Some Thoughts at the End of Spring Semester 2020

Today is my last day of classes for Spring semester 2020. Some thoughts:

In anthropology we discuss how time is a sociocultural construct, and up until now there were always those who didn’t quite understand what that means. The fact that the first week of classes back in February is a world away makes this point pretty clear.

In a typical semester I conclude my courses with a wrap up and summary of how far we have come and the route we have taken intellectually. This semester we just managed to make our saving throw as we leapt a poison river, slid down through a dark chasm and came out with remarkably few physical injuries. We lost a few members of our party, however, and many are still trying to process what has happened.

I have been so impressed with the way that the unexpected has compelled some to act. Students I barely knew have demonstrated tremendous resilience and have held things together for classmates who were caught off guard by such a state-shift.

I have always hated grading and had the suspicion that it was because it was not important. This semester has clarified this for me: grades make no difference. They are carrots and sticks, and those who get lots of carrots don’t need more and those who regularly end up with sticks don’t need more of those either. Carrots and sticks mean nothing in a pandemic and say little about learning.

I wish our class were meeting in person today. Teaching remotely isn’t the same as in person. But, if I’m being honest, there were some innovations this semester that could only happen online. There is value there that is unique and I hope students were able to see that and take it with them.

One of my regrets is that I couldn’t really go all the way with some of those innovations and sink extra hours into perfecting them. It was just too difficult to balance life and work with two working adults and a seven year-old who needs a lot of attention. It still is, and all of us in my home are slowly losing our minds.

Our visual anthropology class did some very creative and compelling work of which I’m very proud. I think the way we worked was truly novel and I hope I can find time this summer to process and write and maybe publish what we did.

The senior anthropology seminar—Anthropology at the End of the World—was only supposed to be about discussing and writing. It was crazy when the class basically became an internship in late March. We never expected the world to end during the semester! It did, however, make academic articles and class discussions suddenly real-world relevant. I don’t think anyone in that class will question the value of an anthropology major!

This has already gone too long. But, I wanted to leave a comment to mark this end. A structure that began before the arrival of the Coronavirus is falling away today. It’s been a bridge from then until now, but it’s not going any further. I wish we had more time to work together on our projects and examine the world onto which we have arrived. I will miss the regular discussions and conversations about our material. Instead of seeing summer as a time to read and research and prepare for the fall, it is just an ambiguous terrain stretching off to the unknown.

It’s going to be lonely, I fear.


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