Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek
benpeek

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i taught today.

it's a strange thing, sitting in a classroom with five or six other kids. i imagine that it would be much stranger if i had thirty, but i don't need that kind of responsibility. it's bad enough that i might have some influence over them, and thus i have to curtail my somewhat anarchistic nature.

what i have noticed about teaching (and i teach english, i case that doesn't come up again) is that it's really about making sure that kids get certain habits. it occurred to me some time last year, as kids talked about george orwell, that what i might be doing is nothing more than government sponsored propaganda. not only was i teaching them ways of reading, but i was teaching them certain morals in a subliminal way. for example: george orwell, as you may well known, is not ever going to be referred to as a pro war writer, and there were three weeks worth or work where this anti war stories, columns, and a few word games, were presented. the right answers were the ones that said, 'war is bad.'

(if i remember correctly, there was a satirical play in one of these classes as well. people walking around as bombs fell, saying what a great thing the war was. they all die in the end, but i can't remember it's title.)

now, it may seem that i am just being conspiritual. that's a fair accusation. but it's the answers that i teach them (answers that are given to me, btw) that lead me to this. i am not invited to have the kids discuss these themes, or present alternatives to the answers. english is one of those subjects that is built upon subjectivity, and i wonder if it should function like this. of course, i don't teach in a real class, so it might be that this does happen... but yeah, i remember my classes as well.

there is more to this than might be at first glance, by the way. i'm not just a crackpot with his theories. in a book called How Societies Remember by paul connerton, he talks about a social memory. he writes, as i pick my subjective quote, that "to read or compose a text as literature, and as belonging to a particular genre of literature, is not to approach it without preconception; one must bring to it an implicitly understand of the operations of literary discourse which tells one what to look for or how to set about composing." he goes on further to talk about how someone with the "requisite social competence" would be able to make different meanings, but i am just wanting to use this little section for the moment. take it to the classroom, where students do not have this ability, where they are told what to think, is to have the teacher take them to it, telling them what to expect and think. programing them in the same what that we are programmed, if you follow my meaning.

is this why we have certain expectations for our literature? of course, literature must do certain things in a story, it is said by some, and is backed up by other thinkers as the way that we (the reader) makes sense of fiction. we expect a story to have a introduction, a building of elements, a climax, a denouement, a resolution. spit from the side of a building, and it must fall says the law of gravity, and we approach literature with the same laws. to a degree, of course. there will always be work that works against this expectation, but it's never been popular, and could it be because we are taught that this is the way it must be, this is the law, so this is what must happen?

taken further, to the material of george orwell, and we are telling people what it means. that it's anti war, and such and such. (consider Nineteen Eighty Four, a book that i happen to think is more about communism than the fear of Big Brother, as an example of what i mean.) but anyhow, we tell them what it means, what it must be, that war is BAD and this is what the answer is. so they go ahead and write these answers. they learn the socially acceptable way to read orwell, and any other way that might have been legitimate is lost to them at this point, come up with by those people of different political sways that what is popular at the time.

well, i think it's interesting to consider.

and while i am certain that someone, somewhere, has said that better than me, i am still moved to get up in class and teach them things where their own answers are right, where the subjective portion is truly that, and not a set of right and wrong answers.
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