Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Poet Teaches Day 1 of Aesthetics

The upheavals of last week meant that I needed to find someone to teach Aesthetics, which in our school is a Philosophy class.  For a variety of reasons, I didn't want to bring a brand new person on board.  One of our adjunct faculty teaches Geography at a different school.  In our state, Geography is not the study of maps or geology or whatever else you might expect; no, it's a multi-purpose Humanities class, a mix of History, Philosophy, Art Appreciation, and occasionally, some Science.  I knew he'd be a great fit.

Only one problem stood in our way.  He couldn't be there on the first day of class.

It wasn't really a problem.  I'd thought about teaching the whole class myself, if I couldn't find anyone.  I volunteered to take the first day.  We developed a plan.

I did the basic first day stuff:  going over the syllabus, talking about the general subject matter.  And then I launched into Keats.

"Ode on a Grecian Urn" led to a perfect first day in Aesthetics.  The poem covers plenty of questions that Aesthetics philosophers have tried to answer through the decades.  Does truth equal beauty?  Are unheard melodies sweeter than heard melodies?  Is it better to be frozen for all eternity in a moment of yearning than to experience fulfillment of that yearning that leads to disappointment?

We talked about art and artists.  Would the Grecian urn still be beautiful, even if no one was around to declare it beautiful?  Would we still practice our art, even if we were the only ones to appreciate what we'd created?  What about the question of money?

I then had the students do a daily writing:  at least 3 well-developed paragraphs in which they chose a topic and dove in more deeply.

As they left, several of the students said, "We wish you could continue to be our teacher!" 

I was touched.  I said, "Maybe it's better that we had this perfect class together.  If I kept being your teacher, you'd feel the disappointment that comes with grading and requirements."

Still, I was glad to know that I created a class that was compelling enough that people would want me to continue.  And I was happy to see the involvement of the students.   Most of them seemed interested in the conversations, although I know that some of it was more esoteric than they might have expected. 

Some of them probably would have said, "Just tell me how to make food look good on a plate."  We're a different kind of arts school, after all.  But even those who might have said that were willing to suspend their disbelief, to use the words of a different British Romantic poet.

I was glad to teach again.  And, if I'm being honest, glad that I got to do the fun part, while avoiding the grading and the assessing.

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

Sounds like a wonderful class indeed. I hope you find other chances like this now and then!