[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 inspiring chat that exemplified the broader conversations into which our graduating English Studies Majors are moving.
There are lots of reasons why I love teaching our English Studies Capstone course, including the chance to read the students’ culminating portfolios (I know of no better way to get a truly comprehensive sense of a student’s work, voice, interests, skills, perspective, identity, and more). But I think my favorite part of this course is the opportunity to work with students who are right on the cusp of not being students (or at least not undergraduates) any more, who are really taking the final steps to becoming peers of mine in every sense across this semester together. When I teach in our grad program or in our program for vocational educators, those students are almost all fellow educators, and thus peers right from the start; when I teach adult learning courses, those students all bring a great deal more life experience to the class than I. But in Capstone, I get to be part of the moment when undergraduate students fully enter that category, and it’s a really awesome thing.
This hasn’t been something purposeful (indeed it’s not something I had consciously thought about until planning this post), but I think that particular timing has a lot to do with why I’ve always chosen shared readings for Capstone by contemporary authors, folks who are (in almost every sense) not only still alive but still working in our own moment. The last time I taught this course, for example, that meant assigning as our Literature Unit reading the first hardcover text I’ve ever asked students to purchase: Monique Truong’s new novel The Sweetest Fruits (2019). This time I decided to go with a group of shorter readings for the Lit Unit, but with the same kind of emphasis: short stories and poems by contemporary authors Danielle Evans, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson, Curtis Sittenfeld, Jericho Brown, and Claudia Rankine.
The students seemed to love those works and authors as much as I do (Johnson’s “Control Negro,” now the centerpiece of her acclaimed debut collection My Monticello, is quite simply the best 21st century short story I’ve ever read), but even more special was our work with the contemporary text I assigned for the Education Unit this time around: Kevin Gannon’s Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto (2020). Gannon’s text is plenty great on its own terms, but he was kind enough to join us remotely for our final discussion, to answer student questions and put his voice and ideas in conversation with ours, and especially with theirs. And that’s the key—that this group of future (but the very near future) educators, writers, creators, public scholars were very much in conversation with such an important and inspiring voice. If that’s not the kind of moment that reminds us of why we do what we do, I’m not sure what ever could be.
Next recap tomorrow,
PS. Responses to this moment or other Fall 2021 reflections you’d share?