Sunday, December 14, 2014


Note: today's column is an actual syllabus that seems to have fallen through a crack between the universes. It comes from what appears to be a parallel dimension where lawyers and people who study pedagogy have not yet destroyed improved the education system.  I do not approve, of course, as indicated by my own ten page syllabi that leave absolutely nothing to chance. But my doppleganger in the parallel dimension seems to be somewhat more reckless than me. 

History 2000E:  History

Professor or Dr. Graham Broad.  You may also call me Death, Destroyer of Worlds. 

Office Hours: When I’m in my office. Note that I am a professional historian. I’ve written books about it. Whole books. And I’ve read books about it. Lots of them. Come to see me. I can probably point you in the right direction. 

Office Phone: Phone currently is buried under books.

E-Mail:  No. 

Course Website: No. There are also no circus acts, no candy floss machines, foot massages, smoothies, or therapy pets. 

Course Description:

In this course we will learn about history, including politics, war, religion, families, gender, childhood, ethnicity, migrations, art, literature, philosophy, music, drama, architecture, science, technology, the environment and geography, cuisine, and sports, and their relationship to the present.  Some people say that these things have “no value” in the “real world.” Those people are called ‘assholes.’ Avoid them.

Expectations and Outcomes: Oh, for God’s sake. What do you think they are? 

Grade Breakdown:  Learning: 100%

Required Books: There are a bunch of good books on this topic. Come see me in my office and I’ll recommend some.

Reading List: You give me one. I'll make suggestions. 

Description of Assignments: You’ll be required to read history, write about history, and talk about history – intelligently. 

Lectures: I will be giving lectures this year, though not that many. Show up or don’t. Whatever. I won’t be telling you entertaining stories about the past or giving you chronology that you easily could learn on your own. I will not be breaking the lecture into ten minute chunks like the pedagogists say, because my goal isn’t to make you dumber. I will not have a scroll of PowerPoint bullets on the screen behind me for you to transcribe because I don’t believe that the designers at Microsoft actually know or care about teaching or learning. I will not be making the same jokes I’ve made for the past five years or five decades, for that matter. I won’t be making learning “fun” at all, actually, because I’m not in the entertainment industry. Trust me when I say that this going to hurt quite a bit.

Policy on Attendance: There isn’t one. You’re allowed to fail. In fact, you don’t have to attend anything in life. If you want, you can lie in bed for weeks on end until you starve or die of dysentery. It's nice to have options. 

Late Policy: Punctuality is important, but If you need a bit of extra time to complete your assignments, just consult with me in advance and then do your best to get quality work done. But do not come to my office and lie to me.

Statement on Plagiarism. Ask yourself a question: do I feel lucky? 

Statement on the Use of Electronic Devices:  History lesson #1: incredible though it may seem, there was a time, long, long ago when it was considered not merely sensible but actually polite to listen to people who are talking to you. So, whatever. 

Student Code of Conduct: Don’t be a jerk. 

Essay Rubric. Um….seriously? You’ve made it to your fifteenth year of subsidized education and you need to be told what a good essay looks like? Read a book. I can recommend some. 

Frequently Asked Questions

I don’t like speaking in front of others, what should I do?  One option is to commit a terrible crime and be sentenced to solitary confinement for the rest of your life. 

I'm not good at writing. Any tips?  Sue your high school teachers. Also, read books.

How will this help me get a job? I dunno. How will your job stop you from being the kind of person who voted for Hitler?

I have anxiety. How can that be accommodated? Outside my office you’ll see a thing that dispenses numbers. Please take one. Then hand one out to everyone on the planet. Make sure to hand them out in refugee camps in the Middle East and Africa especially. Explain to the people in them that you have a lot reading to do.  Then invent a time machine, travel back in time to 1939 and then to 1914, and hand them out to everyone your age in university.  Remember to tell them that you are under a lot of pressure

Do you even care? Of course I do. If I didn’t care, I would make things easier for you. 

Any final thoughts? Start reading – now. Write clearly and carefully. Consult with me often. In class, pick a side and argue persuasively for it, and then the next day argue for the other side. Change your mind when you’re proven wrong – that’s what it means to be ‘objective.’ Hold yourself and your classmates and your professors to the highest standards. Call them out when they make mistakes. Loathe cliches. Detest pointless bureaucracy. Know when you're being condescended to. Refuse to fill out student evaluations of teaching. Tell the guy playing video games in front of you to close his laptop because it’s distracting everyone. Drink beer and wine long into the night and fight about what you learned that day but be up and ready for class the next morning without fail, every single time. Make friends – and enemies. Go to a play and an art opening and see visiting speakers in other disciplines. Get lost in the library. 

Do anything but be boring.