VKP / Delahoyde


Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University

VKP Module 1

Reflection 1.

Given this project¹s emphases on history and culture, it is natural for me to rethink my Humanities courses ‹ particularly Classical Mythology ‹ since here at Washington State University, although Humanities is a subdivision within the English Department, we are encouraged to cover the historical period in an interdisciplinary fashion and not to rely so heavily on literature as we would naturally in other English courses as we were trained to do. But incorporating art, architecture, music, sculpture, etc. has been hindered traditionally due to the discouragements of the older “technologies” ‹ awkward slideshows, cheap and cheap-looking overhead transparencies, and the passing around of books with pages marked. A critical area I think is missing from the scheme of this project and which I am struggling with each time I approach the issues laid out is its application to literature courses. In historical and cultural studies, students traditionally have been fed processed secondary source results of research, and having them see the primary sources and the layering of knowledge afterwards can certainly be made visible. But in literature courses, students are primarily in touch with the primary sources to begin with, and unless one turns the course into manuscript editing or reduces the course solely to historical or New Historical approaches to texts, it is easier to see how the new technologies, perhaps by their very essence, hinder the development of critical thinking skills by discouraging focus and reflection in favor of impatience and multi-tasking.

As an instructor here, I find myself teaching everything from cattle-call Composition to upper-level Chaucer and Shakespeare courses. So although I keep thinking of the VKP issues in these other avenues, the best use of my energies will be to find ways of helping students work more dynamically with the variety of primary sources recommended for the enormously-enrolled Humanities courses. In addition to the VKP goal of “Enhancing to Role of Primary and Secondary Source Literacies,” with the emphasis of the primary sources as explained above, I plan to investigate “Hybrid Approaches to Learning” as well: the balance or maybe even intersections between instructional and discovery models of learning. In an offbeat way, I tend to thrive when I allow myself to be situated as the classroom authority, however much I try to create more democratic learning communities.

Reflection 2.

Key among my goals for the Humanities 103 (Mythology) course is that students achieve an impressive degree of cultural literacy. No teachers I speak to regularly about the profession, nor I, think that students these days have any impressive “alternate” literacy based on what optimists want to see as simply a more visually oriented society. While reading skills seem increasingly pitiful, the often self-induced prozacical comfort that students are whizzes at the necessary post-literate-age skills is belied by their inability to process images too. Prodigal film analysis is not siphoning off would-be Chaucer scholars ‹ at least at the undergraduate level. Therefore, it still makes sense to include a variety of “literacy” skills in a course designed to evaporate some of the membranes between some of the disciplines. From the basic Jeopardy-question trivia (recognition of allusions to Trojan horses, images of Medusa¹s head, cartoons of Jove and thunderbolts, etymologies of the names of the days of the week) to more sophisticated critical thinking about the consistent and persistent ideas and attitudes circulating for millennia in western culture, students should emerge from Humanities 103 with a dramatically increased ability to contextualize facts, concepts, and ideas, wherever encountered, within western culture¹s value system and a recognition that there are alternatives to such a system (as a portion of the course is devoted to mythology outside of the Greco-Roman materials).

One common, broader goal among all my classes is that students come away with an ability to have something intelligent to say no matter what gets thrown at them. I bring a lot of popular culture into my classes because it seems to me that if the ancient literature or other cultural artifacts matter at all it is in their being manifestations of ways of thinking that are still circulating, largely unexamined, today. It¹s a simple question of relevance, beyond recognition of traditionally drilled factoids.

Reflection 3.

As articulated in the previous reflection, the ability to think through the meaning and significance of almost anything thrust upon me by contemporary culture is a supreme value of mine. I¹ve come face to face with this facet of my liberal arts education several times when it looked as if I¹d have nothing else in my life. I¹ve been able to kick over to popular culture studies to generate some publications and lots of presentations when the wheels of Chaucer studies have cranked too slow to be of much career help. So this intellectual flexibility, even adaptability, I think has career-saving and almost life-saving properties. At the very least, it makes one less a consumer of, and sucker for, the bilge one is inundated with every day.