Teaching Hearts and Minds: College Students Reflect on the Vietnam War in Literature

Teaching Hearts and Minds: College Students Reflect on the Vietnam War in Literature

Teaching Hearts and Minds: College Students Reflect on the Vietnam War in Literature

Teaching Hearts and Minds: College Students Reflect on the Vietnam War in Literature

Synopsis

In this book, Barry M. Kroll tells how college students in the late 1980s responded to his course on the Vietnam War in literature. Kroll designed the course to engage students' hearts and minds in the processes of connected and critical inquiry. He argues that students should be personally absorbed in a topic- emotionally connected to key issues and texts- if inquiry is to be more than a perfunctory exercise.

Kroll raises a number of important critical questions about texts and meaning, particularly concerning the nature of authority and the reader's role in creating meaning. He focuses on students' efforts to think reflectively about literary representation, historical truth, and moral justification. Drawing on John Dewey's concept of reflective inquiry, Kroll asserts that his course did not challenge his students to "acquire" information, but rather to "inquire"- to explore, probe, and query.

Excerpt

This book has its roots in an English course that I began teaching to undergraduates about five years ago, a course that uses the literature of the Vietnam War to stimulate reflection on personal, literary, epistemological, and moral issues. In fall 1986 and again in fall 1989, I taught the course to classes of about 140 college freshmen; in spring 1986 and spring 1988, I taught it to smaller groups of upperclassmen. Those students—more than three hundred, altogether—are the focus for this book, and their words occupy a prominent place in the text that follows.

Although this is a book about teaching and learning, it is not, strictly speaking, a pedagogical work, since my aim has not been to discuss how to teach a course on the war and its literature. Nor is it primarily a theoretical book. That is not to say that pedagogical and theoretical issues were unimportant to my project or that they will be ignored in the following pages. In fact, I will have some things to say about the kinds of "teaching practices" that foster reflective thinking, and I will argue that those practices are embedded in a broadly conceived "pragmatist" orientation to inquiry. But readers who are looking either for explicit pedagogical advice or for detailed theoretical argument will be disappointed. Instead, they will find a book based on my investigations of college students' processes of reflective inquiry.

In each of the four central chapters of the book, I report what I learned about a different domain of inquiry. In the first of these chapters, I consider students' attempts to build emotional or personal bridges to the war—their efforts to engage in what I will call "connected inquiry" into the nature of the Vietnam . . .

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