Around this time of year I often find myself thinking about great classroom moments. By great I mean those magical moments where the conversation is generative, engaged, and unexpectedly intense. Those moments moments that occur as if by accident or serendipity.
For example I remember going into the literary theory course I was teaching in 2008. That particular day we were discussing Marxist theory, specifically Antonio Gramsci’s concept of the organic intellectual. According to Gramsci everyone is an intellectual, we just don’t all live solely in that sphere (thank goodness). It just so happened that this was also the day after Stephen Harper had announced that ordinary Canadians don’t care about the arts. (about a day later Margaret Atwood published a public rebuttal) I asked the students “what do we make of the Prime Minister’s statement that Canadians don’t care about the arts? How can we unpack this statement using the readings we did for today?” and just like that, the magic happened. Conversation was rampant, engaged, and we could all feel the collective lightbulbs going off: Aha! I get it! This matters in my everyday life.
Granted, these moments can’t happen in every single class, and granted sometimes the subject material simply isn’t going to allow for these cross-connections, but I find myself regularly looking for ways to weave current events into the classroom.
Identity-based events, current or otherwise, are–for me–the hardest and most important issues to bring into open discussion in the classroom. Part of this difficulty is what I think of as the syllabus/relevance issue. What I mean by this is not to say that, for example, the incredible social revolutions happening in the Middle East and parts of Africa aren’t relevant (of course they are), but they can be very difficult to weave into a lecture on the syllabus subject matter.
I’m aware that one might suggest that I’m trying to do too much, but after a two week period where we have events such as the Winnipeg judge‘s ruling that a rape victim asked to be assaulted because of the way she was dressed, the Toronto police telling women not to dress like sluts if they want to avoid being victimized, and the recent Globe and Mail article that outlines how Canadian-born visible minorities earn substantially less than a Canadian-born white males with a commensurate education I’m feeling pretty dedicated to talking about these issues with my students.
My question to you, readers, as teachers, students, administrators, and people, is how–and maybe how often–you bring current events into your classrooms, workspaces, etc.
(Oh yes, and in case you are interested, this term I am teaching two introductory literature courses and a survey course of Canadian literature)