reading, because that's the freedom of choice (and the choice of consequences) that goes along with being an adult. At a certain point, students have to motivate themselves to do the work, just as they may have to actively decide to be interested in a subject that doesn't grab them from the get-go. (And as the article goes on to point out, the system can be fiddled with mind-blowing ease.)
On a lighter note, I've been experimenting with this new iPad keyboard case (which I managed to snag at half price on Amazon). So far, pretty good: the keys are comfortably spaced; the feel is comparable to a decent netbook; and the construction is solid. The only thing I dislike right now is that some of the common punctuation marks are controlled by function keys (perhaps this is designed to drive the semi-colon to extinction?).
This past week or so, I've been teaching poems like Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott" and E. B. Browning's "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point," where the apparent lockstep regularity of the poem's form gives way once you start analyzing the meter. (Or, as I said, "the meter is banging against the frame of the rhyme scheme.") At times like this, I always find myself dreaming of that nice utopian day in which all of our students knew something about scansion--which, after all, not everyone teaches in our intro to lit analysis course. Wouldn't it be nice if you could just walk into the room and say, "Everyone, what did you think of all those anapests?" Ah, the joys of predictability, in which all students learn the same skills at the beginning of their academic careers!
Of course, the dream falls apart just as quickly. Our 200-level courses are enrolling more and more non-majors, and it's a bit much to expect physicists and sociologists to walk into the room prepared to recognize an iamb. More to the point, the ability to scan a poem is, as a professor of mine once said about cricket, "use it or lose it" knowledge. Even students who I know have been exposed to the basics don't necessarily remember them a year on, not unless they've taken other poetry-heavy courses (e.g., Shakespeare or Milton). It's rather like the fantasy/fallacy of freshman composition: you cannot "teach students to write" in a single semester; you can only give them the basic toolkit, and the spiffier tools must be acquired elsewhere. Nothing sticks unless it's consistently reinforced in the department and, sometimes, across the campus.
This semester, I belatedly discovered that a book I thought I owned was not the book I actually owned--which, since I needed to teach from it the next day, was a trifle disconcerting. Ergo, in a burst of inspiration and/or desperation, I fired up my trusty iPad and downloaded the book on Kindle. Hooray, problem solved. Right?
Well, no. So far, although I enjoy the convenience of etexts for doing things like keyword searching and the like, I can't say that my enthusiasm extends to trying to teach with one. Page references may or may not square with the student's hardcopies, depending on the reader's orientation (landscape? portrait?). It's difficult to "skim" the text quickly without a material book; the percentage bar doesn't have the same effectiveness as actually looking at the text block to estimate where the desired quotation might be. And then there are the times when the e-reader decides to behave badly (touch screen doesn't respond, accidentally hitting buttons that lead to undesired results, etc.). I feel a bit like a Luddite, but in the rough-and-tumble of a classroom setting, I don't find Kindle editions to be all that user-friendly.
In the fall, I'm teaching a graduate seminar on...well, read the post title. This course will be something of a departure for me, in that I usually don't teach courses that look anything like my research, but I've had this idea kicking around in my head for a bit.
At this point, I know the novels I'm going to use, but am still working on the contextual materials & the critical sources (aside from the obvious Ragussis). The students have been asked to read The Merchant of Venice before the semester starts, if they're not already familiar with it, and will have Endelman on hand. I may work in some of Trollope's short stories about Jews (although I'm not going to saddle the students with The Way We Live Now on top of Daniel Deronda).
As you can see, there are a fair number of, you know, Jewish authors in this course, as I'm trying to avoid the phenomenon of "how Christians wrote about Jews."
I'll post the finalized syllabus at the end of the summer.
WEEK 1: Introduction/historical background/hands-on w/19th c. publications
WEEK 2: Philosemitism: Maria Edgeworth, Harrington; correspondence w/Rachel Mordecai
WEEK 3: Judaism and national identity I: Walter Scott, Ivanhoe
WEEK 4: Judaism and national identity II: Benjamin Disraeli, Alroy
WEEK 5: The Jew as criminal: Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist
WEEK 6: Converting the Jews I: Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna, Judah's Lion; Osborne Trenery W. Heighway, Leila Ada; excerpts from Dunlop, Memories of Gospel Triumphs... and Frey, Autobiography
WEEK 7: Converting the Jews II--The Jews Write Back: Grace Aguilar, The Perez Family; Charlotte Montefiore, Caleb Asher (um, maybe--I may wind up using more Aguilar + the Moss sisters instead)
WEEK 8: Judaism and national identity III: George Eliot, Daniel Deronda
WEEK 9: Daniel Deronda
WEEK 10: Jewish responses to Daniel Deronda: David Kaufmann, George Eliot and Judaism; Amy Levy, Reuben Sachs; E. A. Germains, Left to Starve, and No One Wants the Blame
WEEK 11: Converting the Jews III--Judaism and Race: Benjamin Farjeon, Aaron the Jew
WEEK 12: Jewish identity at the end of the century: Israel Zangwill, Children of the Ghetto
My students walked into the midterm exam knowing the following things:
1) All of the options for the quotations that would appear on the short answer section (just the quotations; it was up to them to figure out what they were).
