Help me help you
A guest column by history professor Todd McCallum
I teach in the history department, and I’ve been recruited by the opinions editor to do one of two things: either I can describe the methods with which I warp your fragile little minds — since these are copyrighted trade secrets, I must refuse — or I can offer you advice as to how to be successful at university – a non-starter, since my own undergraduate experience was as far from successful as one can get.
In my first year, I contracted mononucleosis and dropped most of my courses. I ended up in the office of a kindly dean who explained to me the rules governing academic probation. After much hard work, I once again became a “normal” student, at which point I managed to grow a tumour or two. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was the official diagnosis. Another set of courses abandoned in mid-stream, another meeting with the kindly dean, and several stints of radiation therapy. And then there was that year I had really bad hair. Feel free to harvest any chestnuts of wisdom from that if you can.
Honestly, instead of helping you, I’d much rather that you help me.
In one of my classes, Youth Cultures in Canada, students are asked to critically evaluate their own educational experience in light of the Marxist advice about exams and other important things offered in Bertell Ollman’s How To Take an Exam…And Remake the World. Ollman is, for a Marxist philosophy professor, quite well known. Among other accomplishments, Ollman created the board game Class Struggle, which has acquired cult status for its blatantly didactic rigging of the rules in favour of capital and against labour.
How To Take an Exam is a provocative and infuriating book, to be sure, but the majority of student assessments, written by folks during what they hope is the final term of their undergraduate degree, are just as provocative. In fact, many of the teaching methods I now use have been devised to come to terms with the issues raised in the student commentaries. Nonetheless, that we live in a world of seemingly absolute change means that many of their opinions are likely obsolete, and there has to be a better way for me to keep up than to watch the latest episode of Degrassi.
With this in mind, I ask that you fill the future pages of this column with advice as to how you should be taught, and allow me to get a head start on revising all of my cunning plans.
Todd McCallum is a history professor who teaches about things like North American youth culture, cars and Marxism, with a long list of publications about things such as hobos.