ENG 6002- Week of March 10th: Tough Topics and the Working Class

There were two issues that I found myself concerned with this week. The first issue was primarily discussed in the final chapters of Showalter’s text. How do we teach tough topics?

I am not one to shy away from tough topics in my own scholarship, and I find value in teaching them. However, as Showalter points out, they have to be framed appropriately—or we must provide warnings about what students may come across in texts. Even with the extra work or scaffolding involved, I believe it is especially important to teach tough topics in a literature or cultural studies course. Dark topics are a part of life, and can teach our students about the human experience. Moreover, teaching these topics allows for a vulnerability to exist in the classroom that facilitates open communication among the classroom participants.

Showalter uses an example of teaching Eugenides’ Virgin Suicides to some appalled and disturbed students. These students struggled with the depictions of suicide, but I contend that these students had a reaction to the text because they were engaged with it. We can use engagement—whether positive or negative—as teachable moments, and allow our students to utilize their responses to create critical works. We can teach our students to interrogate their own responses, and find what aspects of the work create them. Thus, instead of writing about how they were appalled by depictions of suicide, abortion, or violence, students can write about what the inclusion of these depictions means for the literature as a whole.

The second issue I found interesting hits close to home—working class students and teachers in the academic space. I come from a background that I would not even call working class. I would dare to call it impoverished. I also spent much of my youth being a ward of the state, which really limited my opportunities to experience the world in ways that wealthier people might. I ended up being a first generation college student, and I am the first person in even my extended family to go to graduate school. Much of what I have learned about academia, I learned from mimicking the behaviors of others, or doing my own research. Now that I have been in graduate school for a couple of years, I have built relationships with a couple professors that I feel comfortable asking questions about how to live and operate in academic spaces, and this helps. However, I often feel out of place, or like I am too low class to really belong somewhere. This is a problem that I think really bothers students as well. When I was working on my undergrad degree, I persisted despite feeling out of place, but this is not often the case for our working class students. That is so strange, to me, since Wayne State is full of working class, commuter students. How do we make the literature classroom more accommodating to them? I believe we achieve this by utilizing non-canonical texts. We have to show that all experiences are valued, and that non-academic language is worthwhile. We have to value working class experience, and let our students translate their experiences into writing, as well as use texts in which students can see themselves. It is important to value working class students, as the working class in America grows exponentially. These working class voices will replace what is now known as academe—and we have to welcome that.

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