The sailor who can read the sky

1 09 2016

How nice to not dread teaching.

I’ve mentioned this course before: Politics & Culture. I’m on the 4th version of it, and think I’ll be able to stick with this for quite awhile.

The first (women and human rights) and third (half mash-up, half Banerjee & Duflo’s Poor Economics) were slogs: they never quite came together. The third, built around Nussbaum’s Women and Human Development, was fine, but I got bored with it after awhile.

This version, which I introduced last fall, focuses on the Weimar Republic, and it all came together pretty well. As I did before, I’m using Richard Evans’s The Coming of the Third Reich, a coupla’ chapters of Bernard Crick’s In Defence of Politics, and Carl Schmitt’s The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy (I’ve already warned the students about this one), as well as various online primary-source documents; for this semester, I’ve shifted a few things around, added some docs and discarded others, but otherwise kept it together.

And, oh yes, as I think I’ve mentioned 10 or 20 times, I totally dig the subject.

Happily, the more I read about it—I’m a little abashed, actually, at how little I knew going into it last year—the more I want to read about it. Which is good, not just for my own curiosity, but because I like to smother a subject.

It’s not enough to know just what’s on the syllabus, but all those bits and lines which both feed into and lead away from those topics. Or, to put it another way, if I want to cover a 4×4 square, I have to paint 6×6 or 8×8. Last year, it was more like 5×5 or even 4 1/2×4 1/2; this year, I think I’ll be closer to 6×6.

The over-painting metaphor no longer works for my bioethics course, which I’ve been teaching for years. Now, it’s about adding dimensions, tipping things over, and, most importantly, being willing to rip apart the fabric in front of the students. I’m now so comfortable with my knowledge of the subject that I’m willing to shred that knowledge, to say, What else is there?

Boredom while teaching a long-taught subject is always a risk—as I noted, I got bored teaching version 2 of Politics & Culture—but teaching long allows one really bring out the sheen on a topic. The problem with v. 2 was that while I cared some, I didn’t care enough about the central topic to want to spend time with it even when I wasn’t teaching it.

That’s not a problem with Weimar, or with biotech. I want to know, for myself, and it’s this greediness which in turn makes me excited to share.