Class Not Dismissed: Reflections on Undergraduate Education.
By Anthony Aveni
Anthony Aveni is Russell Colgate Distinguished Professor of Astronomy, Anthropology, and Native American Studies at Colgate University, where he has taught since 1963. Professor Aveni has won numerous teaching awards, among them the Council for Advancement and Support of Education's Professor of the Year Award, Colgate's Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society's Distinguished Teaching Award. In Class Not Dismissed, Professor Aveni looks back at his six decades in the college classroom and reveals both his own teaching experience, clearly successful, as well as his observations about the future of higher education. Following a brief introduction, he has divided his pedagogical memoir into four chapters: "Why I Teach," "What I Teach," "How I Teach," and "Questioning Teaching," and ends with an eponymous Epilogue. Students know Professor Aveni as a consummate storyteller and the reader will not be disappointed. Indeed, this is not a research-centered text, although present, but rather a book filled with anecdotes from Professor Aveni's past (in italics) that will resonate with anyone who feels passionate about teaching and will bring to mind similar stories from each reader's past. When explaining in Chapter One why he teaches, Professor Aveni passes in review the most memorable teachers from grade school through graduate school, everyone from Miss Cohen, his second grade teacher who always responded to questions with "Let's do it and find out!" to Ray Weymann, "the scourge of all astronomy grad students at the University of Arizona," whose dogged perfectionism ultimately provided the author with more constructive criticism on his dissertation than anyone else. Chapter Two provides a very disconcerting anecdote for Ph.D.'s in virtually any field who are currently on the job market. Professor Aveni saw a job announcement posted on the Physics Department bulletin board and called the phone number given to apply. After a brief conversation, he was hired over the phone! Nonetheless, he still recommends his students to follow "your passion, broaden your options, remain open to all possibilities. You never know where it might take you, and then adds, "I know—easy for me to say, isn't it?" This anecdote aside, Professor Aveni goes on to discuss the liberal arts and their history as well as his own involvement in curricular reform at Colgate. In "How I Teach" Professor Aveni admits that, because everybody loves a good story, he believes that being a good teacher means being a good storyteller. His anecdote about the Physics professor hit by a bowling ball while demonstrating pendular motion is but one example. However, even after this unfortunate episode, Professor Aveni remains a firm believer in learning by doing, as his J-term course (a phenomenon that Gettysburg colleagues of a certain generation will remember), "Astronomy at the Telescope," demonstrated, although a slight adjustment was needed. He decided to move the course to Mexico after three cases of frostbite and one case in which he had to pour warm water on a student's face after it had frozen to the side of the telescope! But Professor Aveni also addresses digital learning and admits that, while he finds himself at his best with the "talk and chalk" approach, it is imperative that he remain open to new teaching tools. He ends this chapter with his advice for good teaching: (1) You teach who you get; (2) Lay out your goals and expectations both at the beginning of every semester and at the start of every class; and (3) give an outline of where you intend to take the class on a particular day and how it relates to the previous class. In Chapter Four Professor Aveni takes up such questions as the appropriateness of tenure and the ability to measure good teaching. Finally, his Epilogue is particularly pertinent for those of us of retirement age. He points out that for the last decade he has been perpetually asked when he was going to retire. His answer has always been and still is: "not as long as I have Bridget and Miri and Alex and Kayla and Sam and David and Peter and Amy and Steve and Ron and Mitch." It is easy to understand that Professor Aveni is still engaged as will be readers of this thoroughly engaging book.
Review by Elizabeth Richardson Viti, Director and Professor of French
This book is available in the JCCTL library.