- Researching Your Teaching:A Mini-Manifesto
Teaching your research" is a topic that is close to my pedagogical heart. Most instructors interpret this phrase to mean incorporating aspects of their research agendas into their teaching practice. I want to turn the subject on its head.
I generally choose research topics that grow out of my teaching praxis," rather than the other way around. This approach stems from an overriding personal and professional commitment to teaching and learning—and to acknowledging the difference between the two! To my way of thinking, the academic rubrics of teaching, research, and service are all part of the same holy trinity, and in my opinion (admittedly a minority view), instruction should be the ultimate goal of all three of those categories, for unless pedagogy is at the heart of scholarship and academic service, those tasks are merely steps toward career advancement and ego boosting, not toward authentic other-directed educational pursuits. It therefore probably goes without saying that I believe that the main purpose of the academy should be to provide student-centered education.
The general subjects I teach—theory, history, formal analysis, ideology, psychoanalysis—are the rubrics I use as the methodological armature of much of my published work. Likewise, many of the films (and television shows) I have written about or lectured on are the texts I use in class. For example, rightly or wrongly, film history textbooks often valorize the classic canonical film texts—A Trip to the Moon (Le voyage dans la lune; Georges Méliès, 1902), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari; Robert Wiene, 1920), Triumph of the Will (Triumph des Willens; Leni Riefenstahl, 1935), Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941), The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941), Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette; Vittorio De Sica, 1948), Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954), Breathless (À bout de souffle; Jean-Luc Godard, 1960), L'avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960), Last Year at Marienbad (L'année dernière à Marienbad; Alain Resnais, 1961), Blow-Up (Antonioni, 1966), Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979), E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, [End Page 84] 1982)—and other, less canonical texts such as Marty (Delbart Mann, 1955), Rocky (John G. Alvidsen, 1976), Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg, 1981), Tootsie (Sydney Pollack, 1982), and Adaptation (Spike Jonze, 2002), as well as television shows such as The Twilight Zone (CBS, 1959-1964), Donahue (WLWD, 1967-1970; syndicated, 1970-1996), and The Sopranos (HBO, 1999-2007). I research and write about these movies and television programs, and others like them, because they are part and parcel of the admittedly institutionalized catalog of important cinematic and television landmarks. As an added benefit, it is always fulfilling to add to the scholarly literature on a text that is considered impervious to further insight and research.
Similarly, although I have my own intellectual predilections, I believe one should teach all the theoretical, historical, and critical methodologies that have animated our field over the decades of its existence. In the classroom, therefore, I emphasize phenomenology and semiotics, psychoanalysis and cognitivism, ideological and formal analysis, genre and gender studies, mainstream cinema and avant-garde articulations. Discussion centers on both the pros and cons of each of these paradigms. I have also researched and published on most of these areas, both to satisfy my own curiosity and to enhance my students' educational experience by exposing them to a variety of perspectives.
Professors who prefer to assimilate their scholarship into their teaching can supply a valuable educational experience for students, especially graduate students, by exposing them to new ideas and cutting-edge research methodologies. However, there is potential danger there. For example, if a teacher-scholar devoted his or her intellectual energy to "Song of Ceylon: Music in Sri Lankan Cinema, 1930-1934," or some equally specialized area of interest, what would be the use-value of that specialized study to students? Would a singular focus on that niche subject be more valuable to students than a more open curriculum that included music in other national cinemas or even other periods in Sri Lankan cinema?
Among the advantages of writing about the issues and films one teaches is...