Tag Archives: Higher Education

Apparently, Movie Bad Guys Traded Black Hats for Caps and Gowns

1 Feb

I am a big fan of movie previews. In fact, I consider it to be one of the best parts of the picture show experience. They are entertaining and provide an idea of what is coming next. Some people do not understand it, but I like to get to the movie early to see them. When I see people arrive after they have started, I wonder how they could do that. They might as well not even bought a ticket.

I write all of that to write this. Recently, there was a movie preview that ruined the whole thing. I could not enjoy the movie because the preview stayed on my mind. It was infuriating.

The preview started with a voice that I recognized but could not quite place. Turns out, it was the guy who played the judge on Night Court. When he appeared on the screen, I knew what was coming next.

In A Matter of Faith, he plays a Biology professor who is explaining the theory of evolution. A coed becomes enamored with his teaching ability and his ideas. Her father is not amused because she is hearing something other than the Biblical creation. A struggle between the father and the university follows.

This follows a movie called God’s Not Dead where a college professor tells a class that God does not exist. Then, a student fights for God’s existence.

This is not a post about religion and religious beliefs. I do not care what people think about God, evolution, creation or anything else. However, I care about another central aspect of both films. I am tired of college professors being shown as the bad guys. It is an attack on education, knowledge, critical thinking and my profession.

This stuff should have gone out with the 1920s.Scientist

I have taken a ton of college courses. This has included histories of different religions, philosophy and  biology. At no time has a professor stood up and announced that God does not exist.

On top of that, I have worked with many professors, and I have not heard about any of them saying that God does not exist.

Are students exposed to different ideas in college? Yes. That is the whole point of college. While most people may think that it is a training school to get a job, it is actually a place to get a wider view of the world. It is a place designed to broaden the minds and horizons of young adults and prepare them to be well-rounded. For that to happen, they are introduced to concepts that mommy and daddy may not have told them.

This whole notion that college professors are godless intellectuals who are trying to drive religion from the minds of youth is getting old.

When I talk to my students about the Scopes Trial, I explain to them that education prepares them to think for themselves. It provides them with the ability to make up their minds about all sorts of issues. They can believe what they want, but they cannot fully comprehend or defend their beliefs if they do not know and understand the other side.

It is ignorant to continue the line that college professors are evil. However, it is more ignorant to believe something at face value without exploring it and other ways of thinking.

Annual Activities Report, or There is a Lot to this Higher Education Stuff

1 Jun

Teaching in higher education is a great job. I get to talk about history and, hopefully, fill the minds of students with information that they need to know. It is great to have a student come up after class and ask a question. It is great when they show interest in what we are talking about. There is great satisfaction in being a teacher.History Teacher

However, higher education is about more than teaching. We are expected to serve the university as members of various committees. We are expected to take part in scholarly activities outside of the classroom. We are expected to serve the surrounding community.

At the end of each academic year, we turn in an Annual Activities Report to our dean. It is a way for the administration to know that we are doing our jobs. I just finished my report and realized that it has been a very busy year.

In the Fall of 2013, I taught four classes and one directed study. Three of the classes were surveys over the first part of American history, and one was the history of Latin America. Enrolled in those courses, were 132 students. I also taught four classes in the Spring of 2014. Three were surveys over the second part of American history, and one was the Expansion of the United States, my specialty. Those classes had 118 students. In addition, I was an advisor to 18 students in the Fall and 12 students in the Spring.

In October of 2013, I attended the conference of the Western History Association in Tucson, Arizona. It was an awesome experience. I was also able to raise $15,000 for faculty development.

Did I mention committees? During this academic year, I have served on the Faculty Senate, the GEC (General Education Core) Committee, the Athletic Committee and the Athletic Compliance Committee. Those last two are part of my duties as Faculty Athletic Representative.

As Faculty Athletic Representative, I have also attended meetings of G-MAC, the conference that we are moving into. That is part of our move to Division II of the NCAA. There are several sports on campus, and I have been to games of  baseball, soccer, softball and football.

Oh yeah, I am also the Pi Gamma Mu sponsor, which is the national honor society for the Social Sciences. We also have Phi Alpha Theta, the national honor society for History.

It seems as if there is always something to do on campus, but there are also plenty of things going on around town. I have spoken to the members of the First Presbyterian Church and been interviewed by three of Nashville’s television stations. Also, I have been interviewed by The Nashville Business Journal, The Tennessean, The Lebanon Democrat and The Wilson Post. I also wrote an article for Lebanon Living magazine.

Community service? There is a lot there, as well. I am a member of the board of directors for the James E. Ward Agriculture and Community Center, Fiddler’s Grove Historic Village and the Buchanan Historic Home. I am also on the Lebanon Regional Planning Commission and am a member of the Rotary Club.

When I entered higher education, I knew that I would be teaching history. This other stuff came as a surprise. The other surprise? I like doing all of this stuff.

