Tuesday, 7 February 2012

What we learn from teaching poetry

My English A Literature students on
their experience teaching poetry:

One needs:
Confidence, Discipline and Engagement

It is important to have:
Interaction with the audience, their involvement
and mutual respect

One has to like poetry

One must be prepared!

One thinks the thoughts of someone else

One must use visuals and have a good understanding
of the poem and background knowledge

Openmindedness is a sine qua non and so is
the ability to accept constructive criticism

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Meta-constructive or what's in a word?

(To my good friends, CC and MB, whose wise advice i did not take)

Thursday was my day off. Like every day off, i had great plans to do all kinds of things; catch up with the backlog of the last five years, re-read War and Peace and spend quality time with my significant other. Of course i ended up doing very little catching up or looking into my loving spouse’s eyes , spent a considerable amount of time (objective estimate: 20 min, subjective estimate: an eternity) on annoying and unnecessary email communication on problems that other people had created and were refusing to solve, charged my Kindle (this did not require too much of my time…), did some housekeeping stuff with mp3 recorders and cameras, spent a couple of hours on a task for the online course, but most importantly, I spent quite some time on the phone with my friend LS. Now this is what i call constructive. An interchange/activity centered on involvement, collaboration, consultation. An idea is put forth, someone responds, understanding follows, adjustment of the idea ensues, consideration of different perspectives, implications is introduced and on and on, so one constructs meaning/a new idea/experience/plan et c.; in short the learning cycle of do-learn-review-apply-do is followed. This is constructive, this is learning. But that was Thursday and this is what happens when i talk to LS.

The following day, however, i woke up to a new meaning of the word constructive. It’s like the definition in the dictionary was re-written overnight. On that day constructive meant indiscriminately tolerant, willfully ignorant, placatingly accepting, emotionally bland, and pointlessly questioning. Aber, Hallo! Is this a parallel universe or because of the relativist soup in which we are all swimming and our constant fear of conflict and confrontation, we have redefined constructive as meaning “i will not say anything that may upset you and i will not show my anger although i think that you are the reason for it”. Let me give you an example: you go to a coffee shop and you order a cup of coffee, the waiter takes forever, and when he does come the coffee is cold and the waiter is rude. You are angry and you tell the waiter that he was late, rude, the coffee was cold and that is not acceptable. According to today’s definition, this is not constructive. Why? Because you will not get another cup of coffee. And who cares? Not everything is about getting something. In other words, i need to be ‘constructive’ so i can get what i want or i need to be ‘constructive’ so the waiter will not be upset with me and maybe then i stand a chance of getting some hot coffee on time when i visit the coffee shop again. I need to educate the waiter about his job and the way he should treat customers. But it really does not go like that. I do not want the coffee. Not anymore. I want the waiter to know what his job is and i want him to know that sometimes he can be right and sometimes he can be wrong. I am not in the business of educating the world, I am in the business of educating my students and teaching them to educate themselves, so they will not be slow, rude and inefficient waiters. The rest of us, adults, need to agree on some meanings and live by them and their consequences.

Do I have anything against deconstruction, against the transcendental signified? No, i don’t. But i oppose selective and opportunistic deconstruction. You’re either with Derrida or you’re against him. You cannot say "Oh, it’s Tuesday, it’s my Derrida day of the week" or "I’m in a Derrida frame of mind" or "this creates a Derrida mood" or "this problem is not going away, let’s put some Derrida on it". Sometimes you just have to face the music.