Wednesday, January 16, 2013
January 16, 2013: Back to School Hopes, Part Three
[Every new semester brings with it lots of promise and possibilities; since I was on sabbatical in the fall, this will be my first time back in the classroom and the department in seven months, making it that much more of a new start. So this week I’ll be highlighting some of those hopes and goals for my Spring 2013 semester. I’d love to hear some of yours for a crowd-sourced weekend post on our collective springs to come!]
On my expectations for myself as I continue to work with our graduating English majors.
In my education reform post a couple weeks back, I focused mostly on elementary and secondary education, and on issues and ideals connected to those earliest and most universal educational experiences. But of course higher education has its own set of interconnected contemporary crises, including many related to the same issues (lack of funding and support, narratives of “accountability” and their impacts on teachers and institutions, critiques of public educators) I addressed in that post. And in the last few years, as I have begun teaching our departmental capstone course (a required class for all graduating senior English majors), I have found myself confronted more overtly by two other, related challenges facing higher education: the increasingly uncertain futures facing college graduates, particularly those with humanities degrees; and the questions about the meaning and value of such degrees, and of university departments and programs in the humanities.
Obviously I believe that humanities degrees, and specifically English ones, are incredibly valuable, in the most practical as well as the most philosophical senses. But it’s one thing to believe something, and another to communicate it, and more exactly to help others work toward it; when it comes to two key aspects of the Capstone, I know I can and will improve in how I help my students engage with these issues. On the practical questions of their future possibilities, I’ve made sure since I started teaching Capstone that the students produced tangible materials to help: sample resumes and CVs, job cover letters and grad school statements of purpose, and the like. But in each of the three sections to date I’ve nonetheless come to feel as if many of the students leave the course feeling no more clear about what’s next than where they began; while I don’t expect that they’ll identify one definite career or future, I would like them to have a more specific sense of options and opportunities, and of the next steps related to them. So this spring I expect to add more conversations and materials to help them get there—and would love your input on how I can best do that!
If those practical, future-centered materials provide one of the course’s three focal points and objectives, the other two—shared readings drawn from our department’s different tracks, and the accompanying class conversations about those texts and contexts; student work on their required senior portfolios, where they assemble and reflect on pieces from across their college careers—are both places where I can see us addressing more fully the philosophical questions of the meaning and value of an English major, of studying the humanities, of the kinds of writing and reading our students do in their tracks and courses. While I hope that both the class discussions and the portfolio work have helped the students think about these broader questions and stakes, I have to admit that I haven’t really foregrounded them in any explicit way in the prior sections. But I’d say it’s time, time to get the students talking and thinking about why we do what we do, and why doing it is has significantly meaning and value in our lives, our communities, our society. And again, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to introduce such questions into our discussions, into their portfolio process, into every aspect of a culminating class like the Capstone.
Next spring hopes tomorrow,
PS. So what do you think? Thoughts on this course and these questions? Hopes of yours for the spring you’d share?