Steve Volk, March 27, 2017
Susan B. Anthony, c. 1900. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Public Domain
Three articles on three different aspects of reading caught my attention this past week. One argues that before students can “read to learn” they need to “learn to read,” and that among the various reasons that students aren’t doing their reading assignments is the fact that they “cannot read well enough to understand the texts many faculty assign.” The second, a short essay by the distinguished Princeton scholar Peter Brooks, uses the so-called “Torture Memos” written by Jay S. Bybee to argue that some readings of texts are carried out with such “bad-faith, distorted interpretation” intended that we would be well served by developing an “ethics of reading” in response. Put in other terms, the reading “problem” encountered by Brooks was not a question of inability to understand, but a willful desire to misrepresent what was written. The final article, “The Rising Tide of Educated Aliteracy,” goes one step further, suggesting that “we” (by which the author means students, literary critics, and the educated elite in general) have stopped reading. This is not the if-they-are-reading-online-it’s-not-really-reading argument. Rather, as the author argues, we are witnessing “the growth of a population that can read but simply doesn’t want to.” Doesn’t understand; willfully misinterprets, doesn’t read. What’s a teacher to do? Continue reading
Steve Volk, March 13, 2017
A group of faculty, staff, and students sat down together the past two Mondays to discuss Christi Smith’s Reparation & Reconciliation: The Rise and Fall of Integrated Higher Education (University of North Carolina Press, 2016). Smith is a visiting assistant professor in sociology at Oberlin, and, of course, she took part in the conversation. Her book examines three colleges (Oberlin, Berea, and Howard) that early on placed interracial coeducation at the center of their institutional missions. The book examines what impelled the colleges to make this choice and why, by the end of the 19th century, all three eased away from that goal. By the turn of the 20th century, Howard dedicated itself to the task of educating the black elite, Berea focused on Appalachian whites, and Oberlin, finding itself, as with the others, in a competition for donors and students, sought advantage by marketing itself more as an elite Eastern institution, and less as an avatar of interracial progress.
There is much to relate about the book and the discussions it generated, but I will limit myself to three topics. While these issues are of particular importance for Oberlin, I have no doubt that they will be relevant for many other institutions which, prodded by student protests and national conversations, are seriously considering the role that race and racism played in their institutions’ history and how these factors continue to shape their present. Continue reading
Steve Volk, March 6, 2017
Anonymous, ‘Le voeu du faisan,’ Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Public Domain
We went to hear Tafelmusik in concert at Finney on Tuesday night. We arrived early, but ran into so many friends that we didn’t get a chance to glance at the program before the musicians took to the stage, all 17 or so of them. Which partly explains how surprised I was when the ensemble (except for the cellists, double bass player, and harpsichordist) started to play while still very much upright. They moved around the stage, forming into and retreating from small clusters, bending in to the counterpoint, musically conversing with each other by their body language. At one point, a violinist bowed her way from the entrance doors of Finney to the stage. And boy, did they deliver! The music, which highlighted J.S. Bach’s time in Leipzig, was marvelous, even more so as it was complemented by an intriguing slide show projected behind them and a well-voiced narrator who put Bach’s music into context. The narration not only illuminated Leipzig as a central crossroads of early 18th century Europe, but explored everything that went into a Bach composition: how the paper he wrote on, the ink he wrote with, the instruments his players used were crafted into existence; what clothing he and his fellow Leipzigers (is that the term?) were permitted to wear, sumptuary laws being what they were; where his musicians performed, and on and on. It was wonderful. And having the ensemble on their feet and in motion seemed to elevate their music making to an even higher level.
And so I wondered: To what extent did the kinetic performance enhance its overall musical quality? (I should add that there was one violinist who remained seated. My guess is that she was stationary because of a mobility issue and that Tafelmusik had nonetheless been able to make her a full participant in the concert, neither excluding her nor drawing attention her way.) The concert made me think about movement and learning and the fact that, unlike these Tafelmusicians, in most of our classrooms, students enter, find a chair, and remain seated for 50 or 75 minutes at a stretch. Continue reading