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Thoughts on Profession’s Presidential Forum: Language, Literature, Learning



Presidential Forum: Language, Literature, Learning

The Modern Language Association of America (MLA) published a journal called Profession (2012). In it, they include written versions of five scholar’s presentations in the Presidential Forum. These scholars concentrated on the theme of Language, Literature, and Learning. Each one, like individuals in Humanities, contributes a different view of the current situation of the field. They make a statement that together we are strong because of our differences, that only through big changes will we make it through this complicated world. Our difficulties and nontraditional views are beautiful really. We must care about one another, teach for flexibility at a crucial time in history, and lastly, realize people read and write more because of the Internet, not less.

Imani Perry discusses the field of language, literature, and learning aids in students’ flexibility, ability to ask questions, interpret statements whether voiced or written, and debate in his essay, Of Degraded Talk, Digital Tongues, and a Commitment to Care. In addition, students of this field are more accepting on variations of people. I believe this is important because the world has grown smaller. We are closer than ever to different cultures and traditions. As we interact more than ever before not only does this flexibility strengthen us as a whole, but allows us to debate with one another too. We don’t have to all think alike to get along.

In B. Venkat Mani’s essay, Dreaming in Foreign Tongues, the questions seems to be wasn’t Humanities strong before the Internet and before those seeking only capital gain caused major collapses in our system? Maybe, yet in different ways. Certainly Humanities were more respected, even though most people overall didn’t quite understand why one would study topics such as literature. Humanities is important because they are what help us be flexible, insightful, and good problem solvers.

How do we “unlearn” and why do we need to is the topic of Jack Halberstam’s essay? Unlearning the way things have been done for a very long time takes some doing. We must unlearn because you can’t solve today’s problems using the same methods as before. The old way are what caused the problem we’re in today in the first place. We don’t want to go back to that. The new way involves a type of blindness to others’ shortcomings and instead focus’s on their strengths.

It is too bad we didn’t do this in the first place. I wonder if we were all too busy competing with and attempting to impress one another? It’s as if we’ve expected ourselves and each other to be more than human. Humans are not perfect. They make mistakes, misunderstand, and aren’t good at everything. We all have strengths and I am always at a loss as to why we focus on those rather than strengths.

In Unlearning, Jack Halberstam considers how at a time when we’re facing a crisis, one placed deeply on money, the economy, work, and business we need to band together (11). He believes that instead, we need to rethink how we may be prohibiting learning as opposed to promoting it. Is one of the ways stepping away from tradition? Certainly there are educational traditions worth continuing. Maybe this “unlearning” revision is like focusing on the strengths of one another, we must choose what is worth continuing and what is not.

Perry’s essay, A Commitment to Care discusses the beauty of difficulty, the time of grief. This pain and struggle brought us blues and jazz, “enduring ways of seeing” (Perry 21). There is another way of seeing art than through elitism. With the Internet comes the ability for all people to comment on art, and they do. They may not comment the way a critical faculty member of an elitist college does, but they do make wonderful points and in essence are beautiful themselves. I think Perry wants us to think about how critical faculty doesn’t have to be attached to elitism. In fact, the Humanities ties departments often stand up for change and those lower in hierarchy. They promote caring and see caring for one another and passionately encourage students to reach for excellence. As a teacher who has had the chance to be in numerous school and grades, I’ve seen how the degrading of students dampens their learning. I believe we must reaffirm humanity. We must also explain to students why they’re learning what they are. They must see the usefulness in it. If they understand how, where, and why they’re learning something, passion automatically comes. If we tell students how to think and belittle them when they think outside the box, world problems will never be solved and we have a lot of problems to solve.

In his essay, Dreaming in Foreign Tongues, Mani question if we see Humanities as “a luxury during an economic downturn” and adds “It is precisely in times of crisis” (Mani 31) that everything comes into focus. I strongly agree with his statement “Limit humanities education to private schools, and within two generations you will have a clear division of labor” (Mani 37). It will be about who can afford the luxury of Humanities? We have fought too long to go Back to only the privileged being able to receive certain education. Will we go backwards instead of foreword?

Thinking about Fitpatrick’s essay, Reading and Writing Online, makes me reflect not only on myself before and after the Internet, but on others. It seems most everyone goes online. They comment about books video games, about politics, and, well . . .everything. For those thinking less reading and writing is going on, I say, you’re stuck in confining lives and fooling yourself. The NEA (2009) backs this up. They report both reading and writing has just taken a different form. Reading and writing on the Internet is different in that doing so is more interactive. Education knows of these changes and realizes writing and reading is happening and has now begun to integrate them into learning. Blogs become a part of an assignment as well as Podcasts. Other students comment on these and the audience for students’ work becomes more than the teacher.

Delving further, writing and reading require multitasking and that means flexibility growth, something not possible when reading a novel. I believe however, that novels won’t go away. Instead, they will be another choice in reading. Too many people of all ages admit favorably to keeping Print books and novels. Their biggest reasons for Print seem to be the convenience of marking places, and because of sentimentality.

Overall, I see the thread of these five essays as saying we must join together, that Humanities helps that joining, and that we must change because uniting makes us strong. This is important because if we don’t, we’re on our way to a bad place that could take generations to climb out of and I agree. As the saying goes, divided we fall, united we stand.



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