What the GEC? A Liberal Arts Education

4 Apr

Last night, I spent some extra hours on campus proctoring the GEC Exit Exam. It is a test that we give to our graduating seniors to see if they learned what we taught them in the General Education Core (GEC). As I read from a canned speech, we have taught them “a particular set of skills.” I really wanted to say that in a Liam Neeson voice.Liam Neeson

After reading the canned script, I told them what I really wanted to say. We are a Liberal Arts university and want them to leave with a well-rounded education. While being trained for a job is important, we believe that being exposed to different theories and ideas is what higher education is all about.

That is why the GEC is filled with History classes that cover Benjamin Harrison’s presidency and the Ming Dynasty. That is why it is filled with English classes where they read Shakespeare and Twain. Students often wonder why they have to take those classes and end their careers taking this GEC test. It is because we want them to know more than how to do their jobs. We want them to know about the world.

Sometimes, I fear that universities are becoming trade schools rather than bastions of higher education. Think about those words for a second. Higher education. It is great to get training to be successful in a profession. However, it is greater to be taught to think on a higher plane. That is what higher education and Liberal Arts is all about. It is about helping people to be open-minded toward ideas that are different from their own.

Open-mindedness is something that we are missing in the modern world. Heck, it may have always been missing. This makes me think about the politics of the realm in which we live. People are not willing to understand the arguments of the other side. I am not just talking about people who are conservative. I think people who have a liberal mindset are just as close-minded. Neither side is willing to concede that the other side may have some valid arguments and concerns. Let us just shut them off and yell at them.

Truly open-minded people listen to the other side. They may not agree, but, at least, they make an attempt to understand it. To me, that is what a Liberal Arts education is all about. It exposes people to different ideas and helps them understand that there things out there other than what their parents, their preachers and their teachers have told them.

It is a big world, and we need to do everything we can to understand it.

Today, I taught History to a room full of freshmen. Many of them did not seem very interested. By the time they get to the GEC Exit Exam, I hope they have realized that History, English, Philosophy, Sociology and all the other stuff were not wastes of time. They were essential to help them become something more than a job-holder. They made them an educated person.


The Traditions of This Time of Year

4 Dec

December has arrived, and that means we have entered a time of year filled with traditions. For many, that means getting ready for Christmas and all of the trappings that go with it. For those of us in higher education, it means something different. This is the time of year that brings End of Semester traditions. There are many, but these are just a few.Panic

This is the time of year when students:

Ask if extra credit is going to be offered.

Want to know their average going into the Final.

Try to turn in an assignment that was due a couple of months ago.

Wonder why they have been given a zero for something they didn’t turn in.

Question the grade scale even when that grade scale was explained to them on the first day.

Ask if they can take the Final early.

Say that they have another Final scheduled at the same time, which is impossible.

Want to know if they can do an extra assignment to improve their grade.

The list could go on and on, but you get the point. This is the time of year when people panic about their grade and scramble to do something about it. Unfortunately, this is the time of year when it is too late for that. There was an entire semester to get things done.

I tell all of my classes that if you do what I say and do what is in the syllabus, then you will pass the class. I guess that doesn’t sink in until this time of year.

2,996? Really?

25 Oct

The other night, Necole was telling me how proud she is that I am a teacher and talked about all of the people I have influenced through the years. Sometimes, we teachers need such encouragement. During the daily grind, our motivation tends to get overwhelmed by grading papers and seeing people nod off in class.

As she talked about all of the people I have taught, I began to wonder something. How many students have ventured into my classes? It would be easy to figure out. Just go back and count. I started teaching in the summer of 2001, when my university needed someone to cover a night class that had three students. Since that summer, I have taught history to 2,996 people.2996

Honestly, many of them have faded from my memory. Others I can still visualize sitting in the room. Some were great students who excelled. Others only showed up half of the time and did not stay in school very long. Sometimes, I wonder where they are and what they are doing. Do they have families? Do they have good jobs? Have their lives gone according to plan? Do they remember anything that they heard in my class? Did I really influence some of them?

Those are questions for which I have few answers, but there are some things for which I am certain.

Certainly, I am glad that I became a history teacher. Sometimes, I feel like an old Rock band playing the same songs over and over. The stories I tell can get monotonous. However, those bands probably like the songs and know that each audience may be hearing them for the first time. I like the stories I tell and get satisfaction in knowing that the students have never heard many of them.

Certainly, I am glad that I became a history teacher because I like the subject. The people. The events. They all interest me. If nothing else happens, then I want the students to realize that the people actually lived. They are not characters in a book. They were happy and mad. They fell in and out of love. They were people just like us. They lived. They died. Somewhere along the way, they made it into my history class.

Certainly, teachers age while the students never do. I started teaching when I was 32 years old. That wasn’t much older than the students. I even had one student who went to high school with my older brother. Back then, I connect through popular culture. We listened to some of the same music and grew up with similar experiences. We could remember many of the same major events.

