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Monday, August 10, 2015

Halting progress

Well, the MDC class was officially canceled today--which is a relief, actually, as now I can officially put the SF course on my roster, or so I hope. I suddenly had a wave of panic that Bruce might have forgotten that he'd said I could have it if MDC didn't run, and he might have given it away to another full-timer--maybe even the colleague who was there as back-up, in case the MDC did run. I sent an e-mail to him and to his assistant and know I won't hear anything until tomorrow at the earliest about it. I'm not sure if he's in this week or if he's waiting until I'm around next week; I'm pretty sure she's around, but she can't make the move without his OK...

Well, we'll see.

There seems to have been a sudden up-tick in registration in comp classes: I now have 10 in my section, which is a decided improvement. Some of them--especially the evening sections--are still in significant danger, so Bruce and I will decidedly have our work cut out for us, next week and the following. I don't think I mentioned the moment of having to deal with a relatively hysterical colleague who had written to William about needing a change to his spring schedule--and who had to be gently reminded that William's term on scheduling doesn't start until fall and even once it does, I'm still officially chair of the committee unless the committee decided to demote me. The hysteria calmed down pretty rapidly, but I do have to remember to change his schedule when I go in next week so that it's done before schedules are distributed. And I have to teach Cathy about schedule changes: man, she is in for a fierce learning curve when the schedules come out and suddenly she has to deal with all the usual suspects. She's never done any scheduling before, so, well, ow. But I'll help. I've told Bruce for years that I'd like to be involved in that process; maybe now's the time.

As long as I'm on this rather lengthy tangent about scheduling, the e-mail that William received from the colleague who wanted a change to his schedule gave me the distinct impression that people (or at least some people) feel that things went to hell in the proverbial hand-basket when I was in charge and welcome William's return with enormous sighs of relief. And that, in turn, makes me wonder if I want to set myself up for a potentially ego-bruising run for re-election at the end of this year. I felt very snubbed the year when I ran against the former assistant chair and was elected alternate, not full member of the committee--and now I'm more "ego involved," as I've been chairing for the past year, in addition to my initiative through P&B to get a clear sense of who is qualified to teach what. I do enjoy the work, strangely enough, but my fear of getting unceremoniously dumped through a departmental election weighs heavy in the balance.

Another "we'll see" moment.

Meanwhile, and more of the moment, I've been trying to get at least a little bit systematic about my attack on each of the classes, but I keep encountering the brain-fry problem: I have to stop working on 101 handouts, for instance, in order to stay sane--but in order to stay working, I simply shift to Mystery and Detective handouts. I did, however, have a realization that was remarkably slow to materialize, that being that there's no reason why I can't teach SF thematically instead of chronologically. I don't have to teach Bradbury, or any of the Old Guard canonical authors: I can stay closer to what I know and assign readings that can be used for different themes, regardless of date of publication.

The cool thing about working thematically, of course, is that some books can be used for more than one: Atwood's Oryx and Crake, for instance, can be used for a "Just because we can, does that mean we should?" topic (along with Frankenstein, for instance) as well as for a "What are we afraid the future might look like?" theme--along with, say, 1984, which despite not having come true in 1984 still might resonate in terms of fears of media control and "big government." (Using that also has the advantage of giving students the basis for references to Big Brother--which is a "meme" without context for them, like the sound of a needle skipping over a vinyl record: they know what it means, but they don't know where it comes from.)

The possible themes are rich and abounding:

What does it mean to be human? (Frankenstein, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, possibly Perdido Street Station--or almost anything by Mieville set in Bas-Lag/New Crobuzon, or King Rat, for that matter, although Mieville's stuff is arguably not actually SF. I could possibly also use Word for World Is Forest, hereafter shortened to WWIF.)

What is the proper relationship between humans and the nonhuman world? (WWIF, possibly Oryx and Crake ... and I bet if I look at the ASLE website, I can turn up about a dozen other possibilities.)

Just because we can, does that mean we should (or: How Crazy Is the "Mad Scientist"?), see above....

I could keep going. I'm afraid students would balk if I teach more than one novel by any one author, but I could do a lot with Handmaid's Tale and The Lathe of Heaven, too.

Well, it will be fun to figure out. And the nice thing is, I can return some of the books I hauled out of the library and check out other options instead. (I'd need to reread 1984, for instance.) And, as usual, the problem is more what not to assign than what to assign: I could easily come up with more than enough titles for a grad-level course, never mind more than enough for undergrads. I will be very interested indeed to find out about these students: how much they read, what they read, how nerdy they truly are....

Sudden shift of gears, but I'm very much looking forward to meeting with my ASLE colleague on Thursday, in part to talk about conference site ideas but also to talk about nerdy things--and I do intend to pick his brains about what books and/or films he'd use if he were teaching the class. (I bet he does teach SF; I'd be shocked if he doesn't.)

Oh, and another, less happy shift of gears: I heard from Le Guin's agent today that Penguin, owners of the paperback rights to The Left Hand of Darkness do not approve of my all-in-one student edition--or at least not if published by someone else. I fired off a couple of "push back" questions (what if they published it? what if they published an educators' edition that just packages a code for online access to my materials?). If they really have no interest--or if I'd have to follow the Random House "educator's guide" stuff as I've seen it for other books--I'll have to do some in-depth rethinking, but I want to hear from her about the other options first.

Whew. Well, I guess that's the news--pretty much for this week. Tomorrow I'll meet with Paul in the evening, which is always a great thing. Wednesday is lost to a doctor's appointment, meeting with Naomi (former student, now friend and cat-sitter extraordinaire), and yoga class. Thursday is devoted to meeting with said ASLE colleague and--since I'll be in the city anyway--tango class, unless my subconscious throws up some kind of road block. Friday, I meet at some point with the helpful colleague from Distance Ed, for assistance in getting all my materials clear and sorted on Blackboard. So, yeah. This is the week. Whew indeed.

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