Two weeks that were so busy I didn’t blog, so here’s quick catch up of some highlights. The classroom continues to be a space of joy for me- I missed it so much, and I’m so glad to be back. It’s also very tiring, so I’m grateful that I will have my spring semester to finally finish the book I’ve been working(ish) on since 2015. I got speedily beaten at chess by one student while another (a former national master) looked on and tried not to laugh (I knew the outcome was a foregone conclusion, but we all had a good time). I also got to discuss feminist IR, the evolution of the US role in Asia-Pacific affairs, and graduate school with a graduate student, sitting outside at a picnic table on a sunny quad. I feel very lucky to be getting to enjoy academia and Doshisha.
As for teaching, Intro to IR and Intro to US are my bread and butter. I don’t need a lot of preparation for each week for these courses (that’s what teaching many sections every semester for many years will do for you- practice makes permanent!), but the courses continue to need minor tweaks to make them accessible to these students at this time. IR was extra fun, thanks to Victor Asal’s Realism Rock, Paper, Scissors and Prisoner’s Dilemma games (both of which are explained in this awesome article)- I think having some games to play gave us a chance to gel as a class, making discussion and asking questions a bit easier; it also kept me from talking too much. And I got to teach my favorite introduction to constructivism, where I show an image on the screen, and students write down their reactions, which we then share and compare. I use a photo of a gun, then a pile of candy (actually, it’s a photo of Untitled: Ross in LA which I reveal/we discuss after their reactions), and then a clown- they all have different reactions to each image, and it’s a great reference point for how meaning is constructed not objective.
Intro to American is a bigger challenge- it’s my class here with the largest amount of students (though still much less than I’m used to at home), and I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate more discussion/less of me talking. Streamlining what is usually 3-1 hour classes into one 1.5 hour class means prioritizing which content to cover, and has meant that some of the group activities I would ordinarily do have been reduced to links to articles for students to read if they are interested outside of class. In addition to adding translations to parts of some slides, I’m working on really thinking through what is absolutely most important, and what is the best way to convey it. I think this will help me refresh/update my approach back in the US as well.
In “Geeking Out” we moved on to Harry Potter, which made me nervous- a brand new class that I’ve never taught before and I did not have any material to really build on. But once I finally sat down and thought through what I wanted to do, boy was it fun! We did a large discussion of identity politics (excerpts from THE COMBAHEE RIVER COLLECTIVE STATEMENT in English and Japanese served as a fruitful jumping off point), and I again got to put together slides I am way too pleased with. I even used the cloak of invisibility as a metaphor for what identities were omitted from the films (subtlety has never been my strongsuit), and what that might mean (which segued into a great conversation about the lack of LGBTQ characters in the extensive Hogwarts universe, and how that may be connected to the author’s personal anti-trans stances.) Human rights in the potterverse is next up, and I’m extra excited (apologies in advance to the students in this class who have to deal with me geeking out so much).
For my human rights class, I adapted an exercise I use in my Introduction to IR class in the human rights section, which has students compare a list of rights with what is in the UDHR versus what is in the US Constitution. For this class, focusing explicitly on human rights in the US and Japan, I added in the Japanese Constitution. Despite the class having only two students (I’m still getting used to running a small seminar instead of the larger sections I’ve got more experience with, so it makes me nervous), the activity worked really well- great thoughts from the students, uncovering insights that helped us expand on the general human rights topics we’ve covered so far (the usual suspects in human rights: origins, definitions, universality, critiques, alternative frameworks); student observations included the vagueness of language and definitions, the time and political context of the writing of each document, the question of how older documents can apply to the 21st century world, negative and positive rights, and the different protections for economic, social, and cultural rights as opposed to civil and political rights. I’m hopeful that the experience of comparing the two countries for this assignment will help set the stage for the rest of the course, where we’ll look at more specific issues and the US and Japanese perspectives in greater detail.
Because I liked it so much, and because I’ve benefitted greatly from the work of others I’ve found on Twitter and APSA Educate, I’ve decided to make a version for sharing. You can get a copy of the worksheet on my website or directly here or on APSA Educate. I think it would be easy to adapt for a variety of courses- you could change the case study countries (or have different students do different countries!), change the rights being looked at, or change the human rights source document (ICCPR and ICESCR instead of/in addition to UDHR maybe?). I’ve done versions in person and online (synchronously), where we work for 8-10 minutes and then discuss, versions where students work as groups in person, and I’ve used it as a pure out-of-class/substitute-for-class assignment, with pretty positive results each time, so play around. If you use it, I’d love if you could let me know (mostly so that I can learn from your adaptation and improve for my own classes ;o)