Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Okay, Okay, Okay. Tuesday's Post for reals

I'm done procrastinating now, I think.

I thought the articles on GLBT were all helpful. I'm not trying to be sarcastic, I promise. To be honest, I'd never really thought about incorporating these topics as a unit or "a thing" in the curriculum. I think this may be for two reasons.

The first reason is that I don't really think about GLBT as being an issue in literature since two of my very favorite authors, Oscar Wilde and E.M. Forster, were both very gay and several of their works allude or even graphically discuss their homosexuality. I've been reading Wilde since I was 11 or 12 (he was one of the authors that helped me to like reading, Ann), and Forster since I was 16. I knew Wilde was gay and it didn't really have an impact on how I felt about him. Obviously I didn't get the full allusion to gay sex (bunburying) in The Importance of Being Earnest until I was about 17, but that's not the point. I do understand for the most part that both Wilde and Forster's most well known (which isn't saying much for Forster) works are about heterosexual relationships with subtle references to homosexuality. But a lot of Forster's lesser known works, short stories and essays are very open and honest about it.

The second reason is that I don't know what kind of books I would teach that discuss GLBT issues. I feel like Oscar Wilde is thrown in between this middle school/high school limbo where he is sometimes too difficult for middle school or too simple for high school. Forster doesn't seem to be a well known author. His short stories are brilliant and often bring up homosexual issues in addition to other social conflicts in a wonderfully satirical way. The only other book I've really read (to my knowledge anyway) that deals with these issues is Funny Boy. I refuse to teach this book because I just felt it was so poorly written. Not only that, but I feel like it would encourage the ridicule of gay people, especially given the involuntary maturity level of high school students.

Another issue that I continue to think about is that, while I do agree that these issues should be a big deal and treated as such, I think you can bring GLBT issues into a class without centering an entire unit on it. I think this is a safe way to incorporate it into the classroom without this feeling of losing your job or going against the entire school. I know this isn't ideal and I'm not advocating for this necessarily. But when you deal with a subject that is seemingly so taboo, even for a liberal state like Minnesota, you have to find ways of incorporating these subjects without trying to "push an agenda." I think this gets especially tricky with GLBT topics because so much of it can become political. When a teacher advertises that they are spending an entire unit solely on GLBT, it is forcing people, people who will not always agree at all with your views, to digest a "political" statement. I do understand that this is not the purpose of a GLBT unit, but some parents and students will interpret it this way. Like I said, the situation is not ideal, but I'd rather teach them gradually, over time, mixed with other issues in a text, than not teach them at all.

While I was reading, I thought about instances of teachers coming into conflict with parents, staff and administration. Sometimes I worry that we get in this position of being the expert (as we should be) so much so that we stop listening to other sides of the story. We get so caught up in needing to be right, or standing by what we believe is right, that we lose sight of our very present opposing view, and tend to spit on it as we walk all over it. This goes for both sides of the literary argument. Traditionalists and multiculturalists alike partake in this. I'm still arguing for a balance. I don't think this needs to be so extreme. I feel like once we only discuss "multicultural" texts--which I still feel has a somewhat passive-aggressive definition in terms of inclusion and exclusion--or only discuss the canon, we are losing something important in our teaching: the ability to gain perspective out of all works. If we are so forceful, we are not teaching the kids anything, regardless of what text we use, except our own projected values (which really defeats the purpose of studying literature altogether).


  1. I have just finished listening to a little kid sing and play the harmonica to a song about smoking dope and making love to a tonic and gin.
    In reality, I just finished watching a talanted, brave, confident boy play his harmonica and sing Billy Joel's Piano man. The kid was beautiful and brilliant in front of an audience of adults and children. Anyone with common sense knows how amazing how high some simple context will elevate an idea, yet all know that there is probably someone who will take it
    out of context and complain about the lyrics of the song and attempt to diminish the truth of what was going on. These past 2 weeks have been full of ideas on putting ideas, texts & conversations into their rightful, most illuminating context.
    I appreciate how you explained your point of view about GLBT issues and your authors. Naming multicultural literature assigns it to the same confines as the "special months" such as Black History month. By setting it apart from the category of just plain old literature, it becomes seperate. The article about renaming English classes Cultural Literature gets at the same sort of idea in that maybe if we call it something else, it will get reinvented into something reflective of our multicultural population. Works will be judged simply as literature, not seperately as multicultural and dominant cultural literature. I do feel that in order to acertain that level of awareness or equality some inertia is required. Does that inertia come from renaming courses? Explicitly pointing out who wrote a piece of literature? Assigning different cultural groups units within he curriculum?

    I don't know the answer, but I did like the little harmonica playing guy!

  2. I like that you brought up here—and in class—the issue of author’s sexuality. In climates where the canon is still revered, safer, whatever, here’s a potential opening. Not everyplace is ready for full-on LGBT agendas, but I think we have a responsibility to at least start with homophobic language and tolerance, which I do think students need in today’s world. I agree with what you said that it doesn’t have to be a full unit. I think some of what was said in class on Tuesday echoed your points about students’ (and families’) values.

    And I think you know my stance: all literature is multicultural. Call it that—including canonical works—and center culture in all texts.