Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Boys Worry About These Things Too

Today a male student asked me just how many outside-of-work hours I spend grading papers.  He looked really concerned.  The question seemed to come out of the blue.  I probably did look miserable and exhausted as I graded a pile of essays while students took mid-terms, but still, it was an unexpected question. 

As it turns out, the student wasn't asking about me at all.  He's about to graduate and is engaged to a girl who is currently student teaching.  Apparently, she is prepping and grading all the time.  What he really wanted to know was is it possible to do the kind of work I do and still have time for all the other stuff in life, like spouses and kids and non-work related fun.

I told him what I usually tell students, usually female students, when this question comes up--balancing a career I love and family I adore is really hard work.  It takes a lot of deliberate planning to make sure all the demands on my time are being met, more or less, adequately, but, at the end of the day, it's a good life.  A hectic, often disorganized life, but I good one.  I stress that I have in Brian a partner equally committed to our family, someone who takes a great deal of pleasure in being a husband and father, and someone who is incredibly supportive of me and my work.  The work/life balance is a lot easier when all the adults in the relationship are equally dedicated to the balancing act.

It's a conversation I have regularly with students, but it was the first time I've had it with a male student.  He seemed to be at the beginning of the process of thinking through these issues, but it nonetheless made me happy to think his fiancee wouldn't have to think about these questions on her own.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Teaching Comics--Man of Steel by John Byrne

I'll say upfront that my pairing of Dark Knight Returns with Man of Steel may not have been the wisest choice.  If I had it to do over again (and I probably will), I'd teach Marvel's Civil War instead, or just forego surperheroes all together because they are really hard to do in a class when you're also trying to look at all of the other groovy things that happen in comics.  We could easily spend 15 weeks the appeal of superheroes in our society, on the difference between DC and Marvel heroes, on the difference between decidely good guys like Spider-man and not at all good guys (yet still heroic) guys like Deadpool, on whether the X-Men are metaphors for race or sexuality, on whether Wolverine's claws could slice through Superman's skin. Instead we spent only two and half weeks on superheroes and the rest of the time we'll look at memoirs and non-fiction narratives/journalism and race.  That meant choosing superhero books that were representative, but could also stand alone.

All that said, I also chose Man of Steel, precisely because it stands in sharp contrast to DKR and because it is a direct result of the same impulse that gives us DKR--namely, a desire of DC's part to re-boot marquee characters.  I thought the contrast would make for interesting class discussion.  I was wrong.  So so wrong.

The students, collectively, almost unanimously, *hated* Man of Steel.  They hated its lack of irony, they hated the unambiguous line drawn between good guys and bad guys, they hated Clark Kent's/Superman's old-fashioned manners and way of being in the world.  It was a disaster.  Where Bruce Wayne was adored for being so wracked with guilt and grief about his parents' deaths that he is driven to a psychopathic vendetta across the city, causing himself great physical and pyschological damage, Clark Kent was mocked for doing the right thing simply because it was right and he could.  He was simply too unbelievable for my students.