Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving potpourri

Campus is so peaceful at 5 PM on the day before Thanksgiving, the sun has set after a glorious blue and gold autumn day in Oregon. The building is empty and quiet, and I'm trying to finish things that have been waiting on my desk for weeks - about 3 weeks to be exact since I last posted. Many apologies! My colleagues here know exactly what's been going on with classes.

So this post will combine several things I really wanted to post on at more length, and which I hope to return to:

Questions of class: Ah, yes. America, the great classless society. Read "A Class Traitor in Academe" from the Chronicle of Higher Ed, (Nov 9) by Thomas H. Benton, aka William Pannapacker, an associate professor of English at Hope College in Holland, Mich. Benton discusses the apparent lack of scholarship or lack of books about the intersection of academic life and social class. He lists 4 (not including Alfred Lubrano's Limbo. Benton points out the disconnect he feels in academia from his own background and wonders what he is doing about the situation: He says:

... at times I feel discontented with the larger purpose of my work. The overwhelming majority of my students come from social strata far above mine. I seldom feel like I am giving anything back to the community from which I came. I believe that my courses complicate and soften the aggressive certainties of future elites. But, as I become more secure and established, I wish I could do more to help other first-generation college students.
What's worse, says Benton, is that the education is no guarantee of upward mobility. He describes people
in the place where I grew up, and women in their 30's who live with their parents and can't start families because there are so few real jobs, even for the ones who put in a couple years at community college, transferred to a state school, and were the first in their families to get degrees that were sold as certain tickets to the middle class.A lot of those people end up delivering pizzas, mowing lawns, waiting tables, or working the checkout lane at Wal-Mart for $7.15 an hour, and the message spreads that education doesn't matter

From teaching at community colleges where the students are often working class to now at a 4-year state university where the students are more from the middle class yet many are still first-generation, I know what he means about issues of class. My own career track has been quite varied, and students are often surprised to hear me talk of the pre-academic days when I worked as a river guide, ski lift operator, etc. Jobs that can be counted as working class amid a resume that also includes museum administrator at one end and secretary at the other. (and it wasn't so long ago).

Switching Gears:
and certainly classes in society: new film The Jame Austen Book Club (from a book by Karen Joy Fowler I haven't yet read either). Here's what Stephen Holden at the New York Times has to say about the film:
“The Jane Austen Book Club” is such a well-acted, literate adaptation of Karen Joy Fowler’s 2004 best seller that your impulse is to forgive it for being the formulaic, feel-good chick flick that it is.
And will this film (and its book) give insights into literature? Says Holden:
You can question the story’s conceit that the novels of Austen are an ideal guidebook to personal fulfillment for the modern American woman. But as the members of a Jane Austen reading group, who live in Sacramento, analyze the behavior of the characters in her novels, the movie is also a savvy course on how to read a novel of manners. If that novel has any depth, the characters’ motives are open to interpretation. Is a knight in shining armor really Mr. Right? Does a happy ending really augur happily ever after? What are so-and-so’s real motivations?

Does every novel have to be unhappy (Tolstoy?). So, on my to-do list, rent this film (once we replace our dead VCR player with a DVD/VCR player, since nothing now comes out on VCR)

NEXT? German Deutsche Welle is expanding literature: in this article "New TV Company Aims to Switch People on to Books" saying that
Television has long been regarded the enemy of more traditional pastimes such as reading books. Now the first-ever German TV company (lettra) devoted to producing programs exclusively about literary matters wants to change that.
What they plan to do is
"[present reading] in a unique way with verve and in an entertaining manner -- for both old and young," according to Wolfram Winter. "Lettra also wants to let everyone with a passion for books have their say, giving a voice to readers, as well as writers and publishers."

And if I had time to watch TV (or a DVD), this sounds like something to check out.

Now - it's time to go to the store for some Thanksgiving treats. I hope you are all having a great holiday!


Blogger PaulaMc said...

Wow a TV show promoting books! I love that idea but am also not a TV watcher--too busy reading :-) But I'm all for promoting books where ever and whenever. Such a mixed bag here but all thoughtful comments as usual. If education is not making a difference, what is wrong? Is it the kind of education (or schooling) people are receiving or are the prejudices in society so strong that even good education can't always clear the hurdles. Likely a complex of factors. One thing seems certain, however. We too often haven't done a good job of engendering a love of learning through our educational system.

8:26 AM  

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