Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Taming and Tierra

Today I left the house at 6:40 am and did not return until 12:20am. A long day, and the alarm clock goes off just before 6am tomorrow again. I don't remember getting so little sleep in a long time. Not much time for reflection tonight.

However, I will jot briefly down what I'm thinking about the plays. I actually said something in seminar today, my first comment in two days, and later received one of the more memorable compliments I've ever received in an academic setting. Basically, I'm feeling that in Shrew Kate isn't really "tamed" so much as she just learns duplicity; she gains range, which is a type of strength. She takes on a role, which is something the majority of the characters already can do, most notably the foil character of Bianca, who is able to shift her personality with her intended audience, but more obviously all the characters whose roles transform (Sly, Tranio, Hortensio, etc).

However, this still doesn't change my initial view that the text is pretty sexist and mean, but it does add layers. And, today on the way home, and gazing at the face of Mark Twain sternly staring out from the cover of Time magazine, I'm struck how the text reminds me of Huckleberry Finn. My feelings about that novel vacillate all over the place. I think it's a worthy but risky teach. I don't buy the bullcrap that it's a great anti-Racist novel, nor that it's a racist novel. I find the characterization of Jim to be troubling - yes, racist - at times, and always flinch when I hear, as the Time magazine proclaims, that it's a great rumination on race in this country. I just don't buy it, but I also don't buy the otehr extreme, that it's a flat out racist text that shouldn't be taught, primarily because of the N-word. So I'm somewhere in the middle, ready to argue either side.

It's a text where analysis reveals layers that make the reader think that it might not be the racist text that it appears to be on the outset. Same with Taming of the Shrew, which subsequent reading and analysis reveals can be considered a less troubling and sexist text than it is, and significantly more interesting. The question is, is it possible to get adolescents far enough there for them to get that this further analysis can lead to richer, different meanings? And is it worth it, or can a different text be chosen?

If I were to teach American Literature again this year, I would not have spent any time with Huck. Not because I think it's racist, or because of fear of the N-word in a classroom of nearly 100% African-American students, but because I just don't think it's that good of a book, and certainly not one that will make kids like to read. I wouldn't want to risk a cursory going-over of the text, lest they believe in a knee-jerk fashion that Twain is a racist, and don't particularly think it offers things that other texts don't offer better or richer.

I probably think the same about Shrew. I just don't think I want a piece of literature that is, on its outset, so damn sexist at first. I don't think I do, at least.


I was grabbing some coffee this morning at 7-11 when I felt a hand clasp my shoulder. Last year in the 9th grade, "Tierra" was always like that; one of my most enduring memories of her will be, after a particularly tough period with my horrible 4/5 class, she came over, told me she was sorry the class was so loud, and patted me on the shoulder. The gesture would feel stranger if from a different student, but "Tierra" sort of has this calming aura around her, something that I hope she continues to use, something that, actually, reminds me of myself.

Such a transformation she made this year, from one of my roughest-around-the-edges girls to a grade of an 88 and, often, a complete pleasure to have in the classroom. She lives in my neighborhood and is the most boyish little girl I've ever met, a fact that gets her into trouble sometimes, but the kids are generally very accepting. "Tierra" - who, you should know and get a picture in your head, I used to call "Snoop," as in from The Wire - smiled, told me she was going to work, and groaned when I told her I wasn't teaching English 2. She's a good one.

I actually really miss my students this year this summer more than I have in a long time. I think I liked this last 9th grade class more than any in a while.

1 comment:

sue4993 said...

I am a retired ninth grade English teacher who doesn't miss grading papers, doesn't miss parent conferences, doesn't miss sleepless nights, but does miss talking about literature and teaching with other teachers. You're giving me my "fix".