[This semester went fast, felt slightly more familiar than the very strange last couple years, and featured some wonderful individual moments that exemplified why I do what I do. So this week I’ll highlight one such moment from each class—share your own Fall moments in comments, please!]
On truly, inspiringly multi-layered and multi-vocal class discussions.
There are lots of reasons why I keep using the same America in the Gilded Age syllabus for my annual section of our Honors Literature Seminar (I might not always get to teach this course and work with these amazing community of students every Fall, but as long as I have the chance I’ll most definitely keep taking it!), including the presence of favorite individual texts as I discussed in that hyperlinked post. But high on the list is how much this syllabus, especially as I’ve gradually honed it over nearly ten iterations by now, allows us to do multiple AmericanStudies things (maybe the trio of Most AmericanStudies Things, even) at once: discussing and close reading complex literary texts and other genres of primary sources at length; considering through them and those conversations broader questions about the relationships between literature, culture, society, and history; and, when appropriate and always thoughtfully, connecting those various discussions and threads to issues in our contemporary moment and world.
Generally those multiple layers happen gradually and across the semester as a whole; but sometimes, when things are really cooking, they are featured simultaneously in individual, inspiringly multi-vocal class discussions. This semester we had one such amazing class conversation on the last day of Unit 3, the Unit focused on themes of work, class, and wealth/poverty and in which our main readings are four texts by the great Stephen Crane. With the table having been set pitch-perfectly by a couple excellent student panel presentations, we moved into a class-wide discussion that truly balanced close readings of Crane’s works, debates over whether and how such literary texts can be activist when it comes to issues like poverty and homelessness, and connections to economic and social inequalities and injustices and the possibilities and limits of the American Dream in our present moment and society. My voice was part of the mix for sure, but mostly in the “following up great student comments, framing some of their main ideas, and helping get us to the next voice and idea” kind of way. Quite simply, discussions and days like that are why I do what I do.
Next semester moment tomorrow,
PS. Fall moments you’d share?