Courageous Texts, Courageous Teaching

How can we listen, learn and respond to health crises, financial crises, and racial injustice? What resources and models are available to guide us through these as teaching moments? As faculty and staff begin to build programs and assignments that prompt courageous conversations, texts and pedagogical strategies that model courageous teaching and learning can help. On Tuesday, July 28, NetVUE hosted a webinar with three speakers who offered specific texts and assignments that prompt conversation and address the challenges of contemporary life.

Esteban Loustaunau (pictured center above) is professor of Spanish and Director of the Center for Purpose and Vocation at Assumption University. Esteban’s presentation focused on the relationship between proximity and intervention. He pointed to the ways that our “brokenness” is a “form of shared humanity.” Texts such as Valeria Luselli’s Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions and Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy provide ways for us to understand how we can be in proximity to others (fostering what Stevenson describes as “reciprocal humanity”) while seeing the ways that anger brings clarity in realizing that the American dream places limits for some on a promising future (Luselli). Esteban concluded the presentation by emphasizing the role of guides and mentors in the process of intervention. Assigning courageous texts and creating mentoring environments are the ways we encourage intervention which can open doors for students to reimagine their purpose and possibility.    

To learn more about Esteban and his work with vocational exploration, see his recent blog post, “The Power of Proximity.”

Teresa Grettano (on the left above) is an Associate Professor in the department of Theater and English and co-leads the Dialogue Across Difference group at The University of Scranton. Her presentation focused on courses centered around civic responsibility, making meaning of 9/11, and social justice.  Working through a variety of texts, ranging from Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy to Man in the Red Bandana, Aaron Sorkin’s stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, and Greg Boyle’s Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship, Teresa shared some particular questions that are helpful for prompting courageous conversation. She pointed to the ways the questions of sacrifice and martyrdom need to be complicated and the ways we might reach out to our neighbors, despite deep conflict and divides. Finally, she shared questions and prompts for students to trace the trajectory of the lives and formation within each text so that they can see how their life trajectories might unfold.

The last speaker was Jason Stevens (on the right, above), Associate Professor of English at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, MI where he directs the Writing Center. Jason’s presentation drew on his teaching and research interests in literature’s engagement with places of social upheaval and political violence. Jason centered his presentation on a question offered up in Martha Nussbaum’s book Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice: “How do we get people to support principles of justice that require sacrifice of self-interest?”  In other words, how do we get people to learn to love justice?  Jason suggested that the “locus of vocation, the seat of calling—is emotion” and that the more we prompt students to refine their passions towards principles, the more we can prompt a valuing of justice. Much of his presentation referenced work by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, in particular the poem “Kinship” and Heaney’s call (regarding the Troubles in Northern Ireland) to see how poetry can change hearts while we wait for changes in laws.

For more of Jason’s insights on these and related topics, see his blog posts here.

The last 40 minutes of the webinar were dedicated to questions from the participants. This included questions about the specific genres that are teachable and relevant; about pre-enlightenment texts that might be used; about assignments and grading approaches that promote honesty and vulnerability; and about how to best encourage students to see the work they do locally and engaging with justice as significant and worthy. 

The webinar was recorded and can be accessed here. Please note that when you go to this link, it will prompt you to share your name and email address, but this is not a login; it simply allows NetVUE to keep track of interest. You are unlikely to receive any follow-up emails unless you are at a NetVUE member institution. However, if you do, you’ll have the opportunity to unsubscribe. 

A partial list of texts and writers referenced, either in the presentations or the Q/A session:

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