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Another Semester of Radical Teaching Begins Tomorrow

January 9, 2011


Another semester of radical teaching begins tomorrow, so my apologies in advance for those bored by this brief introspective essay. Although not the usual politico-aesthetic essay you generally find here on Justseeds, I will nonetheless spend a few minutes this evening discussing my personal thoughts.

It is late Sunday night. I just spent the day with my daughters and partner rearranging our house. Moving furniture, framing prints I traded from friends, taking down our winter evergreen. Like some of the readers (and contributers) to this blog, the academic calendar controls my every move. I am now in my mid-30s and still live my life based around the schedule of academic life. Four months on, three weeks off, four months on, three months off. Of course the reality is that there is no time off, but I will leave the discussion of academic labor for someone else. Somewhere in the craziness of teaching and writing, I try to make some work, collaborate with Justseeds, and do fun things with my kids.
Tonight’s matter of business is intellectual. Classes commence tomorrow and I have the need to complete my syllabi. With kids sleeping in their beds, Estrella (my beautiful partner of nearly twenty years) and I are sitting on the recently moved couch pounding away on our respective keyboards. As alienating as this may sound, there is something nice about working alongside someone, while thinking parallel thoughts. As I glance away from my keyboard, I notice that the fire in the fireplace won’t stay lit. The finely seasoned cord of wood in the garage has nearly been consumed and the bitterness of winter won’t be departing anytime soon. Best get some new wood.
As I sit writing, I dread tonight. It is doubtful that I will get much sleep. Somewhat of an insomniac, I usually awake multiple times a night. While this inability to sleep could be a grand and productive calamity, my sleepless nights remain focusless and wasted. Tonight’s sleeplessness has more to do with tomorrow’s class beginning than with an undiagnosed medical condition. Sick to my stomach, I wonder what will happen when I am confronted with a room full of people I don’t know.
A few years ago I sent an email to Paul Buhle, the wonderful labor historian and founding editor for the SDS journal Radical America. Having worked with him on a few books, I asked Paul if the nervousness I feel before the beginning of the semester will ever subside. Tired of feeling nervous walking into a sea of new faces, I hoped to one day feel comfortable standing there introducing myself and some cool new topics (at least I think they are). Surprisingly, he said that it never has for him. In fact, he embraced the feelings, something I am still struggling to do. Even so, Paul’s comments reminded me that this indescribable (yet not entirely bad) feeling is actually a positive sign. It shows that I am still uncertain about what I do and how I am going to do it. It demonstrates that I care. It is the same feeling I have before I install an exhibition or plan some large project. It is the same feeling I have when I speak to my daughters’ teachers. You get the feeling…
So tonight, Estrella and I hurriedly finish our syllabi. I spent the past week installing work for a two-person exhibition and now need to tidy up some final elements. Estrella is toggling back and forth between curricular preparations and two essays on the pedagogy of punk. Since finishing the installation on Friday, my mental state has transitioned from thinking about the visual to elements of course structure. Although the syllabi are not quite complete, I will be teaching two amazing courses this semester, both of which are new. The first is an undergraduate seminar entitled ‘Art and Activism.’ The other is a civic engagement course, the new institutional language for service-learning, called ‘Indigenous Solidarity Work.’ I am super excited about both classes, but anxious about their trajectory and how student’s will respond.
Since this will be the first time teaching either course, who knows how well they will work. Nonetheless, I sit here tonight watching the embers of a dying fire, excited about the prospects of spending the next sixteen weeks discussing radical artists’ collectives and facilitating engagements between university students and urban Native organizations. On either side of me haphazardly sits two stacks of books that I will be using during the semester. Stack one includes 1. Josh MacPhee’s Celebrate People’s History: The Poster Book of Resistance and Revolution; 2. Richard Noble’s Utopias; 3. TV Reed’s The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism form the Civil Rights Movement to Seattle; 4. Gregory Sholette’s Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture; and 5. The recent issues of The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest. The slightly smaller second pile includes 1. Winona LaDuke’s Recovering the Sacred; 2. Wanda McCaslin’s (ed.) Justice as Healing: Indigenous Ways; and 3. Waziwatayin Angel Wilson and Michael Yellow Bird’s For Indigenous Eyes Only.
As I stare at these titles with tired and glassy-eyes, I remain convinced that the work of cultural and intellectual workers continues to have transformative potential. As I look to my left, Estrella searches for readings to assign from Utopian Pedagogy. How can we not transform our communities, if not the world? Good night…


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2 comments on “Another Semester of Radical Teaching Begins Tomorrow”

great post Dylan, Not sure how I just read this, I am working on my class prep right now and find myself drifting over to the justseeds blog.