Went to Santa Fe for DW's book launch. Drove hours & hours, but oh, it was so worth it! The place was packed - standing room only. And it was a total love-fest. Her family had driven in from South Dakota for it - 15 hours - and were headed back early Sunday morning. Her students were there. Friends. Fans of her teaching and life. Co-workers. Her gorgeous kids. Sweet husband. And we were all thrilled to see her happiness, be a part of that celebration. Her reading was wonderful, with a photographic backdrop of the land and life about the life she'd explored. It's a wonderful, wrenching story - and I got that simply from a few passages. A, who went to see Santa Fe for her first time, was impressed with DW's prose and style. So it's not just me. And more reviews are in; the critics are impressed too.
Today, my class had a couple of readings, all under the title of Truths & New Truths. Aristotelian & Copernican universes, Luther on power, an article on Chinese education in the 1800s. I began with a simple question: 'how do you get the context of the readings?' The answer was supposed to be 'by looking at World History textbooks, checking out who these people were and what societies they were in, what historians have said about these things.' Instead I got blank looks. So I took it back further: 'how are you reading?' and got 'word by word.'
'Ouch. That's the hard way.'
Others: 'I'm reading... but nothing connects to anything else. I don't know the context.'
'How's that working for you?'
'Well... I'm reading and looking at the topic - Truths & New Truths. And seeing that these all have to do with change, and old/new.'
Finally! That did get us launched into a useful discussion, and some people got some clues on how to approach the readings and topics. We'll pick that up on Wednesday. But honestly - I worry about university students who can't do better than word after word reading, who can't make sense of a student's diary. How are they going to function in the larger world? How did they get this far? We are not a super-selective school, but we aren't open enrollment either. Our average SAT is 26 something. So... half a dozen students who cannot read words into sentences. Who can't figure out that in a history class - a freshman level history class - that some additional reading might be needed. But then, if you can't read beyond word x word... additional reading must be like volunteering for hitting your head again and again with a big hammer.
Their system has failed them. They don't even know how to ask for what they need: help. DW's success has very little to do with me, and much to do with her own journey. She says I helped some - a massive overstatement - but these new students. They need much more than a university history teacher can give them. Maybe, though, I can help them find a way to get what they obviously need. Dear god.