The end of a seminar

by I.A. Isherwood

Yesterday, I formally said farewell to my students in my First Year Seminar on J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. We had tea and an assortment of cookies/biscuits for the occasion, which seemed appropriate. We discussed informally the legacies of both authors and their lasting appeal. One student said, truthfully but somewhat mournfully, that he was ‘sad that this is the last time we will all be together in the same class,’ a sentiment I am confident in saying that was shared by all as we sipped our mugs of milky tea.

I was not as active a blogger about this class for several reasons. The first was that, oddly, our conversations didn’t seem to lend themselves well to this format. For me to unpack our conversations into half-baked blog posts, when I knew I simply didn’t have the time to reflect adequately on what we have been doing, seemed cheap. So I decided most days not to write a reflection.

Tolkien

JRRT in his office.

Now that we’re at the end, I am left with a few impressions important, if for no other reason, to preserve the memory of what was a very special class for me to teach.

The first is to not believe everything you read about millennials. I read a lot of these articles too – about infantalization and technology and attention spans and helicopter parents and yadayada – but I found that this class was more interested in debunking the stereotypes of their generation than in reinforcing them. So when I said that I didn’t want them looking at phones or laptops in class – indeed that I find it extremely rude to do so – they were more than cooperative. When I told them I was much rather interested in having real conversations, face to face, rather than email threads that seem to often go nowhere, they seemed to understand my rationale. Perhaps the biggest indicator, when I assigned them loads of reading, they did it and came to each class prepared and focused for our conversations. Perhaps not every page was read by every person and I am sure that there was a bit of grumbling (which is half the fun of being a student), but they were curious and hungry for knowledge – the real kind – the kind that you can’t fake. They wanted class to be a good experience and they made the class enjoyable.

The point is that if you believe the garbage out there about millennials then it would be easy to imagine a class full of infantilized cyborgs with phones for hands. And that’s hogwash.

What they seemed to want from me (I will not presume anything definite) is for someone to treat them like intelligent and adult humans and offer some writing advice when needed. In class, what they seemed to want from each other, was to form a group of like-minded people who could make beloved fantasy books relevant to lives that are rather un-magically lived in concrete dorm rooms.

What we got was a strange (in the best possible sense) emotional journey over the course of the semester where they shared some of their reservations about our world but their hopes, as well, for our collective future. Faith, suffering, courage, hope, death, love, temptation, redemption, atonement – my notebook is full of themes we discussed – too many important ideas for me to neatly summarize. For a seminar that was supposed to be about hobbits, this morphed into a philosophical discussion group that used fantasy literature as a way to understand life, maturity, and to some degree, what we value and who we are as humans. This was not exactly where I thought we were going when I began the semester – I hoped it would but had no illusions that in practice we’d get there – and I am very happy the road took us where it did and very grateful to have such good traveling companions along the way.

So cheers to you, FYS 191-4. Now get back to studying for your finals.

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