Monday, September 10, 2007

Read History. Be Fearless.

Every once in a while, what we ask students to do in a classroom requires that they be brave. It requires that they use their whole minds and whole hearts to truly see the material, to seize it, to make it belong to them. Sometimes, we ask them to look for stereotypes or caricatures when acknowledging them in the text is acknowledging that they live in their brains, as well. Sometimes, we ask them to be critical in the face of opposition from their classmates or their other teachers. Sometimes, we ask them to be so courageous as to tell us, the people with the red pen in hand, that we are wrong.

In fact, I think when academic work is done best, it is done bravely. It's done with a kind of ruthless vision that I work hard to approximate. I often fall short. It is done with a kind of unsparing sympathy that can keep me up at night. It's done in an effort to ferret out truth and logic and reason, even when it hides under very powerful boulders. Sometimes, that very powerful boulder is me. Sometimes, I hide the most important answers from myself.

Today was my second lecture of the semester. I decided I needed to tell my students that if they were to do good work in my classroom, they would have to be brave. I put a slide up that read: "Read History. Be Fearless." And then I told them that it was more important to be right than to look right, more important to reach for a full, astounding understanding of a text than to settle for mediocrity. I think I trembled a little. I wanted them to know. I wanted to remind myself. What we do takes courage. It's not a take bullets kind of courage. It's personal, private, intellectual. It's courage all the same.


Blogger Kisha said...

This is so beautifully written. I think you are very right too. I remember when I taught the spectacle lynching chapter from Grace Hale's book to first years in a 101 class (full of white students). I began by asking them how the text made them *feel* (sickened, guilty, sad, disappointed) and then we dissected why. Getting over feelings of guilt (or getting passed the version of "we are proud to be Americans" history) important for them as they try to read and embrace the text. After we did that there was such a great conversation. But it was hard for them. It reminds me of your lecture today.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Meg Kribble said...

"Read History. Be Fearless."

I love this. Your students are lucky to have you as a guide and example. No demurring to the contrary allowed.

3:09 PM  
Blogger RevJen said...

I wish I'd had one history teacher with this kind of passion for either history, teaching, or learning.

Well, maybe I did once. My Historical Theology prof in seminary rocked.

6:52 PM  
Blogger Acre said...


Kisha, that sounds like a great class. I think that when issues of race are on the table (explicitly, that is), it's particularly hard to get students to engage. The "Be Fearless" slide came right after a slide about race as a category of analysis, and I was hoping that they were hearing me on the importance of coming to the discussion with more interest in talking about race critically than protecting themselves from perceptions of racism.

Oh, and I just have to add that I had students who were very carefully *taking notes* while I was talking about the importance of bravery in the classroom. God, they're just so cute and earnest sometimes.

9:18 AM  

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