I spent a ridiculous amount of time revising the syllabi for my three courses. I did this during the time between New Years and the start of classes, a time that I had earmarked for writing a conference paper that is due next week, a time when my non-academic friends imagine me cuddled in bed watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. But instead of any of that, I decided to revise my syllabi, changing not only readings and assignments, but also attempting to make my syllabi more visually attractive. Rather than 12 pages of bloated text, I dreamed of 8 readable pages, laid out with graphics.
I know. Ridiculous.
Particularly ridiculous now, when my university is facing a massive budget cut that is threatening to close its doors, or change its mission so drastically that it would be tantamount to closing its doors.
I teach the Holocaust, which may not be high on the workforce needs of the state, so I should probably be spending my time polishing my LinkedIn profile, or retooling my skills, or finally opening that meditation app I bought to help me with my stress.
But instead, I’ve spent countless hours on my syllabi.
So, yeah, ridiculous — deserving of scorn. Who, after all, would take on work that isn’t a good investment of time? This is how things look to many in Wisconsin, where teachers have become objects of ridicule, perhaps because of this assumption that we ended up in these jobs because we didn’t know better, couldn’t do the math.
But the other meaning of ridiculous is “absurdly or unbelievably good” (dictionary.com). And I’m embracing it: Ridiculously inefficient!
Is it ridiculous to care about the education and future of other people’s children? To recognize that there is no “other people’s children,” there all there is, is children and community and humanity and we’re all in it together?
If so, I’ll wear the badge with honor. I’m done entertaining the idea that efficiency and metrics are appropriate way to value human existence, as if this has not shown itself time and time again to be a very terrible idea. I’m done “hacking” my life, buying books on how to get more done in less time. In fact, one of my goals for 2016 is to waste more time. If I am to be a better human, I suspect it will take many wasted hours. I hope to encourage my students in this as well. Their final exam will require them to make the world better in some small way. I have no idea how long it will take.
There is a Jewish teaching that if you are planting a tree and the Messiah comes, you should finish planting the tree before going to meet the Messiah.
We’re still waiting for the Messiah in Wisconsin, but this still seems to me one sane response to the situation right now — to be ridiculously caring, ridiculously loving, ridiculously uneconomic in our use of our time.
Here is my syllabus for my beloved course, “Representing the Holocaust in Words & Images.” I teach it every semester to 100 students. Ridiculous, perhaps, but since I started planting trees twenty years ago when I became a teacher, I’m going to see it through.