Jock Jams for History Nerds

Remember Jock JamsVolume 1, perhaps, featuring the finest work of Tag Team, Snap!, and other fine artists, or Volume 4, which Chumbawamba took to number 20 on the US charts? Ahh, the Nineties…. Anyway, we historians and other academics could use something like that.  I’m not sure what CD I’d suggest — Matt Damon reading Howard Zinn, maybe? — but we definitely need something to get us pumped up for (the jam of) teaching.  I had a really flat day in class last week, and I’ve been dwelling on it.  Things had been going so well in previous sessions: students talking to each other instead of me, critiques of the text, insightful suggestions for further exploration of the topic.  And then, splat.  And while a nasty string of heat and humidity didn’t help, I take the blame.  At first I thought the problem started with my notes and discussion questions: not sufficiently provocative; too many yes/no questions.  But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I just didn’t bring enough enthusiasm into the class.  I was bored with the material, and I’m pretty sure that came through in my body language and tone of voice.  The students picked up on that and responded in kind.  And so I’m going to try something new during class prep.  In addition to coming up with provocative, open-ended questions (paired with follow-up questions that anticipate where students might take the discussion), I’m also identifying the things about the reading and the topic that I find particularly intriguing and exciting.  In my Environmental Ethics course today, for instance, we’re talking about Bjorn Lomborg’s Cool It vs. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.  I think it’s an interesting exercise in understanding different forms of anthropocentrism and the policy implications of those differences.  But what gets my blood running is this proposition: because of the way Gore sets up the terms of the debate, Lomborg wins every time.  If humans are at the center of the justification for environmental policy, as Gore argues, then Lomborg’s cost-benefit analysis scheme might just be the perfect approach.  But that doesn’t feel right to me, and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t feel right to some of my students.  That’s fascinating and exciting, and I’m going to try to bring that into class.  Enthusiasm can only get you so far, of course — you actually have to prepare the material — but I’m betting it’s a critical component of good teaching.  We’ll see.

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