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Turns Out I Love Selected Topics, or Geeking out Over Geeking Out

Classes are clicking along here- we’ve hit the midpoint of our stay in Japan, and of my courses.  I have a medium-sized pile of midterm exams to grade, so what better time to write a blog post?

I continue to love all of my classes- IR because it’s my heart, Intro to US because the students absolutely slayed the Congressional Simulation (seriously, they were all amazing, and the Doshisha version of Markwayne Mullins and Elise Stefanik made me laugh out loud!), Human Rights because it’s a fascinating and challenging seminar that is pushing my brain in exciting ways, and Film because it is the most fun.  

I expected the politics of film class to be the most fun for me- I got to pick several of my favorite movies and craft a list of my favorite international relations and comparative politics topics to discuss with students- what is not to love?  These particular students are super sharp and engaging, which definitely helps, and their class presentations blew me away- Crazy Rich Asians and childhood poverty!  Godzilla and bureaucratic politics!  I hoped this class would be awesome, and it is certainly turning out that way.   

I did not, however, anticipate how much fun selecting the topics in this “selected topics” style of course would be.  I love teaching my introduction/survey classes- they are a good fit for students (the majority of whom are non-majors, taking the course to fulfill a requirement), so doing a general survey seems like the right move, not unlike (to torture a metaphor) getting students to eat and develop a taste for their vegetables before they jump into the dessert of more advanced political science .  But this is not a survey course- we’re jumping around to the greatest hits, drawing themes to explore in data and theory from the films, and making different connections between and among each week’s topics.  A very different approach than what I usually take in my intro to US and intro to IR classes (starting off with the Constitution and IR Theory respectively), because we need to eat our vegetables first.  On my better days, I like to think I make the vegetables tasty, but skipping right to the most delicious stuff this semester has been so much fun!  I mean, look at these slides- no one should be having as much fun as I am putting them together and then discussing them with a class.  

Power point slide with text that says "Always Another Enemy. . . " and a color photo of Thanos from the Marvel Cinematic Universe saying "Fine, I'll do it myself"
Powerpoint slide with text that says "Who chooses the rules?
Who gets to reframe them?" and "Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom has an excellent essay on Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s clothing choices."  along with a color photo of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a white gown that says "Tax the Rich" in red paint, and 4 stills from the film Captain Marvel:
1.  Man yells "Turn off the light show, and prove, prove to me, you can beat me with . . . "
2.  Woman blasts light from her arm
3.  Man lays, knocked down in the dirt.
4.  Woman looks down, with text that says "I have nothing to prove to you"
Power Point slide with a color photo of superheroes lining up from the film, Captain America Civil War and text that reads:
Selected IGOs: different skills and interests, like The Avengers!
ITU- International Telecommunications Union - oldest IGO
IWC- International Whaling Commission
INTERPOL- International Criminal Police Organization 
ASEAN, AU, EU
World Bank & IMF
The Commonwealth of Nations
BRICS- Brazil, Russia, India, China, & South Africa
IAEA- International Atomic Energy Agency
What Else?

And yet, here I am.  And because Japanese university classes do not have an expectation that students will read before the class, it is not necessarily so very different from teaching a class to first year students who are new to political science.  Somehow, we’ve managed to get into the guts of some complicated topics (gender pay gap, the history and evolution of the UN, bureaucratic politics) without building the base as I would in a survey course.  It’s making me really excited to shake up my intro courses when I teach back in KCC next fall, to maybe incorporate a little more of the exciting juicy bits.  Why not eat dessert along with our vegetables?  

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