Encountering DC

In keeping with my new refrain -- teaching is about encounter, and in particular about three different kinds of encounters (student-material, student-faculty and student-student, and student-themselves) -- I'm going to rename the program that I participated in today. The real name of the program is "DiscoverDC," a name which almost makes it sound like we'd put the darn city down someplace and had to go find it again ("did you discover DC?" "yeah, it was about where we thought it would be."). But the idea of the program is that incoming first-year students should be introduced to some of the neighborhoods in the city, and should get outside of their accustomed comfort zones in order to start experiencing a new place. In other words, they should be encountering DC. So that's what we did.

Sort of.

See, my group of students is part of the University College program, and as such our schedule relates to the course that I am teaching in the College this semester. And since it's an introductory course in world politics, I decided to look at one specific avenue through which various dynamics of world politics -- especially the interaction between "local" and "global" factors -- maybe glimpsed. And the avenue that I chose was baseball, a decision which had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with my desire to spend time thinking about baseball for credit. It also had nothing whatsoever with my desire to have a behind-the-scenes tour of RFK stadium (which we had today) or to get a briefing from the DC Sports and Entertainment Commission about the construction of the new stadium (which we also did today) or to walk around the area where the new stadium is being constructed (which we will do tomorrow). Even if these things did somehow impinge on my decision, my feeling is that it's better to have a class oriented around things that the professor actually cares about then it is to have a class oriented around things that the professor feels that she or he has to cover.

Make no mistake -- these sessions in the city are, as far as I am concerned, class sessions. There's a faculty member (me) involved; there is a pedagogical purpose; our activities are linked to a course; and the point of the exercise is encounter. Sounds like a class session to me. Will it be on the test? Well, since I don't use tests, the point is kind of moot…

Anyway, the somewhat odd thing about our encounter with DC today is that we didn't really encounter DC per se. Because we went to RFK stadium, what we encountered was a 45-year-old edifice that is woefully inadequate for either of the two professional sports (baseball and what I think of as real football and other people think of as "soccer"), a number of people earnestly committed to trying to make baseball succeed in DC and also to use baseball to develop various regions of the city, and the great urban wasteland that surrounds the current stadium (we had to get back on the metro in order to find a place for lunch). Not much "DC" for us to encounter.

Still, I think the trip worthwhile. It sets up what we are doing tomorrow (visiting the new stadium site, and the neighborhood that is scheduled to be radically transformed by that construction and the associate redevelopment plan), it got us all thinking about the various social issues involved, and it provided an opportunity for everyone to et to know one another a bit while walking and eating lunch and riding the metro. These aren't ancillary or optional parts of the course; they are the course. So I think we're off to a good start constructing a learning community.

I'm sorry that more of my colleagues didn't have the chance to be involved in these activities; they are wonderful opportunities to get a class off the ground.

No comments: