Teaching a 100-level course with all a variety of students in it is HARD.
(Can you tell I’m working on my class for next spring?)
It’s particularly hard for my class, since there is no “next” class for them to take. There is only this; if they want to go deeper, they have to go to graduate school. And really, they have to go to grad school at Indiana University. So I feel an urgent need to give them as MUCH AS I CAN in just 13 2-hour lectures.
Last year, toward the end of the semester, I began thinking closely about how I was teaching, and I realized I was teaching in multiple voices at the same time. Like a fugue. Like this:
Or maybe more like this (Ernst Toch’s Geographic Fugue):
Multiple voices, each performing a variation on a central theme.
What are the voices?
1. Basic sexual and relationship health information.
2. Cultural attitudes that shape sexual and relationship health.
3. The science that generates research on both sexual health and cultural attitudes.
4. The cultural attitudes that shape the science that generates research
The challenges of teaching in multiple voices?
If you don’t know how to listen, it’ll sound messy and chaotic and overwhelming. And if you only hear one of the voices, you haven’t received the entire work. And if I can’t be sure that you’ve received the entire work, how do I know you’ve really understood any of it?
You can get an A in my class without every recognizing voices 3 and 4. But then you’ll be confused and frustrated by, for example, the lecture on sex research. Since the students bring different knowledge with them, only some of them will be able to hear all the voices at once. Last year, I had maybe 6 who Got the whole thing, all four voices. Out of 187.
Which seems to demand that I consider for whom I’m teaching. If I design my class KNOWING that most of the students won’t get half of what I’m teaching, won’t even NOTICE it, why not spend more time on the stuff they’ll all get, and go deeper into it?
When I consider that question seriously, this is the answer I get: boredom. My own boredom.
I can only care so much about the statistics on who uses which form of contraception or condom efficacy research or frameworks for thinking about gender. The basics of sexual health and (especially) the cultural attitudes about sexual health bore me senseless, and I can easily cover what I believe any sexually literate person should know is about half the time allotted to me. And the rest of the time I use to talk about the REALLY COOL SHIT.
It turns out the “AS MUCH AS I CAN” referenced above is qualified with “OF THE STUFF I REALLY LOVE.” Like most works of art, the curriculum of my class is an act of love – in this case, a love for the science that generates the knowledge that I’m there to teach.