Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Teaching-Story-Tuesday: in which I provide an alternate definition of "English Major"

I teach Rhetoric, which is a course required for all freshmen at the University of Iowa. The purpose of the course is to teach students how to analyze, map, and make an argument. The only real requirements for TAs are twofold: students must write two major papers and give two major speeches; instructors may not assign a novel. We can choose texts off of an approved list, and this semester I decided to teach Maus, the graphic novel depicting the Holocaust with cats and mice.

My students were not feelin' it. Each morning, getting discussion from them was like having to extract teeth. Finally, one young lady raised her hand and began: "Well, I might be reading too much into this, but..."

"Oh, pray do!" I exclaimed.

After she made her point, I addressed the class at large: "Look. It may be that you feel that your analyses are guilty of too much of a stretch, or that you are reading 'too much' into things. In fact, you might feel like an idea is so absurd that it is just straight-up bullshit. That's okay. When I was in college, someone once said to me, 'Oh, you're majoring in English? Isn't that just like majoring in bullshitting?' Well... alright. She had, possibly, a point. But let's be honest. How great a skill is it to be able to bullshit? It is universally helpful; I don't care what you're major is. If you say something potentially ridiculous, but can back it up with the text at hand, then that is legit. Call it bullshit if you'd like. But if that be the case, then, come on guys, let's come up with some more bullshit."

After that, discussion was much more free flowing. I'm not sure if I really got through to them, or if they were just amused that I said "bullshit" so many times in one monologue and felt like rewarding my effort.

Meanwhile, it has finally gotten warm enough to rain and not sleet/snow. Most of my compatriots are complaining about the combination of cold and wet, but when the ground is wet, there is drizzle in the air, and it is in the low 40s I am reminded so heavily of London that I can't complain. It is refreshing and nostalgic. And then I find myself listening to 808s and Heartbreaks at night while I blog. These things happen.

[blazer/coat: Gap, skirt: Anthropologie, dress-as-shirt: thrifted, cardigan: JCrew, necklace: via my Mum, belt: Ruche, leggings: American Apparel, boots: gifted Clarks]

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