[This Fall was another extremely exhausting semester, and first and foremost I’m proud of all of us for making it through. But it also featured moments that reminded me of why we do what we do, and in this recap series I wanted to highlight one such moment from each of my Fall classes. I’d love to hear your best and your hardest moments, and everything in between, from Fall 2021!]
On an unplanned discussion that turned into one of my favorites in any class.
In my Semester Previews post on my Honors Literature Seminar on America in the Gilded Age, I highlighted the ways in which, over my handful of sections teaching this course since Fall 2015, contemporary 21st century contexts and connections that had initially been “unspoken” have become more and more overt and even central to our class conversations. Of course our main focus remains on texts (and related histories and themes) from the late 19th century era known as the Gilded Age, but in recent years (not only in this class by any means, but certainly specifically in this one) I’ve become more and more comfortable making overt the 21st century parallels, legacies, and continuities that are everywhere across this time period and course.
Generally those contemporary connections are ones I plan ahead of time (unless they’re shared by an individual student in the course of a discussion, anyway), but this semester I decided on the spot to frame a question around them, and I couldn’t be happier that I did so. We were starting our second three-week thematic Unit, on Gilded Age texts and histories around women’s experiences, identities, and rights, and I decided to open the Unit’s first class by asking directly for examples of things in our own moment and society (from the smallest to the biggest issues) that are different for women than for men. I made clear that we should hear first from the many women in the class (or as many of them as wanted to share, that is), but that men’s perspectives and contributions would of course be welcome as well as the discussion went along.
I run discussion-based classes across the board, and have been doing so for all of my 17 years at FSU (that’s between 8-10 classes per year, so you do the math), so I when I say that this one of the best and most multi-vocal discussions I’ve ever been part of, you know that’s a very meaningful superlative. It’s not just that almost every student in the class spoke up, including many who were a bit more quiet for our discussions generally, though that is true and was really impressive (especially for a professor whose stated goal is bringing out every student voice). It’s that they had things to say that were equal parts personal and analytical, highlighting their own individual experiences but linking them to broader frames and issues effectively and thoughtfully throughout. The discussion not only made clear how the Unit’s Gilded Age issues echo into our own moment, but really set the stage for every subsequent class and conversation in that Unit. Here’s to contemporary connections!
Next recap tomorrow,
PS. Responses to this moment or other Fall 2021 reflections you’d share?