I recall Erika coming back from a particularly challenging class where some of our classmates expressed confusion about something or other. I want to say it was the question about why it was necessary to use a google document when one can achieve the same ends by just writing on the blog itself. That probably wasn't it since there's no connection between that question and the lecture that Erika delivered the next class. Anyway, Erika deviated from her original course outline in order to clarify her expectations of us. She said something to the effect of, if you gain nothing else from this class, you will learn to be a better listener.

I think she delivered on her promise. I've become better at picking up allusions more readily than when I began this course and I'm more willing to consider the social context in which an author is writing especially when it may inform me about how s/he feels about (being in) Canada. While I see the value in extending texts to become even more informed about issues than one would be from just reading the book, I think there is also the possibility to misrepresent the author’s original purpose. Through the course of our time together in this class—especially lately during the group presentations—I have witnessed a few of my classmates trying to masquerade tangents as extensions and generally building bridges to nowhere.

Green Grass, Running Water was eye-opening because King’s allusions were precise. The extensions that he made were all relevant to his agenda of informing readers about another side of the Canadian story. Through the incorporation of elements which satirized the dominant white culture, King’s message was unequivocal: throughout history, Indians get screwed.  His extensions informed our class discussions because they were compelling and they were compelling because they were grounded in fact.

Lately our discussions have dealt more directly with race issues and how that affects Canadian identity. While I appreciate the earnestness with which some of my classmates comment on such matters, I’m concerned by how unfocused and uninformed the thought process is. It’s as though we are trying to reinvent the wheel instead of building off of the meta-narrative of race studies that already exists today.

For starters, some of us don’t seem to define racism clearly. It’s not just a blanket term to cover anything to do with race. In a scholarly context most academics find it worthwhile to define racism as behaviour that perpetuate a system of advantage based on race.

Race is a sensitive issue because it matters. We shouldn’t dive into it headlong just off the weight of our own experiences. I find that it cheapens the real struggles of those that have gone before and are going through it now when we speak on it unaware of our ignorance. We can’t use terms like “assimilation” and “integration” interchangeably; they mean very different things. We can't claim that “black” is offensive when in reality it's the term that's been reclaimed--there was a whole movement dedicated to it--and commonly used by scholars and plebeians to talk about race issues. I know that the hearts of my classmates are in the right place but that kind of sloppiness and ignorance has to be addressed especially at a place of higher learning like The University of British Columbia. We shouldn’t ignore the work that’s already been done. Canada has already adopted a policy that enshrines integration beautifully in its Charter of Rights and Freedoms along with the Multiculturalism Act; we should build upon that, instead of misrepresenting facts and making a big deal of nonissues.

“You make a mistake with carpet, and you got to live with it for a long time.”
“Everyone makes mistakes, auntie.”
“Best not to make one with carpet.”

Far be it for me to tell people what to think or say especially when this class is all about bringing other perspectives to the fore. But while Erika encourages us to offer “‘another’ perspective and together our perspectives grow … and this is a good thing”, I think the emphasis in that quote is on the word “grow”. In a postmodern world where people feel entitled to spout whatever they want and have many available media through which to do it, we have to be very precise in order not to polarize and make sure our different perspectives stimulate growth. They should inform, not trivialize.

Even native pedagogy, which focuses more on experiential methods, serves practical purposes. At the root of interrelatedness and seeing the world around us as family instead of resources to be exploited is the goal of having something worthwhile to pass down to future generations. To tie it back to this class, I think we have touched on many complex issues and there’s a temptation to dismiss it all as abstract and subjective. They’re not. Even though some of us may be unaware of the meta-narrative taking place around us, this class has provided us with enough to start laying the groundwork to affect future generations.
11/27/2010 04:32:58 am

Thank you Paul for a wonderfully constructive critique of our time together - you have offered me (us) much to think about here -- and I will take to heart your insights and i know they will be useful for me when I once again, open the doors to 'subjective' and abstract'
and some would consider 'risky'' discussions which, while at times frustrate me in the same way they do you ... yet, like you, I believe the process of struggling to articulate that which is both subjective and reaching outward is a valuable way to learn about ourselves: after all, our subject is ourselves .

11/27/2010 04:49:18 am

Hi again Paul, I have been thinking quit a bit about your discussion here, and I thought I should return to point out to you that most of the people in our class are just beginning their educational journey at UBC -- where as a handful are well immersed in the "meta-narrative of race studies that already exists today" -- that you point to ... . I mention this to soften your concerns for some of our'unfocused' and yes indeed 'sloppy' discussions of late. It is too bad we do not have more time together to focus the discussion toward a more 'theoretical' understanding on how to 'talk about race and power; now that I have handed the class over to your presentations, and indeed .... it is a fine tight line I walk between 'letting' the questions and comments flow, and intervening ... .
A part of the problem, for me, is of course the size of classes UBC presents me with ..... sometimes, I think that these big classes are a way to ensure we can never engage in these kinds of discussions, because it is simply not possible to give voice to so many people in such a short time ...
And, that is were these blogs come in ....
Thanks again Paul .

12/7/2010 09:52:02 am

Hey there stumbled across your blog randomly. I'm actually not from your school but as a fellow university student all I can say is that this is a pretty common phenomenon. I think oftentimes it's just because the general atmosphere of a university English classroom encourages discussion and respect for the fellow student, which is theoretically not a bad thing in itself until it begins to foster the impression that every single thought, every single word that comes out of every single person in the room holds some inherent intellectual value. This is not always true. And I know this because I myself often say some pretty dumb things in class that I end up kicking myself over afterwards. So I think sometimes the root of the problem is just that university students have a tendency to ride on an unfounded sense of accomplishment and bloated self-esteem that result in a lot of embarrassing situations where they assume they sound real smart when in fact, they don't. Of course this may not be the case for you class at all. And maybe we are talking about two completely different situations altogether. Either way though, I wish people would focus on the "learning" part of "education" as opposed to the opportunities it provides for "showing off".

I suppose I'm coming off as a bit harsh. I'm actually still glad that the atmosphere in classrooms are so encouraging to the point that students can become giddy and excited about the material they're studying in. Some research and background information can certainly help focus discussions and eliminate embarrassing situations, but then again, we are all still learning right?

12/7/2010 12:37:14 pm

Hi Paul,
now I'm actually in your class and I find that your comments to your fellow colleagues border on hostility at times and now you've decided to drive the point home with your entry. Through your questions at our team conferences you are extraordinary at telling people what you find to be wrong with what they present, but you can never give constructive criticism to help your colleagues grow.

Has it occurred to you that you are too quick to invalid other people's opinions and casting them off if they do not align with your own? Our classmates, some of whom are not comfortable with public speaking in the first place, went up there and expressed their thoughts in what they though was a nurturing environment only to have their thoughts be discredited by comments like "masquerade tangents" and "building bridges to nowhere".

Has it ever occurred to you that complex words, notions, and scholarly ideas sometimes cheapen the issues they try to resolve? You should keep in mind that not all of us talk like a philosophy/history book all the time (showing off) and I know you are older than most of us, probably filled to the brim with life knowledge that would be best suited for a fourth year English course. If you are playing it safe to get into the education program by not challenging yourself to a course more your level, it is your loss. Please do not place your own expectations onto other people. We do not appreciate it.

Maybe your biggest challenge in this course is to find the heart in all your classmates' stories. It is a social world we live in.

Happy holidays.


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