I assign a lot of reading in my class, and expect students to have read everything listed on the syllabus for a particular day prior to coming to class. My lectures will not regurgitate the readings — I will provide the theoretical or ethnographic context of the readings, and point to particularly important passages for discussion. That said, I recommend that students “read with an agenda” to efficiently make it through the readings. “Reading with an agenda” means that you approach a text with particular questions, such as:
- What is the author’s theoretical understanding of fill in the blank with your own interest?
I assume that you come to class with your own particular understanding of your own society, cultural practices, gender relations, and other viewpoints and ethical/moral perspectives. While we in anthropology stress “cultural relativity,” that does not mean “moral relativity” — being wishy-washy or falling into the “I’m OK, you’re OK” trap. While anthropologists emphasize understanding a particular cultural practice, ideology, or social structure from an emic perspective (how it makes sense within a particular context), comparing different perspectives with your own is not only inevitable but also productive. And it makes the reading go faster!
- Why did Fuji assign this reading?
Professors, too, have their own agenda, and there is usually a well-thought out reason for the selection of a particular reading. I do not assign things willy-nilly — I select readings because I want to get a certain theoretical perspective across, I want students to read for themselves a particularly pivotal article that has established the paramters for anthropological debates, or I may want students to have a shared “straw person” with whom we structure our argument against! I may even have wanted to read something anew (or for the first time) because of my own interests — I often include new readings that we read together for the first time in class — this keeps the material alive for me as a teacher. Hints as to why I assigned a particular reading are on the syllabus. Look at the particular timing of the reading (is there a topical group for the reading?), or compare what we read with something that we read just before. Understanding the logic of why I assigned something makes the point of the reading more clear.
- Don’t get stuck because of a difficult passage
If you don’t understand something the first time, don’t get bogged down — get through the reading and go back to the place that was confusing. If you still don’t understand it, mark it down and bring your question to class; remember, I’m here, and the reason you pay for college tuition is to take advantage of the resources that we offer — including your professor. You can bring things up in class, come to my office hours, or write them down in your response papers. You can even just email me! Also, ask another student in the class — I like discussion among students, both inside and outside the class, because I also believe that students learn best from each other. Sometimes students will re-explain something that I’ve said in ways that are more understandable to you.
The corollary to this point is to speak up in class — “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” “there is no such thing as a dumb question,” and all the other sayings that you’ve heard are true in the classroom.