THE TEACHING ECONOMIST - William A. McEachern                 

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Issue 18, Spring 2000

William A. McEachern, Editor

The Truman Show

Deirdre McCloskey's Crossing: A Memoir offers an unflinching personal account of her transformation from Donald to Deirdre (University of Chicago Press, $21.45 including shipping from Amazon.com). The book is written in the third person, which allows her to refer to Donald as a "he" before the transformation and to Deirdre as a "her" after.

I was interested in the impact of the gender change on her teaching, but there was little in the book about that, perhaps because it didn't seem to matter much. To the extent it was discussed, students appeared to have no problem with the transformation, most of which occurred while McCloskey was on leave from the University of Iowa. Back in class for the first time in Iowa, she "explained her situation for the first fifteen minutes, and then dropped it. The students had almost all heard of the gender crossing professor…It did not appear that any students dropped the course out of discomfort."(pp. 219-220) Although there wasn't much in the book about teaching per se, weaved throughout the narrative is an interesting discussion of how McCloskey went about the business of being an academic - busy, creative, and eclectic. More revealing on the teaching score was the diary she wrote this past December for Slate, the online magazine. Here's an excerpt from 12/1/99:

The seminar after lunch [at the University of Illinois, Chicago] is thronged with faculty and graduate students. I need to show that I'm still an economist and economic historian, but I've not had time to prepare the lecture. Oy. I substitute classroom energy for pre-class preparation, my usual trick. This time it works, and I deliver a display of diagrams and math and quick reasoning that says, "I am an economist"... I am struck as I always am by how productive of new ideas this strange academic chatter can be. A "lecture" sounds to outsiders like a transfer of data from one mind to another. No. When done well it is a conversation, an unrehearsed intellectual adventure. Lord, I love it, I say to myself as the audience claps with evident appreciation. There's the praise.

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