What are our assumptions about the relationships among teaching, political position, and scholarly research? In exploring this question from different perspectives, this set of four related essays confronts the enduring assumption that within this professional triumvirate, teaching remains the least regarded. As the diminishing resources allotted to the humanities makes painfully clear, as students become indistinguishable from consumers, and as our own professional habits reveal, it is no doubt the case that this assumption is firmly grounded.
Perhaps we have spent too much time teaching the conflicts, in Gerald Graff’s memorable phrase, and too little time examining teaching as conflict. Each of the following essays identifies a crucial tension or conflict within the current “common sense” of classroom praxis: aesthetic vs. social value, hope vs. cynicism, nature vs. culture, success vs. failure. These tensions produce pedagogies that, as each essay explicitly or implicitly argues, fall short of the tasks they set for themselves (or flatter themselves by claiming for themselves). What do we do with the quiet and unresponsive student? How do we respond to the student who claims a book just isn’t that interesting or good? Ought we convince students to surrender their faith in natural or commonsense constructions of culture? If students expect rewards for cynical critiques, how can we teach them to formulate hopeful readings, if indeed we should? The terms animating these questions—belief, evaluation, attitude, and participation—are arguably the cornerstones of pedagogical theory. And yet how often, as scholars and producers of narrative—do we take them up as serious points of conflict within our classroom practices? [End Page 165]
More often than not, university and college teachers seem embarrassed by or unsure about these potential connections and contentions. Scholarly practice and political position are frequently interarticulated, while teaching remains the ignored stepchild. (When we ask colleagues “How’s your work coming?” we rarely expect an answer related to classroom practice). Why have we come to believe that any discussion of public political worlds can make the classroom into a private soapbox? Why do many in the humanities refrain from teaching their research as though such an endeavor would expose students to a tepid mixture of warmed-over liberalism and over-specialization? And why, when we do teach our research, do we so often fall short of the rallying effect we expect? In short, these essays probe the possibilities of a narrative of teaching that construes the intersection of our research and our political desires as a pedagogical opportunity.
Each contribution addresses these questions in relation to narratives that inform classroom ethics and the efficacy of reading. Together, they explore the social and political consequences of how academics engage—and might link—narrative theory, cultural studies, and pedagogy. While referencing contemporary political horizons, the essays seek a commonality in their attempts to examine questions of value, especially as they touch upon students’ distance—and proximity—to the political and social content of scholarly objects of study. As the common invocation to “Teaching” that appears in each of the essay’s titles suggests, these contributions represent a concerted effort to bridge the often unspoken divide in which instructors teach everything but their research while downplaying their politics as inappropriate. At the same time, the different objects being taught—“the good” (Castronovo), “protest” (Thill), “culture” (Nadel), and “hope” (Castiglia)—readily reveal that there are different and conflicting approaches to bridging that divide. Coming at these problems from a variety of perspectives, this essayistic symposium constitutes an experiment in structuring the first exchanges in a conversation about the narratives that conjoin teaching, politics, and the production of knowledge. [End Page 166]
Christopher Castiglia is Liberal Arts Research Professor of English at the Pennsylvania State University. He is author of three monographs, Bound and Determined: Captivity, Culture-Crossing, and White Womanhood from Mary Rowlandson to Patty Hearst (Chicago, 1996); Interior States: Institutional Consciousness and the Inner Life of Democracy (Duke, 2008) and (with Christopher Reed) If Memory Serves: Gay Men, AIDS, and the Promise of the Queer Past (forthcoming, Minnesota). He is also co-editor of Walt Whitman’s temperance...