This is a great article for the kids to sink their teeth into as they think about our history class. First, the headline:
Is the World Really Falling Apart, or Does It Just Feel That Way?
We can spend a few minutes discussing their answer but then we can turn to the question of how you’d try and answer this question, as a scholar, but particularly as a historian. Then we’d read it
The entire article is here and we’ll read this one way or another — out loud, small groups, quietly — and then discuss how the author approached the inquiry.
Something I’m thinking about, having just finished Damnation Spring (an unbelievably good novel that you should track down right now) is how we make sense of the present day and how much human beings can ignore.
Also, adjunctification: The phenomenon in universities in this country today in which about 70 percent of teaching is done by non-tenure-track faculty means that 70 percent of those who are teaching basically don’t have academic freedom. Technically they have it, but they don’t have it in the sense that they don’t have job security. They’re dependent on student evaluations on the one hand and faculty approval on the other. What does that mean? They have to teach in a way that is entertaining. They can’t teach anything too challenging. They can’t teach the basic literacies that students need to understand the world in a deep way.
As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about critical literacy/doing the reading for class, I was struck by how much of this essay represents a kind of demand for students to grapple with the readings. Most of us set up courses with a wide range of perspectives so that the reading can be the basis for the conversation, which gives a reason to limit things as Professor Brown suggests:
So in your view it’s a kind of category error to think of an academic classroom as a site for free speech? Yes. Not because there shouldn’t be openness for ideas to circulate but because it’s not a free-speech zone. You can’t just say anything. You come into my class on political theory, and we’re talking about John Stuart Mill or Plato, and you want to begin yelling about the Russians attacking Ukraine, I’m going to tell you that’s not appropriate. I’ve given you a kind of extreme example. To the student who starts denouncing Marx — clearly not having read the text, which is terribly common — I’m not going to say, “OK, you get your five minutes and the next student gets their five minutes.” No, it’s not a free-speech domain. It should be a domain in which all kinds of concerns that bear on the topic have a place, no doubt about that, but that’s not free speech.
I loved this essay in the Design Magazine from the NYT last Sunday. (The fury I feel when looking at these ads — oh great, another beautiful home overlooking a gorgeous fjord that I’ll never live in; oh great, another set of consumer goods I can’t begin to afford — is offset by the quality of the essays that the the ads pay for.)
Anyway, these paragraphs will come back next year when we do the Lives essays:
Now that self-authorship is a form of digital hobby, we’re savvy to the fact that our versions of events tend to be freighted with self-interest (“my truth,” “my journey”), that there’s a power dynamic at play in who owns the narrative and that our experiences don’t generally have a clear takeaway unless we frame them just so. “Memory itself is a form of architecture,” said the artist Louise Bourgeois, whose autobiographical sculpture emerged late last century in all kinds of shapes, most iconically that of a 30-foot-tall cast-bronze spider. There’s an art to memory, and our personal stories become symbolic over time, the juicy onions and ghostly, maternal arachnids emblematic of a more complex whole.
For many of us, writing is a solace, a method of self-sorting, and the ability to share a point of view without being shut down or condescended to has even more weight for those who haven’t always been let into the conversation. This is why memoirs by women, immigrants and minorities of all kinds are often about the effort of becoming a coherent self within larger forces — forces that are inevitably classed, gendered and raced. For those whose perspectives are missing in the canons and histories we learned in school — who have been long ensnared in the cultural narratives of those more powerful — the memoir has served as a site of redress, a space in which to turn the tables, to make their experiences visible and their stories heard: a passage not only into literature but into a larger acceptance.
I know, I know. But every time I read these articles I feel crappy about Instagram and the immense profit streams it generates and just how manipulated I feel…how did they know I wanted a new watchband? How did they know I’d go deep down the rabbit hole of “tactical staffs”? And why did I need to know about the genre of attractive young folks playing heavy metal songs note by note?
We may be concerned about Facebook, we may even be fatigued by the amount of anger-inducing information we’ve learned about Facebook, but we still use its products.
Lots of great articles lately. Anyone who teaches history wants to do two things that can feel contradictory:
help kids to foster their own narrative of American history
help kids to use evidence to shape that narrative.
Playing gotcha doesn’t help– aha! You looked at X but failed to study Y — but a teacher should have a sharp and ready explanation for the choices they did make over the course of the year. If they’ve done their job, then students, when presented with a new event or something they weren’t “taught”, would be able to contextualize it within the narrative they’ve started to build. More importantly, they’d know which questions to ask in order to do this well.