The present, Spring 2010, issue of Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge includes, but is not limited to, contributions from the 2010 Annual Conference on Teaching for Transformation, organized by the Center for the Improvement of Teaching, directed by Vivian Zamel at UMass Boston. The issue also includes five student papers from courses taught by Anna Beckwith, Lecturer at UMass Boston, as well as three contributions submitted to the journal during the past year.
As instructors regularly teaching the same course and often using the same text across semesters, we may have noticed the difference between our own initial readings and teachings of our texts, and subsequent readings and teachings of them, when familiar ways of interpreting and teaching the text in the classroom seem to emerge over time. As we teach, we may find ourselves adopting routine approaches to interpreting and teaching text. The freshness of the first reading or teaching of a text often has a taste and after-taste that the routinized/habitual reading and teaching of the same in later trials often lack. In their important contribution, "Constructing the Innocence of the First Textual Encounter," UMass Boston English Department faculty Alex Mueller, Cheryl Nixon and Rajini Srikanth creatively succeed in making their readers aware of the complexity of the first textual encounter and its significance in the learning (and teaching) process. Moreover, they propose three strategies (what they call, "the innocence of the material text," "the pedagogy of the restraint," and "the suspension of mastery") that will enable teachers and students to purposely "construct" and reinvent the innocence of the first textual encounter in order to balance the "uncertain and confident" encounters with the text while reaping its pedagogical and transformative benefits. As the co-authors aptly conclude, "innocence is an opening to question our texts, our world, and ourselves as students and teachers" (p. 3).
In her article entitled, "Examining a First Amendment Court Case to Teach Argument Analysis to Freshman Writers at an Art College," Angelika Festa, of Massachusetts College of Art and Design, draws on her experience of teaching and her students' viewpoints to re-encounter the legal arguments in a First Amendment case involving the Brooklyn Institute of the Arts and Sciences v. City of New York Rudolph W. Giuliani over the 1996 exhibition of the painting "The Holy Virgin Mary" by the artist Chris Ofili in the Institute. It is interesting to see the parallel between the "innocence" of the new encounter of Festa's students with the legal and artistic texts surrounding Ofilia's painting, for this experience proves to be not only one of learning about the legal case and the painting. The experiences also allows these students to learn about U.S. history on the one hand, and their own sense of artistic imagination and expression, on the other. From a textual encounter with a legal case about the exhibition of painting, students end up voicing their own identities and imaginations as expressed through their creative writings about the case. In Festa's words,
... as [students] study to analyze and reason effectively when
making arguments about art and freedom of expression, it becomes
clear to me that they are also eager to enter the free space of
their imagination and expression, where personal judgment and
experience mingle with language, form, color, sound, and tactile
materials to produce a work of art. (p.40)
In both studies above, teachers and students are directly involved in their joint encounters with the text, be it a novel, poem, or legal argumentation. "The Absent Professor: Rethinking Collaboration in Tutorial Sessions," co-authored by Arianne Baker, Kristi Girdharry, Meghan Hancock, Rebecca Katz, Meesh McCarthy, Jesse Priest, and Megan Turilli--all tutors at the Reading, Writing, and Study Strategies Center at UMass Boston--involves a different encounter with students over the text, not only of student writings, but of the syllabi, margin commentaries, and expectations of professors who are physically absent in the conversation, but very much present as far as the nature and goals of the assignment are concerned. …