random dada

From the Mind of a Pathologically Curious Teacher

Classes I Would Love to Teach


My dear friends,

I recently discovered what appears to be a perfect school for me to call home. Fortune appears to have smiled on me and they have a social studies position open. What makes this school perfect for me is that both students and teachers initiate classes in their discipline and curiosities. If I correctly interpret the school’s website, they encourage teachers to be themselves and promote a vigorous form of self-direction for both teacher and student. Although, it was not asked for in the application package I wanted to offer them a sample of classes that I can see myself teaching in the core areas I would be expected to teach, namely:

  • US History

  • Economics

  • Government

  • Geography

  • World History

  • Current Events

  • Psychology

  • World Religions


The common themes that keep coming back to me and how I teach are:

  • humor

  • popular culture provides a convenient starting point

  • dichotomies cloud clear thinking

  • traditional subject boundaries no longer have meaning

  • learning must be fun

  • questions are more important than answers

With this in mind, below is a short list I threw together of classes I would love to teach or at least offer. I would like to hear any thoughts on my approach. Please keep in mind that this is still in brainstorming phase and I still have a day or two to refine the final product. 


Humor during the Cold War.

Brains as scarce resource: zombies and economics

I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested: psychology and The Big Bang Theory

Roman coliseum, Quentin Tarantino,  and True Blood: Are humans inherently violent?

Power to the People: Political and cultural revolutions

Is America the new Rome?

Gods, old and new: comparative history of the rise and fall of religions

Uncle Sam Wants You: American history through our propaganda

Eat the Rich: Class war in American history


Colored Entrance

This weekend I helped a student study for a test on racial segregation in America during the 1950s. I was reminded of how vital the visual record is to understanding the civil rights movement. Regrettably, I did not have a computer or my usual stack of books. As I we talked about what she had […]


Websites offering lists of “Today in History” abound. I have several books in my library that provide such lists. I understand the impulse to go to these sites and books. They give (to geeks such as myself ) the feeling that history is exciting with a rush of now. After all it happened TODAY (except […]

Back to the blog-oh-sphere

Since my last post almost a year ago I wrapped up my graduate degree and student-teaching U.S. History. As I look for a full-time teaching job I have been tutoring various subjects. I also plan to pick up where I left off posting items that can be used teaching high school social studies.

World War II Propaganda as Rorschach Test

So much propaganda was created during WWII that you can find great art defending what now seems odd and peculiar.  Try doing a Google image search for WWII posters and be amazed.   The more obvious and well known works are for war bonds and working hard.  Not to be missed are the posters encouraging such things as saving bacon fat for explosives, scrap metal for bullets, and of course my favorite, reading books, or at least not burning them.

Modern Economics in less than 10 minutes.

The guys that brought the amazing video”Fear the Boom and Bust” are going to be coming out with a sequel.  So you know the proper response is giddiness.

Just watch it already.

“Fear the Boom and Bust” a Hayek vs. Keynes Rap Anthem

Culture is What?

Many people run to Wikipedia or http://www.urbandictionary.com/ when they begin to think about a subject.  I on the other hand, almost always pull the The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy off my  bookshelf and begin there.  I am not sure why or how I began this ritual, but there it is.  This ritual has been part of my culture for so long the book has oil stained edges and it tends to open to the page that ends the entry on Hume and begins the one on humour (the book is printed in England, so they get to spell it that way).

I have been on a quest to question my assumptions about what most people take for granted and lately I have been pondering the meaning of culture.  It is easy to be glib, such as the fellow that said, “culture is roughly anything we do and the monkeys don’t.”  However, I am not sure this is helpful, and it also assumes monkeys do not have a culture.  By way of illustrating why I love the Routledge Encyclopedia I thought I would quote the entry by Anthony O’Hear as a way of starting the conversation.


