- Financialization of Education: Teaching Theatre History in the Corporatized Classroom
This text originated from the initiative “Promoting Student Learning in Large Classes,” which was launched at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, during the winter of 2004. This was one of many attempts made by large universities across the country to address the problem of overcrowded classrooms. This particular initiative, sponsored by the Archibald Bush Foundation, was distinguished by its simple and very efficient structure. Instead of individual instructors, it asked for teams. The call for proposals stipulated that each team should consist of a lecturer, a graduate assistant, and an undergraduate student. Their task was to study, as it were, the process of learning that took place in the class, identify the problems, and report them in the large gathering of teams that occurred monthly. With the help of counselors from the initiative, the teams would then try to address the problems they identified. The projected length of the initiative was three years, and the courses it included were introductory lecture classes and mid-level survey courses.
At this time, Branislav Jakovljevic and his teaching assistant, Wade Hollingshaus, were teaching over 70 students in the theatre history survey course, “Theatre History and Drama I: Ancient Greece through Neo-Classicism.” Mark Foster, a sophomore in the BFA Acting Program, was enrolled in the class, and he became the third member of the team. We joined the initiative in the spring of 2005. The following semester, the sequel to this class was offered: “Theatre History and Drama II: From Enlightenment until the Present.” We were one of the few teams that remained intact. To us, this was an excellent opportunity to explore the teaching procedures at work in our class, and to do that from three different perspectives. This had an immediate impact on the class and resulted in a number of adjustments and changes in day-to-day classroom procedures. We kept our team together into the second and third semesters of the grant, even though Mark was already done with the theatre history sequence. In the process, we realized that the problems we were investigating went much deeper than the pragmatics of course design and teaching techniques.
We could not stay with the initiative for the full three years. As it often happens in academia, during the fall of 2006 all three members of our team were headed in different directions: Branislav accepted a position at Stanford University, Wade was offered a teaching position at Brigham Young University, and Mark received the Katherine E. Sullivan Scholarship for a year’s study in Tanzania. We shared a strong sense that we should continue with our reflections; at the same time, we felt frustrated by the near impossibility of collaborative work at great distance. And it was not only the distance that was at issue: collaborative writing is very unusual in the humanities, whereas it is almost a rule in the sciences. Therefore, we had no model for the collaborative effort we wanted to undertake. During the late spring of 2006 one apparent solution presented itself: the blog. Now a common feature on the Internet, at the time it was still a fairly new and definitively unexplored medium for scholarly writing. We created a blog and determined the timeline during which we would post our reflections. Upon completion of the blog, we invited our former students to respond to our postings. The result is < www.financilization-of-education.blogspot.com >. [End Page 69]
This essay is not a transcript of the blog. It brings some of the most pertinent sections from each posting. There were a few very clever responses from students who were enrolled in one (or both) of our theatre history classes during the period covered by the initiative. Their responses are included here.
So, what follows is not a conventional scholarly essay. The very medium of the blog encouraged us to approach our thinking and our writing differently. This is a series of reflections informed by immediate classroom experiences. We wanted to preserve the sense of immediacy that pervades the blog. As we adapted the text for publication...