Books, College, Contemp Culture, Meaning, Pedagogy, Quotes, Ramblings, Reading Reflections, Teaching, the Ridiculous, University

Maps, Classrooms, and Teaching

A few days ago I picked up a book that the library was holding for me and, last night, began reading it:  I’m the Teaching, You’re the Student: A Semester in the University Classroom by Patrick Allitt.  Allitt is Professor of U.S. History at Emory University and the book is a reflection on the practice of teaching and the culture of American undergraduates.

That may sound like a boring book to you, but, five chapters in and I’m finding it extremely funny (in a dry and deprecating British-humor kind of way). I laughed out loud several times while reading it last night, particularly after reading the section which I included for your reading enjoyment. This takes place the class period after Allitt gave a pop quiz where students were asked to locate and label all the US States on a blank map. Some students were more successful than others (note to self: “New Hamster” is not a state).

As I mark the attendance roll we have a minute or two to spare, so I say, “The maps! I haven’t brought them back but I did enjoy looking through them. Thanks to those of you who wrote me little letters in the margin explaining your situation. You all know whether you did well or not. If you did poorly you must spend some time learning. Which of you hangs out in the map department of the Woodruff Library reference section?”

I give them an eager glance as though expecting that many will say yes. Really I know that most of them haven’t the remotest idea where the place is. No one raises a hand. I tell them where it is and continue, “You must go there… Tell yourself, ‘Tonight I’ll go to the map room instead of watching Survivor on TV.’ Okay?” I give them the eager smile again, pretending to be more naive than I really am about the likelihood of anything actually doing it.

“Who knows they did badly on the map?” Half a dozen hands go up, and I say to Nathan, one among them, “Will you be spending some time in the map room as I have suggested?” He looks back, not sure whether I’m kidding, and settles for a docile “Yes, sir,” which carries absolutely no conviction at all. “After all,” I say, “think how you’d regret it if there was a map section on the midterm and you did badly because you hadn’t followed my advice.” Nervous glances all round, and Nathan just can’t restrain himself, though he knows he shouldn’t ask: “Will there be maps on the midterm?” “I’m thinking about it. It would be good-perhaps we could have the courses of the fifteen major rivers” (collective groan).

Patrick Allitt, I’m the Teacher, You’re the Student, 48-49


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