Sunday, May 4, 2008

Class Dismissed

My class ended this week. I'm glad and sad – conflicting emotions wrestling for supremacy.

I taught a Communications Dept. class at Rhode Island College called "Current Issues in the Media." A class right down my alley, as a journalist who generally is pretty clued in to the affairs of the world. Teaching is another matter, of course, but I'm fortunate in that I don't get jittery in front of groups of people, and I'm decent at asking questions to keep the discussion going.

This was my second collegiate class. Last semester, I taught a copy-editing class at Salve Regina University. That class went well, but it was rough at times, because I am not a copy editor by trade. As part of the curriculum, I taught Photoshop and Quark Xpress – computer programs that I am not well versed in. I made it, with a little smoke and mirrors and a lot of outside class preparation.

The RIC class was easier, at least from a basic knowledge standpoint. Anyway, I had 24 students and a vague idea for a framework, thanks to speaking with a professor who had taught the class previously. I decided to concentrate on some themes and leave the rest to vagaries of the news. I mean, the class is about current issues, after all; it would've made little sense to have an entire semester planned out.

The themes I chose were the presidential election, global warming and the environment, and, as a nod to the students, the media's coverage of athletes and celebrities. The latter turned out to be more interesting than I had imagined. The tension between journalists and celebrities is reaching the breaking point in some areas, so much so that the city of Los Angeles has passed an ordinance requiring photographers to stay at least 20 yards from celebrities.

Whether that will be effective is anyone's guess.

I was pleased with how the class went. After I took the Brown job, it became a bit more complicated. Two days a week in the early afternoon, I would jump from my desk and race for class. Teach for 80 minutes, leap back in the car, return to my job. Not a big deal, really, but an interruption to the day and, of course, time I would need to make up. Again, not a big deal.

We spoke a lot about the presidential elections. We discussed why they were historic, the obvious reason that an African-American man and a woman have a good-to-excellent shot at becoming president. Also, it's the first election in more than a half-century in which neither a sitting president or vice president was competing. No wonder it has been so wide open!

With global warming, my goal was to introduce them to the concept by explaining the science behind it. I left it to them to decide whether global warming was real and whether it was a big deal. I introduced them to some evidence, such as the study (in a peer-reviewed journal) that showed 928 climate scientists had written in peer-reviewed journals that global warming was real. The number that hadn't? Zero. Yes, zero. So much for any dissension, at least among those scientists most involved with the issue.

We also got into the economy. I never suspected this would become a topic in the class, but, hey, the economy has simply mushroomed in the public consciousness. There have been some excellent articles explaining what has happened, how sub-prime mortgages, a problem that initially affected such a small percentage of the American population, could radiate to become the tornadic force that it is now, threatening to splinter the economy into pieces.

One of the best explanatory stories I read is here.

I've gotten somewhat obsessed with the economy. I find the domino effect fascinating. It's like a Lego-built home that looks good at a distance but at closer inspection is a shoddy job. The foundation is weak. The day of reckoning seems to have arrived.

It's time to call the government for a bailout.

Like any class, you have your students who just want to get it over with and graduate. But I was pleasantly surprised by how many seemed genuinely interested, eager to learn, eager to share their ideas. You can read exchanges on some of the issues at the class blog, here.

Some of the best exchanges came over Rev. Wright, who he is and what he is doing.
I must admit that I didn't know what to think when I first saw clips of Wright's sermons. My students helped clarify it for me. No one apologized for his remarks, but some of the African-American students tried to put it into context by saying he was a prisoner of his past and had failed to see that much progress in race relations has been made. I'm not sure why, but I was happy to hear that they believed this country had progressed on race. We weren't all singing Kumbaya, but there was a real sense in the class that Wright was stuck in the past, even if some of his comments did reflect sentiments from an earlier time. It gives us hope that we can overcome prejudices, past and present.

So, as I reminisce over the semester gone by, I am happy I taught. And thankful for the chance. I didn't make much; adjuncts don't do it for the money. I did it, because it feels good to impart some knowledge, to feel that perhaps someone learned something or had his/her eyes opened to a subject previously unknown. I sure hope so, at least.

I hope I made a contribution.

1 comment:

Mary Grady said...

Hi Richard! I cant find an email link for you and just wanted to say hi. Your blog turned up in my google news search today.
I'm also an adjunct at RIC and an environment & science writer. I hope you'll visit my site at Drop a line if you think you'd like to contribute any writing!
(you can email me from the "Contact NNN" link on our front page)