Friday, December 15, 2017
December 15, 2017: Fall 2017 Reflections: Intro to Speech
[As another semester comes to a close, I wanted to spend the week reflecting on some complex moments and questions related to Teaching under Trump (trademark AmericanStudier!). I’d love to hear your thoughts, on these or any of your own teaching or semester reflections, in comments!]
On not intervening in political discussions, and why perhaps I should have.
For most of the semester, my third time teaching an Intro to Speech class for Fitchburg State’s Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators (MAVA) program went as smoothly and happily as the prior two sections had. I love the chance to work with fellow teachers, and the vocational educators in the MAVA program are a particularly fun and interesting group with whom to connect. Both their short persuasive speeches and long informative ones have taught me quite a bit about a wide range of professional, personal, and social topics, and in general I have found these classes to offer a refreshing change of pace from other aspects of my teaching and work. That was all true this semester too, but there was one two part-moment that felt less refreshing and more challenging and frustrating: one of the teachers gave a rather strident persuasive short speech on why all students should be required to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in schools; and after that class many of her peers not only rousingly endorsed the sentiments, but assumed that I felt precisely the same.
Obviously (for any long-time readers of this blog, at least) I did not share those sentiments, as my older son has been kneeling during the Pledge for more than a year now and his brother has begun doing so as well this year. So part of my unhappy response to this moment was of course personal, as it felt like both my sons’ actions and my own perspective as their father were being wrongly categorized and criticized. I also took significant issue with many of the core assumptions behind the teacher’s persuasive speech, which consistently and unequivocally defined standing for the Pledge as patriotic and exemplary, and any other action in that setting as thoughtless and ignorant at best, unpatriotic at worst. That’s most definitely not how I see the boys’ protests, of course, and as I wrote in this post not at all how I’d frame either the origins, history, or contemporary meanings of the Pledge. At the very least, the teacher’s assumptions about the Pledge and Pledge protests, like her peers’ assumptions about my own perspective and agreement, needed it seemed to me a good deal of further thought and conversation.
I didn’t offer those thoughts to the class, though. I knew it would be wrong to do so on the spot (as that would overtly antagonize the speaker), and neither did I want to do so while giving overall feedback on the speeches in a subsequent class (as my response wouldn’t have been about the assignment’s expectations or my areas for feedback). I thought about sharing my take further down the road, but decided that doing so would be unnecessarily politicizing in a class not at all focused on such conversations or themes (and doing so in no small measure because of aggrieved feelings as a parent, which is never a good motivation for classroom choices). I think that probably was the right decision, and one that was supported by a significant majority of my teacher friends when I conducted an informal straw poll on the Book of the Face. But when I have second thoughts about my choice, they boil down to two questions: isn’t my goal of adding to our collective memories one that should hold true in any setting (the teacher’s speech included an absence of information about the Pledge’s actual, complex history and evolution)?; and similarly, if I’m working to reclaim the concept of patriotism from the most simplified or celebratory visions, wouldn’t this have been a perfect occasion to highlight the critical patriotism I’m advocating? Can’t say I have definite answers, but these are the kinds of questions that arise when we teach in the age of Trump.
Spring preview post this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Fall reflections you’d share?