Wednesday, April 28, 2010

fatal education

I could have typed that as "fetal," and said most of what I meant.

I teach a course I designed years ago about various political, pedagogical, epistemological, and ethical issues of life in the mediated, siliconized, affluent parts of the world. It's part of a pair of connected courses on the theme of human being in the information age. For several springs now I've used a book on post-structuralist thought and information technology - Mark Poster's Mode of Information. It's not easy reading, and every couple years I seek out an alternative, only to find that there's nothing else out there that does the philosophical heavy lifting and the concentrated concern with contemporary social life that Poster's book does.

Anyway, I go through this thing every year and do more work on Baudrillard, Foucault, and Lyotard (the three chapters in the book that I have my students read). Every year I write pages and pages of stuff that is somewhere between notes and an academic paper, and sometimes I share these with my class.

But what's really striking to me at this moment about the course is that nothing in my teaching life causes me more anxiety. This class is slowly, by degrees, killing me. I feel sick and panicky right now - half an hour before class, totally prepared, not only with a main agenda but several side trips we can go on, and no fewer than two backup plans in case the whole thing goes kablooey. My respiration is rapid and shallow, my pulse and blood pressure are elevated, my skin is clammy. (I am not hyperventilating, though if were to start, it's an interesting random fact about me that I am one of the best-performing hyperventilators on record. I figure this is because I am LungBoy [TM], with a lung capacity approximately 150% of normal adult males. Another story for another time, perhaps.)

Partly, this is because this course has provided me both some of the most rewarding and exhilarating, and some of the most dismal and soul-crushing, teaching experiences. I have succeeded and failed spectacularly in the course.

I never feel entirely confident handling this course material, which I know extremely well, because I can never tell how my students will respond, how they'll take it, whether they'll take it. I never actually feel like I've mastered the course material sufficiently (as though this was a necessary condition of teaching it, and as though teaching doesn't actively construct one's mastery on the fly, but ya know what I mean...).

I never walk into the class confident that all my students won't walk out. That's a weird feeling to have. Maybe today's the day?

1 comment:

Bobo the Wandering Pallbearer said...

Will you change that lousy Lyotard already? THAT's what stinks in here!