AAR, teaching

New Teachers, Attention

If one has finally perceived that writing a good syllabus is difficult for the first time, choosing reading selections are much harder — especially for undergrad classes.

For those of you still looking for those last few readings, or just now beginning to write your syllabus (shame on you), take note of the collaborative project between AAR and the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning: the syllabus project. See here and here.

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capitalism, education

Forget TED, or Why Capitalist Education Blows: I Think I’ve Finally Found an Interesting Thing about TED, but They’re too Elitist to Verify It

The TED talks redefine the terms useless, enabling, and self-important in ways I didn’t think possible. I can’t stand them — all too often they’re about verbal prowess for a popular audience masquerading as sophisticated, orignal thought.

But just the other day at TEDGlobal 2011, Alain de Botton apparently uttered these words:

A sermon wants to change your life and a lecture wants to give you a bit of information. I think we need to go back to that tradition of sermon in education.

Consider my curiosity piqued. Finally. I’ve watched more than a few videos of speakers that have reputable positions and published interesting, ground-breaking projects, but their TED talks go to the absolute lowest common denominator. What is this, the University of Phoenix? Is this how the elites pay for an education subject to economic forces without much disguise?

What is interesting about the quote? After all Botton’s quote is problematic insofar as it seems to assume education today doesn’t already seek to change, or convert, and continue to habituate the person. In point of fact it does. Look at where the money contributions come from and what they fund. Now look at how Universities are educating their client-consumers (no longer pupils) for the job market. The notion of the liberal arts education is more-or-less already gone. Education is not as neutral as Botton makes it out to be.

Nevertheless, Botton is potentially hitting on something interesting — discipleship — and trying to recover it.

So, while there might finally be something worth pursuing from the TED talks… I can’t because they charge so much. $500 for a webcast subscription to your conference that is frankly more miss than hit? Screw you. And this betrays the point of TED to begin with: the elites are the ones with the most scratch, and therefore beholden to important, cutting-edge knowledge without rubbing shoulders with the unwanted plebeians, who, lucky them, can watch the video clips years after the fact or fad is passed. Indeed the conferences reinforce this class warfare, and not much else besides their ego, through the format of a kind of secret gnosis: sometimes the rich will get together to watch enthralling presentations, often without substance, that reinforces their elitism under the guise of paying a lot of money to weed out the unpromising (read, the monetarily ‘unsuccessful’) so as not to taint the exclusive brilliance of the speakers and audience. In short, a kindergarten version of an academic conference, but with an undue, pretentious air.

And don’t even get me started on the underlying dynamic of progress. I all but named the class warfare noted above as a social darwinism, but there is also a simplistic narrative of technological and cultural progress that underwrites the elitism: we’re so awesome because we can get enlightened speakers and technological wizards to comfort the rich with platitudes only found at a futurist exhibit in a world fair.

I am going to find the person who should have been cited for Botton’s talk. Forget TED. It is largely a very simple introduction to hubris.

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pedagogy, vampires, zombies

Sub question…

A sub question of sorts to the previous post Vampires and Cracked:

To open my class this fall, I’m taken with the idea of shamelessly ripping off a page from Graham Ward, who apparently held a discussion in class about which is more theologically significant: vampires or zombies? I find this an enlightening question on many levels, have raised something like it myself in the past, and one that I think the undergrads my find accessible and interesting, or at least quirky rather than boring.

Of course this is an exercise in theopolitical imagination, which is the point. I can’t think of a grand question to begin on the first day and carry through the entire semester, so I have a main thesis that each discussion section interacts with, and the vampires vs. zombies discussion is no exception: Revelation is an important doctrine for religious belief, particularly for Christian faith, and the implications of revelation are important and far-reaching for Christian life today.

So if I’m going to ask about vampires, does this mean I need to watch the gawd awful Twilight series?

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humor, vampires

Vampires and Cracked

For a rather long time I’ve found vampires and zombies to be quite interesting for theology: zombies are of course mindless hordes consuming life around them, and often set in shopping malls so as to expose capitalism’s logic; while vampires exude a combination of consumption and eroticism. Oddly, however, while zombies are still evil, brain-eating fiends, vampires are no longer the incarnation of evil lust but just sensuality.

There is already a book on this, The Vampire Defanged: How the Embodiment of Evil Became a Romantic Hero by Susannah Clements. But equally interesting, and more entertaining, the awesome “After Hours” series by cracked.com took up the discussion back in May:

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