Settle thy studies

Settle thy studies (Jerz’s Literacy Weblog)

I’ve written before about using circle games in my teaching. Since students are wrestling with midterm projects and other major assignments, and since I’m teaching a large number of freshmen in 200-level courses this year, I’m seeing lots of worn-down students.

In my Drama as Lit course, up to now I’ve given the students modern plays, or I’ve given them modernized versions of older plays. The online and in-class discussions of Everyman and the York Corpus Christi plays went well, even though I filled in with more lecture material than I typically like to provide. Today, however, they were to read the first two acts of Marlowe’s Faustus, and I didn’t give them a modernized translation.

I figured some of them would need a bit of help getting into the play, so I did the first monologue of Faustus in his study.

These metaphysics of magicians,
And necromantic books are heavenly;
Lines, circles, letters, characters.
Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires.
O what a world of profit and delight,
Of power, of honour, and omnipotence,
Is promised to the studious artisan?
All things that move between the quiet poles
Shall be at my command. Emperors and Kings,
Are but obeyed in their several provinces,
But his dominion that exceeds in this,
Stretcheth as far as doth the mind of man:
A sound magician is a demi-god.
Here, tire my brains to get a Deity.

I wish some of my students had a bit more motivation this time of year, but this play is a good one to remind me that the thirst for knowledge is not necessarily good.

I started with an interpretation of Faustus as a pompous professor — which may not be that much of a stretch for my acting ability. At any rate, I imagined how Dr. Frasier Crane would do it. Before I went too far, I backed up and started over, this time entering the front of the classroom paging through a book of magic, which I then put down on one side of the table, as Faustus tried to distract himself with logic, medicine, law, and religion. (Before class started, I hid a book under the table, so that when Faustus sets aside his law book and looks for the bible, I pretended I had to hunt for it, and then when I pulled it out of its hiding place I pretended to blow dust off it. Sometimes that gets a laugh, but not this time. Oh, well.) When Faustus gives up on religion, I sort of caressed the prop bible, with the line “Divinity, adieu!” A little later, while gesticulating wildly, I knocked the bible off the table, and started after it as if by instinct, but then I left it there on the floor, and went on, like the evil overlord that Faustus thinks he can be.

Then when I finished the scene, I went back to the bible scene, and this time stood up and threw the bible across the room. (It was actually Faulkner, not the bible, that I threw. See this older blog entry about a teacher who tore a bible in class to make a point.)

I can never keep a straight face when I do the fourth version, so I apologized to the students and warned that it would be short. When Faustus goes for his magic books, I whipped out my PDA and grinned madly. The light from the PDA shone off my glasses, and the students said I reminded them of Gollum with his precious. (I’m sure my wife would say they’re not far off with that comparison.)

In News Writing, we’re starting a shift from a writing-intensive unit to a reading-intensive unit. For the next class, the journalism students will be looking at the editorials in the local paper. But I want them to have something to look for when they turn to that section of the paper.

The three main purposes of an editorial are to inform, to persuade, and to entertain. I am asking that they choose two of the three for an upcoming assignment. I do want the students to feel they can unleash the creativity and opinions they’ve had to suppress in order to “do news” in the traditional style, but of course there are limits.

To introduce that assignment, I pointed to a student who has shown a willingness to role-play in the past, and I said, “Okay, class. He is going to give me a political opinion, and I am going to respond to it. You tell me whether I am being persuasive.”

The student responded with a statement about the Iraq war. I barely let him finish his sentence when I barked out, “What, are you stupid!??”

I stepped out of the role, in order to note how my voice cracked in just the right way to suggest outrage and madness. “Am I being persuasive yet?” I asked.

When the student went on with another sentence, I blurted, “I *hate* people who say things like that!” The class laughed, so I hissed a little. “Hate!!!”

I didn’t quite have the courage to flounce around the front of the classroom like Morgan Spurlock did when he disparaged the McDonald’s spokesperson’s references to yogurt, apples, and salads. But once the students know me well enough, and when I’m sure I’ve picked a student who doesn’t mind playing along, I loosen up a bit. The ham in me rejoices.