Getting ready for the C’s, planning classes

Posted: March 10, 2009 in Brainstorm, Course Design, Futurism, Pedagogy, Readings, School
Tags: , , , ,

Tomorrow at a god awful hour of the morning, I board a plane that, through a series of other destinations, will eventually get me to San Francisco. At least, that’s the plan-there’s a chance the snow will decide otherwise. But most likely, I’m off to the C’s.

This is not my first conference, but it is one of the scariest. It’s without a doubt the biggest conference I’ve ever been to. So I’ve done more preparation for this than I have for any other conference. I may even have a power point presentation (though I am limiting myself to 7 slides, including a title screen).

In the meantime, though, I wanted to get back to my ‘class planning’ project.

Last time around, I came up with course goals. The next step is reading lists.Once again, my four classes are:

  1. The Rhetoric of Evil
  2. The Rhetoric of Science Fiction
  3. Rules and Loopholes
  4. Future Technology in the classroom

The Rhetoric of Evil: The goals of this class were to define evil, find the importance of evil, and discuss the uses of evil. So to start, I think we need some ancient rhetoric that will talk about evil. Socrates said that evil was ignorance: those who know better would do better. I’m working off the top of my head here, but I think the Meno was a good dialogue for that.

We also need to talk about “The Problem of Evil.” This is a very old argument against God. It basically goes like this: If God is omnipotent (can prevent evil), Omniscient (knows when there is evil) and Omnibenevolent (wants to prevent evil), then why is there evil? This is, I think, the argument that led Leibniz to say that this is the best of all possible worlds. We need to talk about this. Then I think a selection from Nietzche, probably from “Beyond Good and Evil.” (maybe the whole book) After that, some more contemporary work.

I’m thinking Alain Badiou’s book Ethics: an Essay on the Understanding of Evil. I haven’t read it, but it’s a short book (94 pages), and seems to be right on the nose. Obviously I’d have to check it out first, but I’m hopeful.

For the importance of evil, the reading should be a bit more diverse. In fact, maybe ‘reading’ is the wrong term.  I think one of the things to talk about would be the importance of evil in the creation of heroes. A hero cannot be a hero without a villain. Batman is one of the best demonstrations of this. Every once in a while, a villain in Gotham will wax philosophical about how Batman is responsible for all the villians he ends up fighting against. So we could talk about that. Maybe this is a goal that should be pervasive, one that we talk about as the semester goes on, without much specific reading. I mean, we could go into Plato with The Republic, to talk about how some people have to be tyrants so others can be free.

The uses of evil, then, will have to have some focus. I think the thing to do is to talk Zombies, and horror films in general. Most horror is at its core a moral lesson. That’s why the teenagers having premarital sex always end up dead. It’s using evil to teach lessons. Zombies teach about the evils of consumerism and apathy and (in cases like Sean of the Dead) the evil of routines and ruts. So a few movies, maybe a book like how to survive a horror movie or how to survive the zombie apocalypse, neither of which are serious, can be read and examined as part of the course.

The Rhetoric of Science Fiction: There are a lot of possibilities here. We could forgoe direct theory if we wanted and just stick with the actual sci-fi corpus, but I think some grounding would be good. Maybe Foucault, maybe Longo, maybe Lessig. Maybe a collection, like The Philosophy of the Matrix. One of the goals was to examine time travel, so Paul Davies’ book How to Build a Time Machine, in which he examines the physics of time travel and in what cases it might be possible to achieve.

Once we have a framework, and are ready to discuss what is really happening in science fiction (that is, how the stories are used to examine difficult and interesting issues), we can examine some canonical sci-fi works and see what they say. Phlip K. Dick would be an integral part of this class, I think. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Then there’s Neuromancer, Snowcrash, 1984, Slaughterhouse V, and maybe I, Robot or at least a collection of Asimov’s robot stories.

Then there are movies to examine, like Bladerunner (to contrast with the book), The Matrix, and The 13th Floor. But we can also look at older movies, like The Day the Earth Stood Still or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. We would watch episodes of The Outer Limits or even The Twilight Zone. I think this class will have no trouble filling the time.

Rules and Loopholes: While I think there is some theoretical framework here (I’m pointing towards Reader Response Theory, Bakhtin, and Fish), the main goal of this class is to discuss how rules are made, how loopholes are found, and how loopholes can be closed. So I think the reading would have to be actual systems of rules. The best place for this is roleplaying games. Maybe a game that has many generations, such as D&D or Shadowrun or Vampire. We could then compare each edition’s rules to the others, seeing how the designers closed or created loopholes.

Then we look at some ‘house rules,’ or rules decided on by groups to help them explain the loop holes or just make things run more smoothly. By comparing these, we can discuss the successes and failures of these methods, and consider the philosophies inherent in their creations: are the creators trying to simplify the rules, make things more even, have as few rules as possible, clarify the rules, or complicate them to give their game a unique feel? I think that pretty well covers the goals of this class.

Future Technology in the Classroom: The goals for this class were Discover Strategies used in the past, figure out soon-to-come technologies, and Develop strategies for those new technologies.

So, starting from the top, we need to look at some history of technology. I’m thinking Spurious Coin will be a must-read. It covers strategies used for the creation of technical writing very well. Then maybe some work on bringing computers into the classroom. We’d also need some argument about why new technology is good. I think Johnson’s book Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular culture is Actually Making us Smarter will do the trick for that.

The reading for figuring out new technologies will have to be a study in futurism. A crash course, kind of. I think that Kurzweil’s work The Age of Spiritual Machines will be good, as will A Timeline for Technology: To the Year 2030 and Beyond, at least in so far as giving some suggestions for where things are going. If there’s time for another book, I’d want to throw in The Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition by Ed Regis.

The final goal, developing strategies, wouldn’t have readings: that would be the assignment for the class. We’d have to pick a technology (preferably one that doesn’t exist yet) and figure out how to use it in the classroom. This seems like group work to me.

Well, that’s a lot. I’m not sure how successful this exercise has been. I feel only marginally closer to a reading list. But I do feel like the classes are coming together a bit more. So maybe this is working.

  1. Michelle says:

    Hey, have a great time on that C’s Conference! That’s great, especially since it’s in San Fran…the only place I’d go other than the hotel, and the conference itself, would HAVE TO BE City Lights Bookstore, and if therre is a Powell’s I’d go there too!

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