2) All of the essay questions.
3) There would be an extra credit question of...some sort.
And they got to bring a cheat sheet with them.
Now, I suppose that somewhere, out there, there will be outraged cries of "But everyone will get As!" To which the answer is...well, actually, everyone won't. People still identify things incorrectly; they still make comprehension errors; they still have trouble getting their compare-and-contrast essays to compare and contrast. It's true that fewer students will fail the exam outright, and quite possibly more students will get grades in the A and B range. But, again, many students still earn something in the C range, depending on the makeup of the class and its overall gestalt. (Even under this prep regime, I've yet to be accused of being an easy A...) The exams aren't intended as shock exercises; they're about seeing how well students can analyze literature, recognize literary conventions across a range of works, and so forth. In other words, I've given them much of the exam's content, but they still need to bring the skills they've been developing.
Sherlock Holmes is moving along; we're about to start on Charles Marowitz's Sherlock's Last Case, which is aimed at audiences who have always wondered why Watson didn't just slug Holmes across the jaw and toss him in the Thames. (Alas, the ending is less satisfying from that POV than the end of Act I.) Meanwhile, we watched the Rathbone/Bruce Hound last week, and everyone was pretty appalled by Bruce's Watson--which is hardly an unusual reaction. Still, the angst was useful for moving the students in a different direction: making your instinctive gut responses ("This Watson is an utter fool! Why does Holmes even put up with him?!") into prompts for further reflection ("OK, but what does the film get out of making Watson an utter fool?"). Once the question about Foolish!Watson's narrative function was on the table, the students quickly moved beyond GRAR and into more complex issues, especially the way in which the film sets up Holmes as a national superhero--the ending pretty much says this explicitly--and uses his relationship with Watson to emphasize his status as protector of the "innocent." (In this context, the film's cheeriness about Holmes' drug use is quite fascinating.) Because, as the class concluded, Bruce's Watson isn't simply a fool; in many ways, he's a child, in need of paternal oversight.
The CUNY Graduate Center has a new plan in place to encourage doctoral candidates to finish in five years:
The center is recruiting the first 200 candidates who will receive new
Graduate Center Fellowships to begin their studies in the fall in the
humanities, social sciences and sciences (other than those in
biochemistry, biology, chemistry and physics, who receive different
scholarships). Candidates will be guaranteed full tuition funding and an
annual $25,000 stipend for five years (that’s up 40 percent from the
current stipend of $18,000). There’s also a decreased work requirement
aimed at reducing time-to-degree: after starting the program as a
research assistant or in a similar post, a student will teach one course
per semester during his or her second, third and fourth years.
Currently, graduate students teach two courses per semester.
Now, this does all look rather familiar. In effect, it's a non-transportable version of the now-defunct five-year Mellon Fellowships in the Humanities (strictly speaking, 3 + 2 fellowships: 3 years funded by the WWF, 2 by the doctoral institution), one of which I held from 1992-97. The CUNY GC stipend is rather more generous (I think my 5th year stipend was $16K), but then again, the students are in NYC, a city in which $25K/year is hardly conducive to luxurious living. However, the Mellon Fellowships also stipulated that students could not teach during the years they were supported by the WWF, which theoretically included the first two years of coursework and the final dissertation year; the CUNY GC plan adds another year of teaching to the schedule.
Why, you may ask, do the five-year Mellon Fellowships no longer exist? A little over twenty years ago, William Bowen's and Neil Rudenstine's In Pursuit of the Ph.D. (Princeton, 1992) surveyed, among many other things, the fate of the students enrolled in the Mellon program. They appear to have been somewhat puzzled by the results. They found that "completion rates have been surprisingly low (given the quality of the students chosen and the financial support provided), and that it has taken nearly as long for the recipients to complete their degrees as it has taken other graduate students" (196). Moreover, their statistics for the first cohort were discouraging: "35 percent of the fellows have received doctorates after eight years, and nearly one-quarter have resigned from the program" (205). In fact, the fellows from '83-'84 were not graduating faster than a speeding bullet, as a whopping "8 percent" achieved the five-year holy grail* and "20 percent" made it in six (205). Bear in mind that this was a fellowship program with a lengthy application and interview process and that doctoral institutions enthusiastically recruited the winners (although there were limits on the # of Mellons in any one place).
