I’m currently thinking about including a poverty/humanities focus in two classes that I teach, Early American Literature (ENGL 215) and Introduction to Composition (ENGL 101).
I think that for me, one of the challenges of teaching early American literature for many years was getting students excited about the texts, which seemed historically distant in tone and content compared to the contemporary texts they encounter in English 215 (which is mostly 20th and 21st century in its focus). However, over the past couple of years, the texts that are typically taught in an American literature survey course have become easy to connect to contemporary political debates: The 1619 Project/CRT, the 1776 Commission, the debates over public monuments, and even BLM and #MeToo have provided new opportunities to engage students in conversations about early American literature and culture.
Over the past couple of semesters, I have asked students to engage in various writing assignments that draw connections between past and present, and will continue to do so this fall (sample assignments attached: past-is-prologue and essay 1 ).
I am also engaging my students in the greater questions about authority, culture-making, and canon by engaging them in a collaborative editing project that invites them to create an OER American literature anthology edited by and for urban community college students (starting this fall; unless it’s a total disaster, this will be an ongoing project). Of course, such a project engages with various issues of authorship, access, and economic valuing of one’s work (issues that I struggle with in my own complicated feelings about the benefits of OER vs. the devaluing of intellectual property and economic support for the humanities).
So, I’m going to be looking for ways to deepen this discussion. The Topic 2 readings provided some really good resources for deepening and complicating the connection between race and poverty. I don’t typically ask students to consider what happens between the early American period and the present, and while I can’t do that for every text in the course, it occurs to me that I can do it substantively at least in relation to race and sex.
One really accessible resource that I have used in the past, but will rely on more substantively, is Aaron Huey’s TED Talk America’s Native Prisoners of War:
I actually use this text in English 101 as well, in connection with Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, to discuss poverty and cultural destruction (in 101, I also find the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center archives http://carlisleindian.dickinson.edu/teaching and the artist Cannupa Hanska Luger’s site http://www.cannupahanska.com/ great resources, though less obviously connected to poverty than cultural destruction and cultural resistance).
The challenge in this is locating accessible (and, frankly, short) critical/non-fiction resources to help students develop context WITHOUT SHORTCHANGING the literary texts (and instruction in reading them as literary texts). Suggestions to help develop those connections, particularly in relation to sex/poverty would be especially helpful.
In English 101, I am currently thinking about ways to incorporate poverty in connection to John Lewis’s March. The English Department at QCC is trying a common reading this fall focusing on John Lewis’s March, which didn’t sound especially difficult when I agreed to participate, but after realizing that it’s just Volume 1, and how little of Lewis’s engagement with the movement is developed in Volume 1, I’ve been trying to figure out how to work with that in a way that will be meaningful to students in the context of an English 101 class. The Topic 2 presentations gave me a better way for thinking about how to center race, poverty, education, and citizenship in relation to Lewis’s early years, in ways that will be meaningful and accessible to the students.
I can envision some framing from Dr. Katznelson’s book helping to inform my presentation of the material, but I have concerns about its accessibility for students.
Ideally, I’d like to find some digital archival materials that I can draw on to help make these connections clear to my students, while also engaging their own critical reading skills.