NOBODY LIKES A TOURIST
(And Who Wants to be a Tour Guide?)
A Reflection on the Value of Teaching with Technology
The mechanics of travel have continued to progress,
so that today you can have your wedding pictures taken at the
top of a mountain simply by having your entire party flown there
The mechanics of travel have continued to progress, so that today you can have your wedding pictures taken at the top of a mountain simply by having your entire party flown there by helicopter.
Yet, while tourists are an embarrassment,
explorers continue to be hailed as heroes—even in an age in which
some of their exploits can be reproduced by helicopter-hiring
couch potatoes. Instead of being two levels of the same basic
operation, "tourism" and "exploration" are
categorically different. The
person on a guided tour sits back in comfort and listens to what
someone else knows. The explorer, by dint of hard work, earns an
intimate and lasting knowledge of the landscape. And this is why
I teach with technology.
Instead of being two levels of the same basic operation, "tourism" and "exploration" are categorically different. The person on a guided tour sits back in comfort and listens to what someone else knows. The explorer, by dint of hard work, earns an intimate and lasting knowledge of the landscape. And this is why I teach with technology.
Traditional modes of teaching and learning can too easily slip into a form of tourism, so we need to find ways to promote hands-on adventure and discovery in the classroom. The more "ground" we attempt to cover as teachers, the more we find ourselves in danger of being reduced to tour bus conductors, point out the major sights to our students as we dash across, for example, the history of American literature or history without any chance for individual exploration. In the same way, our students can easily find themselves reduced to the same confusion sometimes experienced by those who take tour operators up on the offer to "See All of Europe in Just Ten Days!" I remember that when I was a college sophomore enrolled in a survey of English literature, I actually once remarked to a friend: "If this is Tuesday, it must be sixteenth century lyric poetry—or is it the seventeenth century metaphysical writers?"
By using technology, however, we can introduce students to the truly adventurous nature of academic life and allow them to experience the challenges and joys of genuine inquiry. Specifically, I use technology to:
· provide students with access to resources that make it possible to place people, ideas, events, and texts in context;
· transform would-be tourists into explorers by inviting students to pursue individual lines of inquiry rather than complete standardized assignments;
· and promote communication and collaboration among my students so they can tastes the rewards of exploration and learn what it means to function as part of a scholarly community;
In this way, I am able to develop in my students both a new appreciation for the vitality and significance of American literature, but also instill in them a new appreciation of the life of the passionate learner—and their own fitness for academic exploration.
"They Look Like Ants!"
The first problem
faced by the teacher is the question of what to teach:
there are always more topics than there is time. Most of us, especially when we are teaching
survey-style courses, find ourselves resorting to the conventional solution
and end up teaching the canon. We
hit the peaks and skip the valleys.
Although this practice has much in its favor, it can have the effect
of stripping the canonical from the contextual. Students
may read The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, for
example, without understanding the way his arguments fit into the debate
over slavery or the fact that other biographies and autobiographies
of slaves were also being published at that time.
When I used this approach, my students responded by writing essays
in which they did little more than pity Douglass for his pains ,
reducing him to just another victim to be pitied, or praise Douglass
for his heroism, putting him on a pedestal. Neither tears nor salutes
are adequate repalcements for thinking.
, reducing him to just another victim to be pitied, or praise Douglass for his heroism, putting him on a pedestal. Neither tears nor salutes are adequate repalcements for thinking.
reverence can be corrupting. Students are usually willing to take earnest
notes on what we say about issues in class, believing that this is what
college is about. But most students lack the belief that they can or
should engage the ideas they encounter in the classroom. Emerson
put the problem rather more eloquently in "The American Scholar,"
when he warned "Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing
it is their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which
Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only
young men in libraries, when they wrote these books."
Indeed, reverence can be corrupting. Students are usually willing to take earnest notes on what we say about issues in class, believing that this is what college is about. But most students lack the belief that they can or should engage the ideas they encounter in the classroom. Emerson put the problem rather more eloquently in "The American Scholar," when he warned "Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it is their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote these books."
