"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

State of Mind: Conflicts and Opportunities

It's the last day of Fall Break here at UNL and other than the opportunity it has presented for me not to leave the house for four days so I can work, it hasn't felt very break-y.  That's okay.  I've gotten a lot done.  I'm halfway through commenting on 151H rough drafts, I'm plugging along on job materials, I got my conference paper for this weekend's ACIS done (prepare for a future post on creative writing pedagogy), and I found my sister's dog a Halloween costume.  Marley's the sweetest black Lab ever and she is absolutely going to hate her costume.  While my parents' dog, Daisy, would chew the thing to shreds, Marley is just going to sit there and look as embarrassed as a sixty-pound Lab can.  Being an aunt is awesome.  Two years ago, when C. was eight months old, Marley was a witch and so was C.  It was beyond cute.  This year, C. is going to be Raggedy Ann.  Love it.

Marley and C., 2010

This weekend, I also compiled the questions that my 180 literature students brought to class, questions for Dennis Lehane's email interview.  I sent them off this weekend and I can't wait to bring his answers to my class.  They asked some really good questions.

But this morning is one of those mornings when different elements collide in ways that I didn't expect them to.  I've been working this weekend on "evidence of teaching effectiveness" for my job search materials and one element I keep coming across is how to reach students with various interest and commitment levels.  It's one thing to encounter this in a required composition class, but it's another thing entirely when the classes are elective.  This was an issue I faced this past spring in my fiction class and I didn't expect to see it again this semester, but I suppose this is what happens when certain classes are designated ACE requirements.  And as I was formulating my responses to various evaluation comments, I realized that one of the ways to engage students--no matter the class--is to make the material and ideas relevant outside the classroom, so that they notice when they encounter these ideas in their every lives.  I've brought in Jerry Sandusky's sentencing to illustrate various aspects of what crime literature responds to, but I think for the last half of the semester, I need to do more of this.

I don't yet know how I'm going to do this, but I had a germ of an idea today that I'm going to further explore.  Today, Inside HigherEd posted an article titled "Tensions Simmer Between American and International Students" and the crux of the article is hatred and intolerance on college campuses--and UNL is one of the universities mentioned.  Drawing attention to such intolerance is the subject of the various Haters tumblrs, including one dedicated to UNL.  (It's illuminating.)  But I think there are other implications here, namely the ways that crime literature responds to--and is, in some cases, inspired by--tensions, conflicts, and issues in real life, as we live it.  What is the link between an article like this and school shootings that have happened in the recent past?  Anything can become a plot, anything can become a headline, and crime literature responds to that (we have also talked about the media/news as a form of crime literature, responding to a specific societal need).  Here's a screen shot from this morning's St. Paul Pioneer Press (I chose it because it offered the most text vs. ads of the local and national newspapers I looked at for this purpose):

Also, this morning's Lincoln Journal-Star:

The world is full of conflict, full of connections that we need to make between our class and the world outside our classroom.  What do these headlines say about who is vulnerable in our society?  What do these headlines say about power and gender and class and race?  What do these headlines say about what kinds of behavior are socially acceptable and unacceptable?

I think what I'm going to do is collect articles like the Inside HigherEd article over the next couple of weeks, bring them to class, distribute them to the small groups and perhaps ask them to do some creative writing, or at least creative thinking--and I might give each of the groups an author that we've been talking about and reading.  What would these headlines look like in novel form?  If you were to take the texts we have been reading and pretend that they were inspired by a newspaper headline/article, what would that look like?  What is the role between the literature we are reading and our everyday lives?  Crime literature has to be more than entertainment.  I know for sure that Kent Krueger's novel Red Knife, later in his Cork O'Connor series, was inspired in part by the school shooting in Red Lake, MN on the reservation there, and like many of his books, follows a specific question (in that case, "when is violence the right answer?")--how does genre literature like this fulfill a legitimate societal need in a way that Literature cannot or does not?

That's the question we need to explore more fully in the rest of the semester and now I have a new plan for doing that.

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