I've met my paranoia quota for the week, I think. Time to think of other things less paranoid.
In this new job, I can now assign books other than the textbook. Indeed, I've been encouraged to assign many books and required to assign not just research papers, but research papers with ten or more sources. I wanted to weep with joy!
In this new job, too, they have altered their core requirements in such a way that only some majors have to take the U.S. history survey, but all students must take the world civilization survey. I could probably wing the whole U.S. history survey if necessary, I've taught it so many times. World Civ? Well, I taught a 20th century world civilization survey at the last school, but the closest I've ever been to the whole survey was a westen civ survey course that I took as a history minor back in 1987. (I made an A! The T.A. said wonderful things about my work in comments! Yes, I'm pathetic enough that I still take a milligram of pride in that!)
Having to teach a course that I've never really taken and in which I have not expertise is always a challenge. First of all, it is a lot of work. Not only do you have to learn all the things, but you have to figure out how you are going to arrange all of the things in a coherent narrative. You also have to let go of the need to teach all of the things. "You cannot teach all of the things!" I have to tell myself over and over. "You control which things are most important. Teach those things." Plus, you have to decide which books you will assign in a field in which you have no expertise and therefore know about none of the books. Then, you have to design an assignment that forces them to learn about historical writing.
Actually, you don't have to go as far with that last as I do, creating a series of scaffolding assignments designed to make the students think about their topic, distinguish between primary and secondary sources in history, use all of the databases and catalogs, choose appropriate sources, outline a coherent essay, and then write the damn thing. You just have to make them write so many pages by the end of the semester. I fear that I might be making more work for myself than I should. Still, I've done this in the past when I had only one class of 12 students (and a full-time job), and it worked very well. I didn't do it so much at my last job because I had far too many students. Now that I have a third of the students, I'll do it here. We'll know if it is overwhelming by October.
I've been spending quite a bit of time identifying books and preparing the class and simply re-learning and learning the whole history of the world over the past two month; and, you know what? I love it! Not that every aspect interests me. There are stretches of centuries that put me to sleep, I have to say. I'm also a little appalled at myself that my greatest interest tends toward Europe (does that say bad things about me) and toward the medieval and early modern eras. Still, I can always find at least one thing fascinating about even the parts that put me to sleep.
The best part of preparing this class, too, has been that freshman feeling of arriving at school and seeing the whole world of knowledge spread out before me. There seemed to be so many things to learn -- there still does, even as I have become more specialized -- but the quest to learn them seemed exciting, not overwhelming. I reencounter Gilgamesh or the Book of the Dead or Plato, but with much more sophistication this time around, and I remember them from the first time around and remember the feeling that I had finally entered a real world of ideas and history and mysteries that could be known with enough reading. I never felt that in grade school. In grade school, that real world seemed as far away as France or England or Italy, which were so far out of my reach that they might as well have been Narnia or Middle Earth. Then, I was there.
I like remembering that feeling. In fact, not just remembering and reexperiencing, but actually experiencing. I also like that the global focus of the class expands the feeling. Now Sun Tzu joins Gilgamesh. Obviously, my focus right now seems to focus on ideas and the ways that the thinkers of societies described the ways that those societies ordered their world, understood relations between within societies, and described their place in the universe -- all with a mind that they did not necessarily live up to their ideals when they weren't flagrantly violating them. Eventually, I hope that I can develop something beyond this, adding in more about social relations and women. Especially about women. Meanwhile, I've recovered the thing that excited me about such a massive approach to the history of all of the things and the desire to learn all of the things.
I hope I can impress that upon the freshman. Do they even realize that they are at the start of a 4-6 year period in which their main job (although clearly not their only job) is to simply learn about anything and everything? Do they realize that this may be the last time in their whole lives that so much is open to them? Maybe. Probably not. I'm not sure that even I was as aware as I like to think I was, especially since I was constantly worried about money and paying for this experience and the future beyond college that I both wanted to get to as soon as I could but also feared because I fully expected it to be an eternity of boring office jobs that were only tolerable insofar as they paid enough to have my own apartment and buy lots of books. As they say, youth is wasted on the young.
In any case, right now, before the stress sets in and I become overwhelmed, take leave of my senses, and wonder why I could not just be happy in boring office jobs that are only tolerable insofar as they paid enough to buy lots of books, I love that I have a job that means I can go back to that place where I want to learn all the things. I intend to use that feeling to overcome the bullshit that tends to erode the joy of learning and writing that drew most academics to the profession in the first place. I've already had a whiff of that bullshit. Now I know what to do to hold my nose when I smell it again: bury myself in learning all of the things, where the fun is.
That, and take up kickboxing.
Note: "All the things" shamelessly stolen from Hyperbole and a Half and her explanation, "This is why I'll never be an adult." That is one of my favorite stories. I even bought the t-shirt.