With at least a third of the academic blogosphere off to conferences, I feel it is my duty to come up with something to entertain the rest of you until more lively bloggers like Dr. Crazy get a minute to report on the MLA.
You will be happy that I decided to refrain from live-blogging the Excavation of the Box of Things That Must Be Filed, Saved, or Otherwise Dealt With, or simply fall into the category of “I might use this [20% off coupon/ catalog/ etc.] so I’ll save it till it has expired and then I can recycle it.” I am relieved to report that a lot of the box’s contents do fall into the last category, and that I am making good progress with the rest of it. I am embarrassed to report that I found . . . oh, never mind. If you have a good guess as to how to complete that sentence, leave it in the comments.
The title phrase from this post is the most common one to appear in my course evaluations. Because of the way our major is structured, students rarely take my classes because of a deep interest in the topics, or even a passing curiosity combined with a convenient course time. No, they show up (in droves: at least my courses make) because they have to. And most of them discover that Chaucer is actually an interesting writer (who knew?), and had insights into human nature that remain applicable (I refuse to say “relatable”) today, and that the Middle Ages were a lively, even exciting period that repay closer attention.
But we almost always start with the negativity. My best and favorite student from last semester, who had a work ethic I admired as well as a lively and curious mind, confessed to expecting to hate the course. I’m beginning to wonder where this comes from. Are students forced to read Chaucer in high school, and thus hate Chaucer either because of the associations, because of being forced to read him (forcing anything always seems to result in distaste), or because he’s not well taught? Or do they expect to hate Chaucer because his works are even older than Shakespeare’s, and they struggled in high school with Shakespeare’s language, and so expect (rightly) that Chaucer’s language will be even harder, without considering that they might have learned something, reading Shakespeare, that will help with Chaucer? Sir John suggested that they assume the past just gets worse the farther back you go, so that, having been forced to read The Scarlet Letter in high school, they expect the Middle Ages to be even drearier and more repressive.
I don’t really get this. I “came of age,” so to speak, between the First Flowering of the Lord of the Rings and the heyday of Dungeons and Dragons; my generation, and my first students, were all in love with the Middle Ages as the Source Of All That Is Cool in fantasy literature and role-playing games. But I would like to know where my students’ dread comes from.