Morning all. How are you? You miserable bunch of…
Well, perhaps not. But yesterday evening Gandalf and I went to an English Subject Centre discussion about teaching potentially offensive material, what 'offence' might consist of, and how it affects our teaching practice. It was mostly the stylish young men of Birmingham City University, plus a senior academic from Keele and one from Newman (Birmingham's Catholic university).
True to form, Gandalf and I provided most of the examples from our wide repertoire of edgy teaching material (his Unpopular Texts module which examines taboo subjects, my Olivier Othello, Sappho, Rochester, Beauty, Freshers et al.) while the others provided the intellectual input, and the discussion was so good that we ignored the excellent buffet and carried on talking for almost three hours. I certainly picked up new perspectives and hopefully everyone else did too.
So over to you: have you taught or been taught anything which you found offensive, or feared that others might? What did you do? I certainly have. For instance, Rochester's poetry is deliberately crudely sexual - try being a young male lecturer reading that out to an all-female class.
Then there are the texts which I think are dubious. Samuelson's Beauty attracted a complaint of immorality because characters swear and look at porn. That didn't bother me: what made me very uncomfortable was the author's assumption that he - white, middle-class - could adequately inhabit the inner life of a young Asian woman, for whom he eventually decides that sending her back to care for her ageing parents constitutes freedom and the only honourable way to live. Faced with a class including many young Asian women, I worried about cultural sensitivity - perhaps needlessly. They split between finding the book true to life and laughably stereotypical, which was fascinating.
I could go on forever on this topic…
Meanwhile, could you contact your MP (via Twitter, faxyourmp.com or theyworkforyou.com) and ask them to sign EDM1185, asking the government to reconsider the closure of the Subject Centres - vital networks for sharing good teaching practice at university level, something the government apparently feels we no longer need?