There was an article in the New York Times this weekend about how the Worldwide Financial Crisis has influenced the material and ideas taught in business schools. The Chronicle of Higher Education regularly focuses on some innovation or transformation spurred by more difficult economic times. (Today it was recession-themed video games!)
So, I've been thinking about how the worldwide financial crisis will effect my teaching -- not only in terms of content, but also in terms of how I approach the content.
In terms of content, it seems clear that folks are looking at the way in which house foreclosures, "the culture of greed", and governmental policies (or lack there of) have begun to challenge or change our impressions of American values. For my 101 class (Western Civilization I), I've shifted a bit more emphasis onto topics like the decline of empires (Athens, Rome, Charlemagne). I am also thinking about changing the way I teach the rise of towns and the development of a kind of proto-capitalism in Medieval Europe. In general, I've tended to focus on the relationship between the values of urban dwellers and the church as both groups sought to adjust their skills, expectations, and moral outlook to a new set of social expectations. The conversations about values and morality carried out in the "urbanized" world of Late Middle Ages played out over centuries (and may still be playing out in some ways) and the current shock to the American system is not yet a year old. One of the perennial struggles in teaching Western Civilization is translating the matter of scale: do event occur more quickly in our hyper-connected, modern, (post)industrial world or does it just seem that way?
Content, of course, is just one part of teaching the financial crisis. The demographics of our student body will almost certainly change -- and perhaps quite quickly as unemployment among 20-somethings outpaces other demographic groups. Students might start returning to school from this group to pick up second degrees or retrain. At the same time, the manufacturing slow down could entice folks who skipped college to go directly into the workforce, back into the classroom. It's too early, necessarily, to tell how students with particular, and perhaps unfortunate, experiences with the American economy will influence classroom atmosphere and whether they will offer a critique of some of the typical master narratives promoted throughout higher education. As a parallel on a small scale (it's all about scale, isn't it?), I've found that having Gulf War veterans in my classes has often transformed not only discussions of the Middle East but also how students approach topics like cultural exchange, tactics, and war and its social impact. In fact, one or two Gulf War vets can electrify a classroom discussion by speaking with an authority rooted in experience. It will be interesting to see if "victims" of the economic crisis will bring a similar perspective born of experience to the classroom.
Finally, I had a few short, but interesting discussions with our Graduate Dean, and he pointed out that the stimulus package could provide funding for undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and certain programs. Just like the Cold War stimulated research in Slavic Studies, Eastern European history, and certain kinds of defense and aerospace initiatives, it will be interesting to see if the current economic crisis will shift teaching priorities at the university.