And while Frederick Douglass can at least be counted on to provoke the interest and admiration of students who have no deep understanding of the context in which he lived and wrote, many other historical figures, events, and authors cannot manage that feat. As a consequence, the canonical becomes the cartoon. Mary Rowlandson is politically incorrect. Franklin is a phony. Thoreau is a crank. In fact, students have a point in each of these cases. But Mary Rowlandson is not merely a person who uses the wrong words to describe native Americans, Franklin is more than your average "phoney," and Thoreau will never be merely a "crank." Noticing someone crying as we pass them on a city sidewalk, we may wonder what prompted the tears or even wonder if we should pause to offer help. Passing a panhandler, we may feel a pang of conscience as we quicken our step to move beyond the range of the smell of his clothes. Rubbing shoulders with the people in the crowd, we may feel impressed, depressed, or even repressed as we look at the other people on the street. However, take the elevator to the top of the building that towers over that same street, and we'll all say the same thing as we look downwards: "They look like ants!"
That sense of separateness and detachment is a consequence of distance in space, and distance in time works in the same way. We even tend to reduce previous periods in our own lives to simple cartoons, fables or fantasies when we reminisce, so that most greying baby-boomers continue to look back on the sixties through the lens (and soundtrack) of "Woodstock," even though relatively few of us stripped naked to slide and dropped acid so we could slide in the mud while shouting "groovy." Should we be surprised, then, if students regard historical figures as little more than either chuckle-worthy charicatures or somewhat dusty marble monuments?
Fortunately, the web makes it possible for us to provide students with access to primary sources that enable them to breathe life into the people, issues, events, and texts they are studying. In fact, students can now use materials previously unavailable even to most researchers. Working only a few blocks from the world's largest repository of materials printed in America before 186_ , I am grateful to take advantage of the remarkable collections of the American Antiquarian Society, where I can consult books, letters, diaries, lithographs, children's books, maps, periodicals, institutional reports, newspapers and countless other materials.. Technology has now made it possible for me--and countless other individuals--to share the results of our investigations with students, scholars, and the world via the web.
This means that students wondering "why all the fuss about temperance?" can read my transcription of the handwritten autobiography of a self-taught Methodist minister who remembered the time in his life as a young man in the early eighteen hundreds when alcohol
was as necessary for mechanical business, as water power, or tools. No marriage vowes were complete without it and no funeral party could mourn if it were wanting, it was necessary to buy the dead, as a coffin, or a shroud. No favored parent, could rejoice over a new born babe, without plenty to drink. No building could be raised but by rum. It was an absolute necessity at huskings, at quiltings, at bees, at dances, and at parties of all kinds. . . . He who could drink the most, and the longest, was the hero, and if a man, a young man even, declined, for fear of being drunk, he was held up to publick scorn.
A little later, Harding confides to his notebook the sense of failure he felt over his inability to inspire religious interest in the worried war-obsessed inhabitants of a Northern mill town without access to cotton, "But the year wore away, as all years do, and will, while the sun rises, and sets. I do not know of a soul's being converted, and perhaps no good was done. It may be my fault, if so I hope it will not be laid to my account, in the last day, but attributed to ignorance. I had fallen upon times I knew not how to manage, I was beset with difficulties new, and strange, and so were the people " Temperance workers and evangelists are always easy targets for scoffing students who picture women with axes and grey-bearded men and assume that reformers probably drank and carried on when no one was looking. Our modern distrust of public figures and public rhetoric further compounds the distancing effect. But Harding's comments are the words of a private man rather speaking on an issue with historical implications, rather than the public words of a historical figure. It is hard for my students to dismiss them as phoney or to distance themselves from the earnestness of this simple minister.. By taking advantage of the many letters, diaries, and other primary resources available on line, students can begin to see that many of these "cartoons" they study were people struggling to do their best, despite being "beset with difficulties new, and strange."
Our goal should be to promote understanding rather than simply provoke interest, of course, and I would argue that the one can naturally develop from the other. Seeing the blood-stained notes Whitman made at the bedsides of wounded soldiers, students can come away not only with a deeper responsiveness to his writing but also new questions about the sources and evolution of his poems. For example, the canonical works produced by those writers but also a deeper understanding.