However, students cycle out, and a new group comes in. Every year, I get older, but the students always stayed in the same age group. They grew up with different experiences and remembering different events. The fall of 2001 was my first full semester, and I can remember being in class on 9/11. The freshmen I am now teaching were just starting elementary school that year.

In essence, I could have been considered part of the same generation with my early students, but I am in a different one from my current students. That’s a big difference. Sometimes, being around a lot of young people makes teachers feel young. At other times, it makes us feel old. In other words, it makes us feel like part of history.

I am not sure what I meant to write in this post, but it is hard to believe that I have taught 2,996 people. It’s also hard to realize that some of them may be out there retelling some of the things I told them, but I hope they are. I hope I have had some influence.

And It Begins Again

14 Jan

Tomorrow is the first day of the Spring semester as the cycle of higher academics begins again. The students have been moving into the residence halls over the weekend and will show up for classes in varying ways. Most of the new students will dress their best to make a good impression while most of the old timers will dress for comfort.

Thankfully, I've never seen a student wear one of these.

Thankfully, I’ve never seen a student wear one of these.

Some students will arrive to class early to get a good seat and make sure they don’t miss anything. Some will arrive a few minutes before class with a drink bottle in their hand. Others will come in a few minutes late. Either the new schedule got to them, or they didn’t time their drive correctly.

Bumper to Bumber, Baby

Bumper to Bumber, Baby

No matter how they get to class or how they are dressed, the students will be introduced to what the faculty members have been working on. Tomorrow is an important day. It is Syllabus Day and should be celebrated throughout the land. This is the document that lays out the semester and what is going to happen within the class.

The syllabus has all kinds of information. Required reading. Attendance policy. Class rules. However, the students are always ready to skip over to the assignment page. I can almost hear the wheels turning as they look at the page length of papers and the number of tests they will have to take. There are a lot of percentages on there that tell the students how important each item is. Here’s a hint. THEY ARE ALL IMPORTANT!!!

I'm not kidding.

I’m not kidding.

Between classes is also an exciting time. New students are looking for rooms, and old students are hanging out with old friends. Some of them drop by the offices of their teachers to talk about anything other than academics. The time between classes is always. It’s amazing how quiet the hallways get when classes are in session.

The beginning of the semester is an exciting time. Everything is new, and the day-to-day grind hasn’t hit yet. Students are going to hear things that they have never heard before, and teachers are preparing to go over information that they know by heart. Good teachers introduce new scholarship into their classes, but the basics usually remain the same.

This week, I will talk about the post-Civil War period, the Renaissance and the United States of the 1940s. Along the way, I will do what I always do – teach History.

Alice Cooper Was Wrong…

27 Aug

School’s not out forever. That thought hit me today as I realized that classes start tomorrow. I am not sure what it means when Alice Cooper and higher education enter my mind at the same time.

Hey Kenney Chesney, this is what a Rock Star looks like.

Maybe I think of Alice because this is what a few students look like on the first day of class. They are wide-eyed and yelling internally because they really don’t know what to expect. Guess what. Teachers don’t know what to expect, either. We see the wily old veterans in the upper classes, but each freshman class brings it own set of personalities.

We tried to get both sides, the freshmen and the faculty, in the swing of things on Friday. Each year, the new students are given a story to read. Then, they are broken into groups to discuss the story with a pair of teachers. This exercise has many goals, but one is to ease the students into the correct mindset before the real action begins. It’s like a scrimmage.

My group had a few talkers, but the discussion was limited. Finally, I asked them if they liked the story. They could say anything. Yes. No. Kinda. It sucked. I didn’t care. I just wanted them to say something. After a long moment of silence, a kid spoke up.

“I didn’t like it much”

“Why did you not like it?”

“The story was ok. I just don’t like being told that I have to read something. I would rather read what I want.”

“You realize that there will be a lot of people telling you what to read over the next four years.”

“I was hoping the teachers would let us choose our own books.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen very much.”

After that exchange, no one else said anything, the discussion session ended, and the students went to their next stops.

Tomorrow, their stops will be in their classes, and the first day of class is always interesting. Students will be wandering aimlessly in the hallways looking for their rooms. I learned a long time ago that the first day of class should begin about five minutes late to give everyone a chance to get there.

Students will also be wearing their good clothes. This is the day to wear your new stuff and make a good first impression. Before long, they will show up in what they slept in.

The first day is also syllabus day, and teachers explain what is expected in each class. This is also when students learn that they will not be reading book of their choice.

Tomorrow is also convocation day. This is a welcoming ceremony to officially start the new year. The powers-that-be will dress up in their gowns, speeches will be made, and the choir will sing. It will end with the singing of the Alma Mater. They will pass out the words for the benefit of the freshman, and I am thankful for that. After graduating from the university twice and working there for over a decade, I still don’t know the words to the song. I wonder if Alice Cooper does.