Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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Serving Students

Laura's new entry asks some good questions about whether we do a good job of serving our "good" General Education students or our "average" English majors.

Her last paragraph covers the latter category:
We're supposed to be giving them the tools to think. We often tell ourselves we do that. I think they leave believing they are on the way to thrilling and profoundly interesting lives, and that we have not prepared them in any way for the sad reality that awaits.
I'm of two minds about this point of view.

On the one hand, I try very hard to integrate "real world" situations into all of my teaching. It may be a little easier for me than for Laura, since I teach mostly twentieth-century literature. But if that's the case, I would hazard that it's a difference of degree, not kind.

At any rate, I see the need to bridge the divide between material that may not speak directly to students and their own experiences. I want them to pay attention to the "sad reality that awaits," not just five or ten years down the road, but when they walk down 4th Avenue and or make a late-night trip to Wal-Mart for toilet paper.

On the other hand, though, I don't see the advantage of painting the future black. I think most undergraduates -- even English majors at the University of Arizona -- are wise enough, whatever their intellectual limitations, to realize that life gets progressively less dreamy. Most of them have seen their parents in action, after all.

Maybe one function of teaching literature by, about, and for the middle-aged is that it can prepare students to embrace their own passage into their late 20s and 30s in less despairing terms.

Less dreamy doesn't mean less fun.

I'm usually reluctant to trot out in public the Zen self-help literature I remain fixated on -- an ongoing research project, a way of contemplating the appeal of a spirituality I otherwise reject -- but this time I can't resist.

Maybe teachers shouldn't strive to disillusion their students, but to sustain the hope those students need to arrive successfully at a disillusionment that comes from within.
Tags: academy, teaching

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