Sunday, May 6, 2018

Teaching the Renaissance

This post is going to be a little different from my usual ones, but it allows me to talk about my right brain endeavors.

Because I have master's degrees in a social science (communication) and a humanities field (English), I have taught a wider variety of courses than usual.  Literature, humanities, remedial reading and English professional writing, public speaking, creative writing, interpersonal communication--and so on.  One course I taught for several years was Introduction to Humanities, a course I loved to teach but never really felt as if I got a handle on.

One reason for this is that the class is too expansive:  history of cultures, philosophy, literature, visual arts, music, architecture, all in one semester.  Consequently, the course offers few opportunities to really explore an era.  Secondly, although the books present the "eras" as if they were neat, there is no such thing. 

I am reminded of a Hagar the Horrible cartoon where his little friend open the door and a shaft of darkness comes into the room.  "The Dark Ages are here," he announces.  The textbooks are basically the same.  If this is 620 A.D. (C.E. now), this must be the Dark Ages.  If it's 1482, this must be the Renaissance, with all the characteristics pertaining thereunto. 

And therefore, the art and architecture that the book says were characteristic of that era must be in full fledge.

Except they weren't, and I knew that but didn't know how to go against the book.  I found it frustrating to say that the Renaissance was all about order, the rebirth of secular civil society, and reason/rationality, when there was all kinds of craziness going on in the art and government.  Sure, we could pick out the Machiavelli and the Michelangelo, but most of the art was intensely religious, the countries were constantly fighting each other, the Pope was doing his Popish things, and the art could be emotional rather than rational. 

Rationality and order were not in control just because daVinci used symmetry in The Last Supper or Rafael used a triangle configuration in a painting of the Madonna and child or they seemed to be getting perspective right, with Jesus' head smack dab on the horizon line in Massacio's painting.

Then Mannerism was really hard to teach, because it was so weird. On top of it, the sculpture of the late Middle Ages was exquisite and human, despite the assertion that the Middle Ages was all about etheral, overspiritualized bodies that didn't have any mass or reality. 

So, I have been watching a series on Amazon video by Waldemar Janusczak, a British art critic, and I like his take on it and recommend it.  In The Renaissance Unchained he shows that much of what we've been told about the Renaissance is not true and was propagated by Vasari, a contemporary in Italy.  He's not saying the art is not great art; of course it's amazing.  Mainly, however, all the great art of the Renaissance was not in Italy, and the great art was not about order and reason, but about an unleashed imagination.

And may I say, the art is downright dirty.  Lots of eroticism.  To the extent the artists "rebirthed" Greek civilization, it was mostly the naughty tales of rape and bestiality from the Greek myths.  Icky. 

I doubt I'll ever teach Humanities again unless I just go back to teaching full time (and my goal of teaching from now on is to make it as easy for myself as possible!), but I wish I knew then what I know now.

But don't we all?

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Lecturing--what's wrong with it?

I agree that lecturing should be minimized--but it takes a plan and a cultural change for students to know they have to read the material and that class is time for activity and interaction.  I try to do both, but am not always successful.  I taught a new class this semester and tried to have relevant application activities for the chapters; since it was a class in Interpersonal Communication at the 2000 level, I wanted them TALKING to each other.  I was pleased that now at the end I go into class and they are talking (silliness, sometimes, but that's ok, they are young) rather than glued to their cell phones. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018




You'll enjoy this brisk read about family secrets, Southern weddings, and murder. 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Is this serious?

Apparently, yes.  It's legit. 

Advice on Higher Education Accountability

Link to article interviewing Robert Kelchen on Higher Education Accountability

Helpful article on nuts and bolts of this issue, which isn't sexy but matters to those of us in administrative positions.  Quotation:

"Whether this is fair or not, I think that tougher accountability policies are the only way that public funding for higher education doesn’t get cut. Policy makers have many other ways to use taxpayer dollars, and higher education isn’t necessarily in the good graces of all legislators at this point. Colleges have to demonstrate their value in order to get more money -- or at least to avoid cuts. The higher education community should work to make sure that accountability policies come with potential rewards as well as penalties and that colleges with fewer resources get assistance in developing capacity to meet their performance goals."