Saturday, July 16, 2011

Origins

The following is a quick stream of consciousness take on the purpose of this blog.

Over the summer of 2011, I was teaching three classes online, but more importantly, serving as primary caregiver to my two small sons, one three years old and one almost one year old. While I love my kids and they are the amazing, wonderful creatures that all parents proclaim the greatness of, I became increasingly weary during these child-centric months. I began to crave adult interaction. As such, the internet increasingly served as an outlet of communication and a proxy for socialization with grown-ups. Problem was, I often didn’t have anyone specific to communicate with. Who wants to hear about the minutiae of my days with kids, oh yeah, Twitter. While I’d initially thought it trivial, I began to experiment with Twitter, sending out tweets about kids, politics, and anthropology. Surprisingly, there was some satisfaction in doing this.

As I continued with Twitter, I discovered the blog Teaching Anthropology by Pamthropologist, a community college professor who wrote about issues she ran into while teaching, among other things. I began reading posts, enjoying them and thinking, “hey, I’m a community college anthropology professor who sometimes has issues getting concepts across to students.” This seemed like such a good idea, in some ways, I’ve decided to largely copy it for this blog (I have a feeling mine will be an inferior imitation*).

Its Purpose
My plan (subject to complete transformation) is to use this blog to post about topics and issues percolating up in my anthropology classes—writing posts to think through problems. Because I gravitate toward self-criticism, I predict that usually it will emerge from class sessions that don’t go as well as I would like, when I just don’t seem to communicate interesting concepts and ideas effectively to students. Though, I won’t limit myself to writing about mediocre teaching; when interests warrant, I’ll discuss whatever.

I count myself lucky in that I get to teach anthropology which is concerned with so many cool questions and ideas. Where else do you get to talk about alternate genders, the history of social inequality, covert linguistic racism, religion and social order, etc.? Though to boil it all down, I see the big question as “what does it mean to be human?”—as far as questions go, that’s a great one. Because I see it as such an intrinsically interesting field, it’s especially disheartening when a class discussion about something like cultural relativism or anthropological economics comes of as a lecture about the quadratic equation (all apologies to algebra teachers).

When such a class happens, I stew on it for a day or two in my head, and then forget about it by the next class session. In this forum, I’m hoping that writing about less than stellar classroom experiences will force me to make my thoughts concrete and craft new approaches and explanations to use when those topics come around again the next semester. And, they’ll be written down, so I can access them again, not floating off like so many flittering thoughts. The writing will be the tool to help me think through the teaching (I think I’m a fan of alliteration and those last four words were my original title, but it sounded too pretentious. I have changed it to something meaningless to everyone on the planet save two).

After some additional thought, I’m also sure that this will turn into a forum for me to complain and/or boast about being the father of two small kids. And maybe sometimes, I’ll combine purposes.

It’s All About Me
I’m planning this blog to be primarily of use to me. By stating this, maybe I’m just trying to preemptively undercut any criticism (dude, your blog sucks…well it’s not for you anyway).
But, I do think there’s more intellectually honest reasons to post it online. I’m guessing that if I just kept it in a word processing file locally on my computer that I would end up not giving it the attention or effort that I should to make this a worthwhile exercise. The possibility of other panopticon-like eyes seeing my words will hopefully keep me diligent and clear in my writing. That, should translate into helping me think through the issues I’m having trouble communicating in class. I plan to keep the language informal and low-brow, which forces me to translate esoteric concepts (I teach intro classes, though, so the concepts aren’t that esoteric) into more concrete language and maybe make more accessible to maybe students that I point here. I have no doubt much of what I write will have been said before by others in a more elegant fashion. But, if my blog is useful to anybody else, great, but my intent isn’t to be profound for others, just for myself.
I’ve written this post during an unusual summer day where my kids are with their grandparents, so I likely won’t do another until the semester begins in the fall.

*Another idea I had for the title of this blog was “Teaching Anthropology: East Coast Crisis.” When I was a kid, I was very into the show, “V” (the one about the lizard-aliens who ate humans and stole Earth’s water), including the novelization of it. To capitalize on the show’s popularity, the producers licensed spin-off novels including “V: East Coast Crisis.” This novel followed the alien invasion as it unfolded in New York City. Put simply, the spin-off sucked. It had the exact same plot-line, but with uninteresting characters and none of the drama, since the West Coast human freedom fighters finally vanquished the aliens in the television show and this middling spin off novel couldn’t significantly alter that cannon storyline (maybe this blog will just become “V” fan fiction, I’ve dumped a lot of text in this description already).

That’s how I see my blog, very similar to the original, but without inspiration though maintaining tons of hungry alien lizards.

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