The results suggest a few things, one of them being that funding eo ipso does not, in fact, act like NetHack's Speed Boots once awarded. CUNY's decision to have students continue teaching during coursework may not accelerate matters appreciably. It certainly helps to have more money and less teaching, but there are other factors in play, including increased pressures for early professionalization (the endless conference hopping that many students are [wrongly! stop it!] doing or are advised to do; early publication; highly polished dissertations); the ever-increasing difficulty of finding a job at the other end, which encourages some students to put off filing their degree (are there stats about this?); unforeseen problems with mentoring; and, well, Life. As I've mentioned before, I did finish in five. All three of my committee members promptly collapsed in a dead faint, as that just didn't happen (and as I hadn't been on the job market that year, the situation was also somewhat, er, awkward, but never mind). While my time-to-degree was partly because the end of funding concentrated my mind wonderfully, it was also the case that a) I had no medical or personal crises of any kind; b) no teaching beyond two discussion sections*; and c) a cooperative, responsible dissertation committee composed of people who returned my work with helpful comments in a timely manner.
Hence I was rather jarred by this comment: "'The important issue is making students aware from the start that
although they may not finish the degree in five years, if they [don’t],
that will be principally a function of life decisions and life choices.'" Um. Sure. Maybe. But perhaps not. Illness of or injury to oneself, one's spouse, or one's parent; other unexpected disasters; and, yes, one's doctoral committee falling down on the job, a phenomenon not exactly unheard of. More to the point, even with excellent advising, it may not be possible or intellectually responsible to finish some (many?) doctoral dissertations in the five-year timeframe, let alone knocking out a publishable article or two (and conferencing!). Even nonstandard or experimental dissertations--multimedia projects, say--may easily push students beyond five years if they are to be done well.
*--Which didn't help at all when I was trying to get employed, I should note.
ETA 2/11: Some of CUNY's current graduate students are unamused, to say the least.
Some people were asking about what "The Curious Case of the Adapted Detective" looks like, so here it is. Bear in mind that this is my department's upper-division theory seminar, so that the post-Doyle Holmes universe becomes a case study for talking about adaptation, appropriation, and the sometimes exceptionally fuzzy line between the two. Because of in-class tech constraints, we're dealing with fairly conventional media--novels, film, TV--but the students have leeway to research Whatever They Want, which, when it comes to Sherlock Holmes, is a stunningly wide range of material...
Given the immense quantities of Holmes out there, and the necessity of giving the students ample time to prep and discuss the secondary texts, I had to make some v. sad decisions--chief among them being that I wound up eliminating the RDJ/Law Holmes (OK, I don't actually like the films as Holmes films, but they're significant in terms of certain trends). Ultimately, for pedagogical purposes, I opted for a straight run of variants on the Hound, giving us a baseline for comparison.
The class assumes no prior knowledge of the original stories. The literary pastiches come in groups: two very different (and either bleak or sardonic) accounts of how the Holmes/Watson partnership "ended"; two attempts to rethink Holmes and his methods in the context of WWII and the Holocaust; and two more...unusual...takes on the canon.
Introduction and tour
A Study in Scarlet
Scandal in Bohemia,” “The Five Orange Pips," “The Speckled Band,” “The Engineer’s Thumb” (Adventures)
Leslie Haynsworth, “Sensational Adventures: Sherlock
Holmes and His Generic Past” (Project Muse)
Hound of the Baskervilles
Hound of the Baskervilles
“A Scandal in Bohemia” ($1.99 on Amazon Instant Video, or you may borrow DVD
from me); Hutcheon, Theory of
Adaptation, ch. 1
1st group presents:
Hutcheon, ch. 2
Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
Short paper due 2/22
2nd group presents: McFarlane, Novel to Film, Pt. I
Last Sherlock Holmes Story
3rd group presents: Sanders, Adaptation and Appropriation, chs. 2,
Dibdin, Last Sherlock Holmes Story
Marowitz, Sherlock’s Last Case
Individual meetings with instructor; prospectus due 3/15
The Final Solution
4th group presents: Stef Craps and Gert Buelens, “Traumatic Mirrorings:
Holocaust and Colonial Trauma in Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution” (Project Muse)
Research discussion day—post queries and finds to the Wiki
Annotated bibliography due 3/29
A Slight Trick of the Mind
Vote by 4/1: watch EITHER the Livanov Hound
of the Baskervilles OR the Brett Hound
of the Baskervilles, both available on Amazon
5th group presents: Neil Caw, Adapting Detective Fiction: Crime,
Englishness and the TV Detectives, ch. 2 (eBrary)
Watch The Hounds of Baskerville
from Sherlock, season 2, available
6th group presents: Balaka Basu, “Sherlock and the (Re)Invention of
Modernity,” Sherlock and Transmedia
Fandom (eBooks Library)