Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Day 05 "In the Trenches" (shahada edition)

Very busy day today--I am experimenting this year with trying to put as many of my meetings and one-on-one coaching sessions with grad students/etc on T-W-Th, leaving Mon and Wed, with the exception of the classes to teach, as open for doing Chair/department work and my own writing. I'm still on campus five days a week, but am trying to discover if this schedule will permit me to work in a relatively focused and protected way on M & F.

Today's a Tuesday, though, so the meetings and classes will run, pretty much non-stop from 11-4pm. Still a much easier schedule than working 7am-4pm on construction, or (God help us) a "double" in the restaurant biz--arrive at 10am to do lunch prep, cook lunch, clean and do dinner prep, cook dinner, clean, leave at 1am and (in my own case) walk home 2 miles across town.

But the unbroken hour-after-hour flow of meetings and teaching does mean it's pretty high-concentration and -adrenaline for those 5 hours. Early morning T-Th should be OK, as Dharmonia is participating in a "Yoga for Musicians" class a colleague teaches for students. Dharmonia probably doesn't need the introductory material, but attends out of solidarity for our colleague. Which puts me here in the satellite Office around 8am. Not a bad deal--it lets me get "squirmed down into the chair" (Steinbeck) in advance of the hectic day.

Second meeting of the "Musics of the African Diaspora" seminar today. Good group, with a good mixture of gender, age, academic concentration, and undergraduate/graduate ratios. At our school we run a number of our seminars as concurrent sections: a 4000-level undergrad section, with its own catalog listing, meeting same day/time/place as a 5000-level graduate section. It helps us make enrollments, be more economical with teaching-faculty time, and (I believe) provides a good cross-fertilization for the students: undergrads get to experience what it's like to do graduate work, graduates have the opportunity to display mentoring (and patience!) with undergrads.

But it also means that the teaching faculty have to be very clear and consistent about distinguishing the volume and caliber of work required of the two concurrent populations. Typically, in my seminars, I'm pretty careful, in advance of first meeting, to let enrollees know about the load, with what I've come to think of as the "badass warning letter"--the "this is how much work, how many hours of reading and listening, and productivity you're going to be expected to display." This steers away those who haven't yet faced up to the fact that they don't want to do the work, and tends to winnow down to those who really are motivated by the topic and willing to suck it up to do the work in return.

So the undergrads are expected to do the same volume of reading and listening, provide the same degree of participation, as the grads. The difference, as I tell them, comes in the assessment, and in the final project (all students make an individual conference-style presentation, but only grad students have to supplement the reading text with a formal paper with scholarly apparatus). Effective pedagogy means that I have to find leadership roles for suitable graduate students, and ways the undergrads can interact with their peers and seniors, so that everybody learns stuff. This also has the desirable side-effect of changing up the flow of information, so that it's not all back-and-forth between professor and class, but more interwoven between classmates and professor.

Today is the first "big" lecture, when we unpack Kubik's terrific survey of the approaches to African music historiography ("Analogies and Differences in African-American Musical Cultures Across the Hemisphere: Interpretive Models and Research Strategies"). Undergraduates (and new grads) have seldom experienced critique of historical models and interpretations: typically they've been taught "this is what happened and those are the facts you need to know," so the idea that different models might proceed from different agendas and yield markedly different understandings. Kubik lays out this insight beautifully in surveying how Western scholarship has thought about African music since the Colonial period.

The other part of the lecture, one typically equally alien to most undergraduates and new grads (at least here, in the reddest county of the reddest state in the Union), is the breadth, complexity, sophistication, and impact of Islamic culture in Africa, both North and West. Most undergrads are aware of the Middle Passage, but don't know about either the pre-colonial Arabic slave trade, the great trading empires of West Africa, or the complexity and influence of Islam. So we have to have a "jump-start" intro to Islamic belief, history, and (especially) artistic aesthetics. Once we've done that, it's a lot easier for the students to understand the complexity of the culture clash that the mid-Atlantic slave trade embodied.

Particularly in the wake of the "Pathetic Pygmies'" (Newt Gingrich) cynical, opportunist, lying, and just plain evil lumping-together of all Muslims under the Goebbelsian umbrella term of "Islamofascism", I'm especially glad, as a historian who cares about seeking the truth, to teach this lecture of this seminar.

gotta go!

No comments: