The dance that is the beginning of a quarter is always a bit awkward for me. The getting to know students, establishing some grounding, and setting out expectations are always framed within the immediacy of the quarter system (can we do all this in 11 weeks?) and the specificity of students’ past experiences (how does this stack up to past classes?). Since TCH 421 is a hybrid courses, all of these things are heightened for me, so I was happy at the end of the second class session to know the historical trends groups had begun to identify areas of interest and ways forward for collaborating.
Two of the three groups identified topics within their historical trends and began to think about the work ahead. The reading group chose the history of young adult literature; the language group chose the history of English as a second language and bilingual education with a specific focus on native Spanish speakers. Both topics lend themselves to historical analysis that is embedded within rich and dynamic sociopolitical and economic trends within the United States. That is, they both are grounded in particular ways of making sense of the world that have been fluid and dynamic across time.
For example, the history of young adult literature is very much tied to the sociopolitical developments of post-World War II and school-based reforms that crystallized school as an advocate for particular political and economic discourses. Since World War II, the look and purpose of young adult literature has evolved and become more complex in response to evolving political and economic debates. Similarly, the history of ESL and bilingual instruction is an outgrowth of our history as an immigrant nation and the massive expansion of schooling that took place in the early 1900s. It, too, has been shaped by political and economic discourses and has often stood as the focal point of the most contentious ideological divides.
Identifying the history of these topics is easy. Tracking their evolution and what perspectives and beliefs predominated at different times is easy, too. Even connecting to social, political, and economic events of the times is easy. I expect students to do all these things as the initial steps of the project. Doing these things is a matter of conducting research into the historical record.
The next two steps are what make this group project an effort at authentic learning and eventalization, which I noticed I misspelled in previous blogs. Knowing that history reveals truths that promote particular power relations and that within any historical period there are always competing truths at work, with costs and benefits attached to each, I am asking students, in step 2, to evaluate the nature of these truths in terms of the power relations and discourses that are promulgated and the counter-discourses that arise and are subjugated. This can be done in a couple of ways:
One, these truths and power relations, and their related discourses, can be set side-by-side and compared with one another in terms of what is projected as worthwhile and who benefits. Such a comparison is not as clear-cut as it sounds because, in reality, there is a lot of interaction among truths and power relations so clear areas of demarcation are probably nonexistent. Also, there is typically a lot of borrowing among truths, and the differences within a discourse that promotes particular truths is probably greater than the differences between discourses.
Two, these truths and power relations can be taken up more holistically as a narrative, which is probably closer to how they played out in history. With this approach, the discourses speak to one another through words and actions and weave a tale with its own characters, theme(s), and plot. In this regard, this narrative is but a fiction in that it will be the students’ story, with its own truths and power relations. But, then, the side-by-side comparison is nothing more than a fiction, marked by the fore fronting of particular truths and power relations.
The point to all this—this referring to both the work students do and this blog—is that whatever results from this project will be a fiction, shaped by who the students are and the truths and power relations in which they are already immersed. I want them to realize all this. However, although telling them all this would be easier than coming up with ways to have them live it out, I have found in the past that telling students does not have the effect I want. Hopefully, in living it out, even in a contrived way—that is, in grappling with the fact that there are always competing discourses and power relations at play and that in their own lives it is no different—students will come away with something more significant than an understanding of a part of the history of reading, writing, and language.
Thus, step 3 is to recognize what discourses have been subjugated over time and to what effect. It is also to begin considering what this means for their teaching, including, beginning with this project, how they would teach their historical trends topic so that what they learn in step 2 is revealed to others.
So that is where we are now. We go online next week, or now really, and don’t reconvene in person until April 23. Students are submitting to D2L Discussion and SITE, and they are easing their way into VoiceThread. I am anxious but excited about the possibilities.