On the fun course that teaches two vital life skills.
In 2007, at the request of a determined group of Fitchburg State undergrads, I created a new course: Introduction to Science Fiction and Fantasy. Because that first group of students was so self-selected, I went kind of nuts, assigning twelve novels and two graphic novels; they were up to it, but we didn’t have much of a chance to get in depth with any particular author, text, or focal point. So when I taught the course again in 2010, I heavily revised the syllabus, with a handful of longer works now balanced by short stories from a couple “Best of” anthologies. It was a great class, and I’m excited to teach it again this spring—for lots of reasons, but most especially because the class allows us to think and talk explicitly about two skills that I believe will come in very handy throughout the students’ lives.
For one thing, the class asks students to bridge a gap that tends to exist pretty strong in their minds, as well as in what they’ve been taught and shown in most of their edcuational and academic communities: between on the one hand the things that we enjoy, that are fun and entertaining; and on the other the things that we analyze, that are serious and educational. There are lots of problems with that perceived gap, including the fact that it can lead students to associate education and analysis with a total lack of fun and enjoyment. But it also, and perhaps even more problematically, can make it very difficult from them to analyze the things they love—and it seems to me that that kind of analysis is excellent practice for analyzing ourselves, for subjecting our own identity and choices to the same rigorous attention and thought that we would dedicate to a college text or topic. Since I see such self-analysis as a vital component of a successful life, I’m very happy to think that this course might help produce a skill that can contribute to it.
On the other hand, if self-analysis and even –criticism is an important and worthwhile goal, it can’t or at least shouldn’t come at the expense of self-confidence. And that’s particularly true for undergrads, who (at least at Fitchburg State) tend more to doubt that they have anything to say than to say things without enough self-reflection. So another benefit of a class that focuses on texts that (in many cases) feel more fun and entertaining is that it can help give students the skills for how to argue for the value of those works, and thus of the things that interest and move them overall—to make the case, that is, for what they care about, rather than treating them as guilty pleasures or the like. Given my own initial reluctance to create an Introduction to Science Fiction and Fantasy course—and thank goodness for that determined group of students, or I might never have done so—it’s fair to say that the skill of arguing for the value of such interests remains a lifelong pursuit; and in this course, together, we can all keep working on and toward it.
Next preview tomorrow,
PS. What’s on your spring calendar?
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