- Editors’ Introduction
We've reflected in this space before about the essential pedagogical importance of embodying principles in practice—something we termed incarnational teaching in an earlier introduction. What we find particularly compelling about this idea is that it should drive us to be as cognizant about the values we hold—and thereby explicitly (or, more often, implicitly) personify in the classroom—as we are about the practices we perform. When we spend the bulk of our pedagogical thinking mostly on matters of curriculum or, God forbid, assessment, we lose an important chance to think through the principles that should be guiding the materials and methods of our teaching. The difficulty of developing a rich teaching life, however, lies in the pressures to put the immediate—today's lesson plan—above the remote and abstract, to refuse the necessary time, reflection, and conversation required for the active theorizing of our teaching. But ultimately the consequences of not attending to underlying principles is, we fear, a profession that lacks coherence or, worse, a profession that tacitly operates under principles that, on closer inspection, many may find irrelevant, repugnant, or counterproductive. Of course, thinking about the ways we incarnate (or fail to incarnate) principles is risky, but as Robert Frost (1969) argues in his poem "Kitty Hawk," it is a risk worth the effort:
But God's own descent Into flesh was meantAs a demonstration [End Page 367] That the supreme merit Lay in risking spirit In substantiation.
In this issue, we have, as ever, an eclectic set of articles and reflections, covering a range of topics—from Shakespeare in the composition class to current conversations about the Brontës to service learning. However, we open with two pieces that attempt to articulate the embodiments of teaching, calling to mind the effects of material circumstances and physio-cultural characteristics on our professional places, including, of course, our classrooms.
First, we're very pleased to introduce to you our new reviews editor (as of volume 6), Mark C. Long. Long currently serves as chair of the English department at Keene State College in New Hampshire. Long's commentary "Where Do You Teach?" offers provocative questions about the way in which the place we inhabit in the profession affects our ability "to promote the values and rewards of an intellectual life organized around teaching." To quote Frost again, "Locality gives art," and Long makes a compelling argument, we believe, about the resulting array of significant problems that occur when the profession sees itself ideally embodied in only one location:
With the values and practices of the research university accepted as the profession-wide standard, we devote fewer of our intellectual energies to teaching, as well as to the ever more important engagements with public audiences who benefit from our work; we diminish the commitments of faculty whose intellectual work is organized around teaching undergraduate students, and whose reading and writing often arises from that work; and we handicap new PhDs struggling to imagine rewarding careers in English programs located outside the doctorate-granting institution.
Again, Long reminds us to examine our values—in this case, the values of the research university model—embodied in the local practices and teaching spaces we occupy.
Like Long, in her thought-provoking article, "Dancing Bodies in the Classroom: Moving toward an Embodied Pedagogy," Tina S. Kazan takes up the issue of incarnational teaching from the perspective of the body of the teacher (and her students). By applying her own, perhaps unusual, experience as a student in a ballroom dancing class to her own teaching, Kazan reminds us of the critical nature of the body in the classroom, arguing "that teachers who do acknowledge embodiment—most notably the people present and the felt sense of the moment (ranging from awkwardness to passionate [End Page 368] discoveries)—benefit from a more complex understanding of their students and their classroom. Both teachers and students can enjoy more opportunities for learning when the corporeal text of the classroom is recognized."
We hope this issue will inspire you to think about who you are and where you teach. After all, the soul of the university is...