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Pedagogy 4.2 (2004) 337-343
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The Pedagogical Possibilities of Covering Gilman's Wallpaper
Karla J. Murphy
In his introduction to The Pedagogical Wallpaper, Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock notes how the pedagogical diversity of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-Paper" prompted him to collect essays for this book. He goes on to explain that "given the ubiquity of the text within various academic settings, I was also struck by the absence of attention to the text within pedagogical contexts. Despite the large (and steadily growing) body of criticism to the story, very little of it explicitly addresses its importance as a tool to facilitate learning or various ways in which to make use of the text in the classroom" (3). As a collection, Weinstock's The Pedagogical Wallpaper contains informed, detailed, and diverse analysis that attempts to shore up the absence of "pedagogical possibilities" concerning Gilman's transgressive short story (9). Among the contributors are a MOO space specialist, a Gilman scholar, a queer theorist, an existentialist, a formalist, and several reader/student-response theorists. Because each essayist presents a distinct critical perspective on Gilman's text, each essay is likewise concerned with "how the narrative teaches and how to teach the narrative" (5). Thus, it seems to me that Weinstock's The Pedagogical Wallpaper resonates with Pedagogy's conviction that teaching is central to our work as scholars and educators, no matter what our particular perspective.
Indeed, Weinstock's commitment to diverse and instructive pedagogical prompts is persuasive and liberating, affording ample avenues for new discovery—for students and teachers alike. More important perhaps, the multiple approaches contained here have the capacity to capture the interest of someone who might not have considered Gilman's text before reading Weinstock's book. On the other hand, I am a little concerned that the scope of Weinstock's collection may call to mind a coverage model of teaching. That is, while I appreciate the editor's motivation for collecting a diverse sampling of essays informed by the practices found in Paulo Freire's "famous manifesto" (5), The Pedagogy of the Oppressed—encouraging readers to think about how they have been teaching, as well as to question the efficacy of their own pedagogical stance—Weinstock's sweeping recapitulation of this type of experiential learning process unfortunately overlooks the work of bell hooks, for [End Page 337] example, and her transformative Teaching to Transgress (1994). For just as Freire encourages readers to reject the "banking method" of teaching and its focus on static classroom activities that keep students locked in what contributor Paul Reifenheiser calls an "interpretive prison," (112) hooks (1994: 207) moves beyond identifying the problem, so to speak, and persuades readers to revision the classroom as an active "location of possibility" where "an openness of mind and heart ... allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress." The absence of hooks and her own particularly feminist approach is not a shortcoming necessarily; it is simply a missed opportunity. Her synthesis of Freire's praxis provides important incentive, as well as instruction, for teachers who want to take up the charge and become, in her words, "active participants in learning" (11). It is within this revised context, then, of both Freire and hooks, that the essays in this collection—individual "location[s] of possibility" each speaking to the transgressive nature of Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-Paper"—may indeed play an open role in the ongoing charge of what Weinstock calls "transforming the world" (11).
However, for as much as Weinstock includes liberating and exhilarating essays, his introduction runs the risk of confining the truly invigorating and beneficial work accomplished by these scholar-teachers. And while it could be argued alternatively that Weinstock's approach allows readers the freedom to make our own decisions about the values, attitudes, and beliefs that are presented by the essayists here, I am concerned that...