Culture comprises those aspects of human activity which are socially rather than genetically transmitted.  Each social group is characterized by its own culture, which informs the thought and activity of its members in myriad ways, perceptible and imperceptible.  The notion of culture, as an explanatory concept, gained prominence at the end of eighteenth century, as a reaction against the Enlightenment’s belief in the unity of mankind and universal progress.  According to J.G. Herder, each culture is different and has its own systems of meaning and value, and cannot be ranked on any universal scale.  Followers of Herder, such as Nietzsche and Spengler, stressed the organic nature of culture and praised cultural particularity against what Spengler called civilization, the world city in which cultural distinctions are eroded.  It is difficult, however, to see how Herder and his followers avoid an ultimately self-defeating cultural relativism;  the task of those who understand the significance of human culture is to make sense of it without sealing cultures off from one another and making interplay between them impossible.

Over and above the anthropological sense of culture, there is also the sense of culture as that through which a people’s highest spiritual and artistic aspirations are articulated.  Culture in this sense has been seen by Matthew Arnold and others as a substitute for religion, or as a kind of of secular religion.  While culture in this sense can certainly inveigh against materialism, it is less clear that it can do this effectively without a basis in religion.  Nor is it clear that a rigid distinction between high and low culture is desirable. It is, in fact, only the artistic modernists of the twentieth century who have articulated such a distinction in their work, to the detriment of the high and the low culture of our time.

Nothing Happened.

I stumbled on an  anecdote in The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes (page 201) that perfectly illustrates one of the great forces of history:  nothing.  While on their honeymoon in 1920 the actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford happened to be staying at the same hotel as the great General Pershing.  When a large crowd developed, the general assumed they were trying to see the actors and the the actors assumed the crowd wanted to see the general.  The crowd waited for an appearance, everyone stayed in their room.

The crowd waited.  Eventually everyone went home because nothing happened.

Mistakes Were Made

In light of the article in last weeks Washington Post, Many errors spotted in Va. history texts, by Kevin Sieff some folks are shocked, shocked that big mistakes have made it into high school textbooks.  Granted the mistakes that were  made are egregious and shameful.  How do you get the years of World War I wrong?    I am moderately amused at the widespread shock.  Why are we still surprised by this?  This is why fact checkers have jobs.  Check and re-check your facts friends.  Just a reminder from someone that makes a lot of errors.

On the Syllabus

In the next few weeks I plan on putting together the rough drafts of Syllabi for the classes I might be teaching in a year.  I have always found the range of classes that the state of Oregon says I can teach to be a little absurd.  I understand why I would be credentialed to teach history, but, economics, psychology, and civics?  I am not saying that I do not want to teach these subjects because I do.  I think it odd, and a bit overwhelming to say I am just as qualified to teach economics as European history.  So, back to the topic of the syllabus, I used to be of the opinion that they were little more than the place teachers put their rules for the classroom.  Nothing wrong with that.

However, as the day I get a real job as a teacher looms on the horizon and the anxiety of  teaching classes I am not fully prepared for sets in, I realized that I need a plan.  As I reviewed the pile of notes collected while getting my degree in history, I understood that the syllabus is indeed more than I imagined.

The syllabus is a road map.  It is a battle plan, if you will.  United States history is not an amorphous blob, it follows a narrative arc.  Yea, I know this is really obvious.  However, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture.  When studying history, it is easy to jump from place to place and time to time.  Today I might be studying Athens of Herodotus and Socrates.  Tomorrow, I could be writing about George Washington, without so much as a thought to the leap in time and place.  To most people this is as disorienting as teleporting from New York City to Tokyo.  It is essential that teachers remind themselves that most students need a moment to reorient themselves.  They need a map, they need a syllabus that acts like a guide for the trip through time.

Like going on a road trip, I can alter the path as I go but it helps to have a general direction and sense of destination.  Thus, we get back to the syllabus.  It is not set in stone.  It is a guide.  So, as I compile the rough drafts of syllabi for the various disciplines that get assigned to social studies teachers, it is with this in mind.  I feel more qualified already.

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