My colleague Micah Mattix, who puts together the great daily newsletter Prufrock (subscribe for free here), highlights in today’s edition a What Not To Do list by Prof. Robert Zaretsky, who in the column advises fellow college instructors. Among his pieces of advice:
Never try to be cool (and it is never cool to remind students that the word’s history dates back to Chaucer). In the realm of dress, wearing fashionably distressed jeans will stress your students. As for sporting Converse sneakers, they are as hostile to your arches as they are to any effort to reappropriate a symbol that once belonged to our generation. As for hipster culture, it is best to think of it as the terra incognita of medieval mariners. Years ago I learned that making reference to, say, The Maltese Falcon or Catch-22 made even less sense than citing the Upanishads. But it was not until recently that I discovered that even relatively contemporary references were equally ancient, or obscure, to my students. Bruce Springsteen or Jon Stewart—names I had assumed were veritably Platonic in their universality—most often lead to furrowed brows, not knowing nods. Of course the students recognize these names, but in the way I recognize, when I flip through my baseball memorabilia, the names of the starting lineup from the 1964 Mets. This does not reflect the closing of the American mind so much as it does its fragmentation. Take comfort in the possibility that, in our brave new virtual world, all cultural references, past and present, are equally worthy (or worthless).
This blog has a number of teachers in its readership. Take a look at Zaretsky’s list, and then add some “nevers” of your own in the comments thread. I’d love to read what you come up with.