Academic journal article MELUS

Pedagogy, Praxis, and Politics: An Introduction

Academic journal article MELUS

Pedagogy, Praxis, and Politics: An Introduction

Article excerpt

This special issue has emerged in part from the conversations that took place at the 2002 MELUS conference in Seattle. The conference theme, "Pedagogy, Praxis, and Politics: Multiethnic Literatures in US Education," attracted a large number of participants. MELUS members expressed a sense of excitement and common purpose in a three-day exchange of ideas on the challenges and rewards of teaching ethnic American literature. The year 2002 also marked the thirtieth anniversary of the MELUS organization. Over the years, colleges and universities across the United States have successfully instituted ethnic studies programs and have changed their curricula to include ethnically-identified works. The end of these three decades serves as a good starting point from which to take stock of the pedagogical/political practices in the field.

Conversations on critical pedagogy have been taking place at various conferences and college campuses. A significant question that emerges for us in these dialogues is why, when multiethnic studies have attained a stable presence in the classroom, teachers and scholars continue to encounter a lack of institutional support and what are often negative evaluations of faculty who teach multiethnic studies. Critics like Gerald Graff, Henry Giroux, and John Guillory have written extensively about literature departments in which progressive changes in the curriculum have not translated into more positive experiences for ethnic minorities in higher education. In fact, the kind of liberal multiculturalism that institutions have adopted as a corrective to the history of racism is not in itself free of racism. The presence of ethnic studies in the curriculum has produced its own set of problems--problems that illustrate the limitations of institutional policies and practices. Curriculum reform is part of a larger project that seeks to address issues of race and ethnicity, such as the hiring of ethnic minority faculty and the recruitment and retention of students of color. However, this additive approach to multiculturalism often does little to effect more substantive and much needed changes in higher education. Curriculum reform implemented as part of diversity initiatives has not produced better working environments for ethnic faculty, for example. Altogether, a critique of institutional politics has concluded that the implementation

of the worthwhile goal of inclusiveness has fallen far short of its promise.

The implications of this critique have become more pronounced in the wake of 9/11. Critical inquiry of the dominant narratives and accepted policies in the US have become particularly vexed in the last three or four years. Critics in ethnic studies routinely question conventional narratives of nationhood and expose their racial underpinnings. Their hope, however utopian, is to fashion a more inclusive and less oppressive national self-image. However, those affiliated with powerful conservative and right-wing groups, such as Dinesh D'Souza, William Bennett, and Lynne Cheney, view this questioning itself as disruptive of national unity. Narratives of threatened national unity are not new and have historically been counterbalanced by calls for people of all races and colors to get along, a strategy especially poignant in "wartime" as individuals are conscripted to fight a perceived common enemy. Such calls for unity have often attempted to curtail the questioning of the status quo. The present political climate is no different, even as we confront a new set of historical circumstances. A cursory survey will turn up many recent, documented cases of backlash against faculty and students of color who are perceived as directly aligned with and beneficiaries of multiculturalism. In sum, the teaching of multiethnic literary studies, which in the past thirty-odd years has progressed under far from ideal conditions, must now contend with even more sinister challenges and threats to its relative successes. …

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