Summer starts tomorrow, sort of, which means I am getting serious about prepping for those fall classes I mentioned way back in my last post. I’m so excited to re-read my Richardson and Fielding for my Online G3 History of the English Novel course.
I spent a good chunk of time yesterday reviewing definitions of the novel: Bahktin, Hegel, Leavis, Lukács. I’m sorry, but it’s true — sitting down with all those names again was like digging into a pile of Christmas presents. And now I have a notebook full of quotations and questions marks and “expand on this” to play with.
At times like this, I’m torn between two feelings. First, obviously, I’m giddy. If there are just eight teens out there who want to talk about why the novel, why the (long) 18th century, why England, why do we like Emma even though she is so obnoxious – I am more than ready.
But there’s also a feeling that looks a little like regret. If this is how an afternoon of class prep makes me feel, why did I leave academia in the first place? Imagine if I had done another round of interviews, pushed harder to publish that second paper on Charles II, been less geographically choosy, and so on. It all seemed so logical in my post-first-baby haze, when I was making more money freelancing part-time at home than I could dream of as a full-time assistant professor. But if I had played the long game, maybe . . . A worse-than-pointless rabbit hole of thought.
To steer out of it, I consider that the university doesn’t have sole ownership of these kinds of conversations, and if it feels that way maybe it’s because I’m not looking hard enough. (More on that some other time, and no disrespect to the university, long live its role in the maintenance of a humanistic culture.)
And if it feels that way, maybe it’s because the bridge between the university and the rest of the world has gotten a little rickety and neglected, at least when it comes to the humanities. You won’t catch me heading off on a STEM vs. liberal arts rant, but as I’ve talked with parents over the last decade about advanced humanities education for gifted students, I’ve seen that most have zero clue what that does, could, or should look like. “Astrophysics” sounds smart, but “reading” sounds like something you should have mastered a long time ago.
One consequence is that while we march our accelerated math-and-science students though a very clear, well-defined scope and sequence, those so-called “humanities kids” (some of whom are also great at math but want to spend more time elsewhere) flounder a little. And while I am all for some floundering — how much great work has come from the observations stored up while floundering? — I’m also for the chance to try your wings a little.
For those kids, I hope that’s what our advanced teen classes at G3 can offer. And for me, I hope that planning for these kids and playing around with my old toys will lead to some new ideas about where we can take humanities education from here. If anyone out there is wondering the same things, get in touch!