Sunday, October 4, 2009

First Class Yesterday

First Class Yesterday

It went well--and when I returned home, I had to take a nap. My wife refers to teaching as "performance," and it really is true--at least if you are teaching well. It is very easy to cover all the required material--and bore the wits out of the students, like the economics teacher that Ben Stein plays in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Teaching well (or at least teaching better than that the teacher that Ben Stein plays with such ferocious deadpan) requires asking questions of the students. This has the following consequences:

1. sees how much they retained of the assigned reading;

2. subtly embarrasses those who didn't do the assigned reading into being better prepared for the next class;

3. breaks up what would otherwise be a somewhat monotonous lecture (no matter how effective a speaker you are).

It also means telling stories that illustrates the theoretical points, and that thus engage the natural desire to be entertained. (And if sometimes you get a little off-topic to satisfy student curiosity--such as about free blacks in antebellum America--that's okay, too). When I was explaining the gap between the "responsible party" model of political parties, and the more realistic evidence of how political parties operate, I explained how political parties are coalitions of interest groups--and then told them how and why social conservatives and some substantial fraction of trade union workers moved from the Democratic to Republican parties in the period 1975-2000.

I didn't feel that the textbook gave enough weight to the role of bribery in making government operate, so I recounted some of the successes of the FBI Public Integrity Unit, and California State Senator Paul Carpenter's truly hilarious, "I'm too smart for the FBI to catch" on the FBI's undercover surveillance audio. (Carpenter, along with State Senators Montoya and Robbins, was convicted, and sent to prison.)

Anyway, the net result of being on my feet for a little under four hours, being animated and interesting, was an aching right ankle and a need for sleep. A small price to play to enlighten and educate!

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