Saturday, May 07, 2005

Teaching to the Six

 So why do I like teaching undergraduates? Because I am not dismayed by the prospect of a world in which at least one-sixth (and as many as one-half) of my auditors-students-interlocutors take seriously the possibility that they will use the critical tools I try to wield and to offer for further use.  I’m actually rather cheered by the idea. I think of it this way: On my bad days I teach to tbe six young adults who just might pursue literary and cultural studies for much of the rest of their lives, but on what scale of values does that constitute failure? Another twelve, maybe another twenty, might be motivated, by me and by my colleagues, to continue serious, critically reflective reading in their adult lives, and how could I possibly hope for a better "rate of response" from anything I might publish in a "public" forum? College teaching is, as many teachers have pointed out in the past decade, a substantial form of "public intellectual" work. And isn't pedagogy, in the end, one of the principal reasons that literary journalists have such complex and conflicted relations with literature professors —because we work the same beat save that they have readerships and we have students?

 Berube, Michael. Pedagogy, Winter2002, Vol. 2 Issue 1, p3, 13p

Michael Berube justifies the literary game.  Teachers should focus on students much as writers should pay attention to their audiences.  Is this so obvious to belabor?  No, because I honestly don’t see many teachers doing that.  What would happen if we really thought of students as our audiences not only now but after they have left our classrooms?  The classroom then becomes 4–D and time outside the semester becomes an element.  How to do this?  Continuing to serve your audience through weblogs, listservs, email zines, contests, surveys, consulting, etc.  The classroom is not a linear thing, an object plopped down in a plaza for all to view then walk away from.  A classroom is an inconceivable conflux of  thread and space that spins out from one short moment in time.  Practically speaking, it can actually be this now much more than ever before because we don’t have to abandon that web each semester.  I want my teaching to be this way because I think that it is a continuing part of the “public intellectual” work that I embrace out of choice.  It is a duty, too.  I owe my students that much because they are also my colleagues and friends .

Yesterday was the last day of finals, graduation was slated for the evening and I was returning some books to the university library.   One of my former high school students walked through the doors to do the same thing I was doing, but it was also his graduation day.  James and I talked about his years in college, his plans, and his dreams.  It was a closure moment for both of us when he told me what he remembered most from my classes—media analysis, especially movies, and most notably by the Wallace and Gromit movies.  If I had had an enlarged view of teaching like I am proposing, I could have shared more of his story and would have had a fuller life in doing so.  As James wished me a fond goodbye, I said I would start some cool rumors about him. 

I don’t express myself well here, but that’s ok.  Blogging can be so much thinking out loud and still be just fine.


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