What you see below are five representations of what was basically the same event. The first is a simple transcription of the Whitman verse called "A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim" which appeared in the 1865 and 1867 editions of Drumtaps. text as it. The one in the center immediately below is the same poem as it appears on the page of the anthology I use in my American literature course. On the far right is a page from Whitman's notebooks, which are available in a digitized form at the American Memory site of the library of congress.
A SIGHT IN CAMP
The very sight of Whitman's notes, written on the scene in which battlefield operations were taking place and corpses were being laid aside on planks, forces us to take what he is describing seriously. Indeed, the sight of these notes had much the same effect on Whitman himself, who wrote in the opening pages of Specimen Days:
Following, I give some gloomy experiences. The war of attempted secession hs been the distinguishing event of my time. I commenced at the close of 1862 . . . to visit the sick and wounded of the army, both on the field and in the hospitals in and around Washington city. From the first I kept little notebooks for improptu jottings in pencil to refresh my memory of names and circumstances . . . . I wish I could convey to the reader the associations that attach to these soiled and creased livraisons, each comosed of a sheet or two of ppaer, folded small to carry in the pocket, and fastened with a pin. I leave them just as I threw them by after the war, blotched here and there with more than one blood-stain, hurriedly written, sometime at the clinic, not seldom amid the excitement of uncertainy, or defeat, or of action, or getting ready for it.
But these pages offer more than testimony to the experiences that grant Whitman's poems authenticity, for by reading the notebooks we can witness the evolution of many of his poems. For example, another treatment of the same material; the poem below appeared in the 1900 (deathbed) edition of The Leaves of Grass. The pages from the notebooks in combination with the two versions of the poem make it possible to gain some insight into how Whitman's mind worked, and how his writing developed as he moved from notes to one version and then another version of the same material.
As should be evident from this example, the notebooks alone offer a powerful resource for teaching Whitman. But the case of Whitman also offers a wonderful example of the range of resources that can be found on the web and the way they can contribute to a new understanding of significant texts and historical moments. There is a dizzying array of other materials to help contextualize Whitman's work.. The Walt Whitman Hyper-Text Archive at the University of Virginia includes "Biographical material", "Whitman's Works," "Manuscripts," "Notebooks and Letters," and even "Reviews of Whitman's Works." Nothing--NOTHING-- gives students a greater sense of freedom to think for themselves than the sudden realization that today's monumental figures were once pilloried by critics in even more strident terms than those applied by teachers to the students' own works.
The very name chosen by UV to describe the Whitman project, "a Hyper-Text Archive," appropriately directs our attention to one of the great truths about teaching, learning, and technology. Each text, figure, idea, or event is a hyper-text. What technology offers is the opportunity to recognize, exploit, and explore the hypertextuality of works, as a way of developing new levels of understanding. Academics have always explored the ways things link to one another. Investigations of something as specific as Uncle Tom's Cabin offers trails that lead in countless directions. Here is a short list of just a few of the paths one could pursue:: the biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe and her connections with other members of the Beecher family; Stowe's letters and diaries, lectures, and other writing; sentimental writing of the antebellum period; other accounts of slavery offered by those who lived in or visited the South; the accounts of slavery that appeared in the narratives of former slaves; theories of masculinity and feminity; the retelling of Uncle Tom's Cabin in children and juvenile literature; the dramatizations of novel; the publication history of the book including the initial responses from publishers and the marketing of the book; the reception of Uncle Tom's Cabin in the US; and the European response to the work. While students might have taken a biographical approach to thinking about Uncle Tom's Cabin back in the day when they had to rely on the resources available on the shelve of the college library, very few of the other topics would, realistically, have been open to them. Of course, they would have been unlikely to raise questions about dramatizations, children's versions, and so forth. Now they need only visit the remarkable
Now it is easier to make students understand the hypertextuality of an essay, for example, because some of the links between that text and the world beyond its margins can be graphically represented by hyperlinks and explored with the simple click of a mouse button. It takes only a relatively short step, then, for a student to identify other, previously unacknowledged links. And as students moves from following links to making them on their own--whether in their minds, or in class discussions, or in papers, or on web pages of their own construction, they are moving from tourism to exploration.
even project points to s one of the great facts of teaching with technolog. Each significantt text (or person, or idea, or event) has always been a hyper-text, connecting out to the countless people, ideas, events, and texts that have influenced its production. The web allows our students to recognize and make use of hypertextuality in a way once only pursued by scholars.
