Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bad Female Academic: Admitting I'm Wrong

As someone who writes about literature (and pop-culture!), I know the value of re-reading (and re-reading and re-reading again). I've always been this way; any book or tv episode or movie that I love are often revisited time and time again. Sometimes it's because they provide comfort or familiarity during a time of crisis or volatility (hello, Muppet Movie, Star Wars, or Almost Famous!) or because they are so rich that they demand more than one kick at the can. But even now, I can still be surprised by what I have missed in works that I thought I was thoroughly familiar with.

I was re-reading (and re-reading) Nalo Hopkinson's short story collection Skin Folk for an essay I'm writing (the postcolonial body, in case anyone was interested). Anyway, in one story, "A Habit of Waste," the protagonist (a young woman of Afro-Caribbean descent living in Toronto) is revealed to have bought a new body, a thin white one. I highly recommend this story for anyone interested in the intersection of race, gender, and postcoloniality, and the story became the central part of my analysis for the whole collection.

As I was writing the essay (after having read the story at least fifty times), I noticed something I hadn't picked up before in all my other readings: the body that the protagonist buys is called a "Diana" type. Why had I not ever seen this before? Diana? Princess Diana? The remnants of the monarchy? The fairy-tale princess? In a story involving not one, but two Commonwealth countries in a postcolonial setting? Really? How did I not see this before? Suddenly, I was researching the image of Princess Di, how she is interpreted, etc (there was a Journal of British Studies issue devoted to her, among the hundreds of other peer-reviewed articles dealing with her image, legacy, etc). And now I had a whole new avenue to write about in this essay (which meant I had to sacrifice some of the other things I had planned to write about).

This week, in my FYC class, we are talking about the great dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. I wrote my MA thesis on dystopias, so I've been reading (and rereading) this book for over ten years. I've taught it in various classes at least ten times. And this week, during our discussion about the book and why the world Bradbury creates I realized something I never had before; Bradbury wasn't just making a point about books and education (the three things we need are things that have depth, time to think about them, and the right to act on what we've learned), but it is also about how society has fragmented, with people cut off from each other. Montag finds the strength to act when he connects first with Clarisse, then with Faber, and finally with Granger and the band of nomads. How had I not seen this before?

Of course, I didn't call attention to my revelation, simply including it as part of the discussion. Maybe I should have. Anyone who teaches knows that it's almost impossible to get students to read, let alone re-read anything we assign. The worst is when students ask me if they have to read something because they read it in high school already. I think I was afraid to say, hey, I just noticed this, because it might appear like I wasn't prepared or I didn't know what I was talking about. I could have let me students see my own learning process, a process that didn't end...ever. So many students, heck, people now decide on something (for whatever reason) and desperately cling to those conclusions. I need to remember to show my students that I am open to noticing and learning new things, that I am often wrong and that's ok.

As a young, non-tenure-track female faculty member, I often feel the pressure to make sure that my authority and expertise are unquestionable. But, they aren't. I'm often wrong, and I am open to learning from my mistakes, open to sudden epiphanies, open to changing my mind. That I was afraid to share those moments with my students when they happen isn't something I am proud of. This is one area where I need to work on being the baddest Bed Female Academic I can be. 

2 comments:

  1. This is a really good point. I think the term you need for your teaching practice is "modelling", especially now that you are being more learner-directed. There is the expert who professes. And then there is the more experienced person who models. I think these can overlap.

    Basically, by telling them that you've just noticed this about the novel despite several re-readings models how you want them to approach things. Also develops a sense of a life-long learner, which can'T be a bad thing.

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  2. Regarding your insight about the body being called Diana: The extent to which people in postcolonial settings have admired and wanted to emulate Princess Diana is striking. In a certain segment of Colombian society (poor, rural) 15-25 years ago, the name "Leidy" or even "Leidy Diana" became quite popular. It is not clear to me whether the parents doing the naming were aware that "Lady" was a title and not a proper name. Regardless, this name is not uncommon among young women in their late teens or early twenties in some regions in Colombia.

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