This is finals week, which means I am working my way through a large stack of research papers from my two upper division courses -- "Civil War and Reconstruction" and "U.S. History 1914 to 1945".  I allow my students to select their topic in the belief that they will pick something they find fascinating and thus produce a better paper.  There are always a few outstanding papers, a few really bad papers, and a majority of "Gentleman C" papers.  At my age, and my level, I find it hard to understand why so many students seem to lack any serious interest in their own education.  I thought my graduate studies at Northwestern were some of the greatest years of my life. I honestly loved every minute. My doctorate was both a challenge and an adventure, well worth all the time and effort.  Even back in the Dark Ages, during my early undergraduate days, when being an academic meant smoking a pipe, growing a beard, and nodding knowingly even if you did not have a clue, I valued the importance of a good education.  So, as I look out at my students today, I wonder what can I do to inspire them?  What can I do to motivate them?  What can I do to prepare them for the future?


  1. Welcome back! I always enjoyed your blog and happy to see you writing again.

    As to the topic at hand... I'm not sure why someone who is taking a class they selected (as opposed to a required class) wouldn't enjoy the topic and put some effort into it. However, I will share some thoughts that my daughter shared with me about her classes. She is a Psychology major but is also majoring in English because she loves literature. This semester she is taking a class on Shakespeare because she loves his writing. The class is as dull as dishwater. They were doing Hamlet which Beth is no reading for the 5th time. Last semester she took another class and as part of the class they Read Henry IV parts I and II which she loved. So for the current semester if she had to write a paper on Hamlet I'm certain she would be bored to tears and find it difficult to enjoy the work.

    So what inspired her was to do something new, that she hadn't read before. Her teacher last semester didn't just read but spoke about things that made the plays even more fascinating.

    I do like the idea of letting your students choose their topic within a larger topic. I know what I would do. ;)

  2. Tom, Thanks for your kind words and for sharing Beth's experience.


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