Teaching Dark Lord part 2

jackie e stallcup jstallcup at juno.com
Thu May 16 19:21:11 EDT 2002

Yesterday's class definitely went better than Monday's, partly because I
wasn't caught so off-guard by the reaction.  Planning for it really

I started with Derk and we delineated his character on the board and then
jumped into a discussion of expectations from there (referring back to
our list from the time before).  Conversation meandered around quite a
bit, which was fine as it stayed on the book, mostly, and many of the
students had much more of an "I get it" look on their faces this time. 
One thing that really helped was a discussion of how Jones criticizing
the exploitation of "exotic" cultures.  We started from the assumption
that Mr. Chesney's world is "our" world (which I don't know if everyone
on this list would agree with that, but it helped the students, so I was
ok with it.)  I pointed out that it is the rather innocent desire of the
fan for an experience like what they've read about that leads to the
exploitation of Derk's world.  I likened it to those who are standing in
line right now waiting for Star Wars to open.  If they were given a
chance to experience the world of Star Wars, of course they would jump at
it--but Jones' point, we decided, is that such desire itself can become
exploited and thus exploitative, etc.  The best personal intentions can
have terrible global results...  This lead to a great discussion of how
this happens in our own world--tours to Hawaii, for example, that include
luaus can be seen as something like this.  

This seemed like an ah ha! moment for a number of the students. 

We talked about reader response theory a bit, which addresses one of the
issues that several of you brought up.  The student who is often
disdainful (but was MUCH less so this time) noted that she wanted to make
sure that her future students understood that there is no "wrong"
reaction to literature--that two people can feel two opposite ways about
a book and that's fine.  I pointed out that reader response theory is
wonderful at some levels, but also can be fraught with problems,
particularly if taken to an extreme; I didn't want to get too far off
track from the book, but I noted that in order for this to work and not
have the discussion descend into chaos, each student MUST come up with
strong textual support for his or her position and be able to marshal
this support into a coherent argument.  

This is what I meant in my post the other day--that I try to run the
class as a kind of forum.  Rather than having a set of answers that I
know I want to get to, I open it up to what the students want to talk
about and then try to take their personal reactions and make them think
about them, support them, critique them, etc.  So, in that sense, there
aren't "wrong" answers very often (sometimes there are answers that are
factually wrong and then we just look in the text and clear it up).  But
there are answers that can be better supported than others...

I decided to tell them that I love the book and was disappointed that
they had hated it--disappointed in the sense that I thought I was giving
them a fun send off and that it had backfired.  They all looked quite
surprised, so I guess I had hidden my disappointment well on Monday!  
However, it also seemed to make them feel badly, as if they had hurt my
feelings and there was a lot of backpedalling--which was not my
intention.  Although it made them return to the text for another look, it
also seemed to make them feel as if their response to it had been wrong. 

Several of them noted that the discussion did help them to appreciate it,
which was one of my goals.  So I was happy about that.  The quiet ones
still didn't speak up.  Finally, at the end, I pointed this out directly
(which sometimes works).  I said, "About half the class has been REALLY
quiet this time.  Do any of have anything that you want to say?  Anything
to add?  And I waited, looked around at all of them, gave them some time
to ponder this.  But they really didn't seem to want to speak up, so I
just went ahead and moved on finally to other business...

Thank you all for listening and helping--this has been quite enjoyable!

Jackie S.

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