Look Over Here! Teaching Literature

Posted in Uncategorized by cpeverley on April 28, 2010

We’ve all taken literature classes. At UMD, they’re usually called “English.” In my middle and high schools they called them “Language Arts,”  and in elementary school we just called it “reading” and “writing.” But no matter what name you use, the classes almost always have the same gist: this is literature, read it. We’re taught that literature is narrative fiction (not non-fiction or poetry) that is well-written (as based on a Westernized, patriarchal, upper- or middle- class white aesthetic) with themes that are relevant to that same aesthetic. There’s a Western canon of literature from the Greeks through the Romantics and the Humanists to the Modernists, and it’s easy to identify its contents: The Iliad, The Great Gatsby, Romeo and Juliet. The books that everyone reads if they want to know “literature.” I did had some great teachers in high school that tried to stray from this limited vision of literature, but even they were constrained by student/parent expectations and department/ school district curriculum policy. These policies and expectations generally boil down to this lesson plan: teach “literature” all semester, but you can add one “other” book of your choice.

This unfortunately-common practice is much like the practice of random inclusion we discussed in class last week. We talked about how the presence of, say, one woman of color at a conference of white feminists makes the conference neither diverse nor inclusive. The fact that not every woman at the conference is white does not necessarily make the group more open to challenging or changing the dominant perspective– to use our language from class, this presence does not say anything of the proximities of the woman of color within the movement or of the movement to the woman of color.

The same random inclusion is very popular in literature-education today. As an English major, I’m irritated by the major’s relatively specific course requirements for American and European writing (basically five or six required courses) but sole course requirement for “Literature of African Americans, Peoples of Color, Women, and/or Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals.” I think the issue is even more acute in the area of teaching English, so I looked at the requirements for the English side of the English education program. I’d like to clarify that I’m not criticizing the English or Education departments, but rather the systemic issues that make these things necessary to maintain accreditation.

There are 13 required courses: 5 core courses, 5 British and American concentration courses, and 3 miscellaneous courses. Out of the dozen or so emphases offered for English majors (from Film and New Media Studies to Mythology and Folklore), education majors have their emphases literally chosen for them: American and British. Three credits of the English-ed program are in the “Women/Minority” category, and unless the student chooses carefully from one of the miscellaneous categories, they’re likely to graduate without having taken any course with literature outside of the US and Europe.

While I understand the benefits of having some sort of consistency in curriculum across the country, I think the ethnocentricity of focusing on only the Westernized, patriarchal, upper- or middle- class white aesthetic has severe consequences in limiting the ways in which students can imagine alternative ways of thinking, knowing, and doing.


The World Wrestles with the War of Queer Issues

Posted in Uncategorized by Becca on February 24, 2010

Gay Soldiers Don’t Cause Disruption, Study Says

This article provides insight into the debate concerning the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with the U.S. Military.  The article argues that quickly changing the policy proves to not be as disruptive as political leaders may assume.   Studies show that in foreign military, the queer population did not cause consequences that some Americans fear.  The part of the article that I found most interesting was the comment made by the governor of Minnesota: “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

College Wrestler Champions Gay Rights

This short article speaks about Hudson Taylor, a UMD wrestler.  Although he identifies as straight and is engaged to his girlfriend, Taylor feels a strong need to stand up for LGBT rights.  Because of his strong opinions regarding LGBT issues, others often label him as gay.

How to Respond to Teachers Pushing Pro-Gay Curriculum:

Family Group Advises Parents

This article speaks about a battle between teachers and parents in B.C.  Canadian teachers have received a sheet that helps them confront parents who are not happy with their inclusion of homosexual teachings in their curriculum.  The parents have written responses to the teachers that support homosexual teachings.  Parents argue that they support the teachers explaining such issues as race or disability because those are not a choice.  These parents argue that homosexuality is a choice and that the teachers do not have the right to teach about it without their consent.

I picked the first article because although it does not deal specifically with the crossover of race and queerness, I feel that it mirrors racial issues that America dealt with during the Civil Rights Movement.  I think that many people might sit next to people of other races in schools and have no connection to the times of Brown vs. Board of Education, yet only fifty years ago these same issues regarding the speed of racial integration and how it would effect our schools were present in this country.  Now, we are dealing with the speed of integrating Gay individuals into the military. I also personally am intrigued by the Governor’s remark, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”  This reminds me of the point of view of segregationists during the Civil Rights Movement who felt that things were fine as they were.

The second article reminded me of the discussion pertaining to the idea of self-definition of queer versus queer labels given by society.  Hudson Taylor is not queer, yet because of his stance for LGBT rights, others label him queer.

Lastly, the final article challenges what it means to be queer or a particular race.  Rather than exploring their cross-over, the parents from the school in B.C. form a clear distinction between the two, stating that race is not a behavior, whereas homosexuality is.  This speaks a lot to how these particular individuals view race-queer living now.  To them, the main argument stems from the idea of choice and that unlike things such as disability or race, queerness can be prevented.