When I refer to a "hyper-text," I do not of course mean to imply that only printed or at least verbal works are useful in the classroom. Indeed, graphic and even sound resources are incredibly valuable to promoting learning.
On the most basic level, simply showing students a photograph of the author (or at least, the right kind of photograph) can stir up interest. My students always seem to read Main-Travelled Road with greater relish, for example, once they have seen the author during his days in the Yukon.
Perhaps the best example I can use to explain the value of multi-media in teaching comes out of my experience of trying to teach the Harlem Renaissance to students who have no conception of the music or art of that period. How is it possible to understand the rhythm of Langston Hughes's poems or the meaning of ________ unless you have experienced the music for yourself?
This is why I try to create assignments that ask students to place literary texts within appropriate contexts. The first time I ever taught Kate Chopin's The Awakening, some years ago, students could not understand why the main character didn't "just go out and get a job." The trend towards teaching women's studies courses and literature by women even at the high school level means that students are often more sympathetic these days, but as with the case of Douglass, not necessarily more insightful. They counter old biases with new biases against whole periods in time (in some cases, along with their historical, literary, and cultural products). In the coming semester I will be teaching Edith Wharton's House of Mirth, a book I have always found useful in my own thinking but one that demands an understanding of context. I am now prepared to take on the challenge because I can direct my students to such resources as conduct and etiquette manuals from the period leading up to the book, offering detailed rules prescribing how young women should act.
I can also introduce them to a variety of materials documenting the circumstances of working women in the late nineteenth century, including excerpts from Helen Campbell's grueling accounts of women's lives in Prisoners of Poverty. Here is an excerpt:
Allow students to contrast Campell's account with the often upbeat descriptions of careers for women in Miss Virginia Penny's Cyclopedia and. . . Even the pictures from the Cyclopedia demand interest and provoke curiosity.
Other kinds of pictures also contribute to the contextualizing process, once again making things real while also providing evidence for academic investigations. Art? Posters? Pic of Hamlin garland? Etc.
Encouraging Individualism AND Collaboration
Even the canon, of course, is straining at the seams as we strive to reconstruct it to acknowledge the accomplishments of those groups previously unrecognized. Although anthologies keep expanding, semesters don't. Including Harriet Jacobs's "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" may mean removing an essay by Emerson.
An explorer needs to accept hard work and risk-taking as the necessary cost of success, and as part of the adventure. He or she needs to learn methods requires an attitude that accepts risks and hard work as not only the necessary cost of success but, in some odd way, a joy in itself. , a set of techniques or methods, it is
Yet exploration is inherently uncomfortable. The explorer takes risks and endures hardship in order to discover new terrain and make it his or her own Those committed to exploring the planet (or the universe) must endure physical deprivations; those committed to expanding the geography of ideas must be willing to endure not only the hard work involved in real learning but also the discomfort of confusion and the terrible fear that can arise from never knowing whether you will succeed until you "get there."
Engaging in real inquiry is an intellectual adventure that combines both the challenges and excitement of genuine adventures in the natural world. It can be as demanding as climbing up a mountain or crossing a gorge--and just as thrilling when you discover a previously unseen vista. This is why I have chosen to make inquiry the central focus in all of my courses.
UNDER A MORE GENEROUS DOME
Heli-hiking vs. Thoreau.
Not just summits
Bringing things alive: They look like ants!
Understanding relationships between things
Not self-esteem, but self-respect.
Once again, tour
bus style teaching that takes us quickly to the tops of mountains
Once again, tour bus style teaching that takes us quickly to the tops of mountains
END WITH THOREAU—We're using cyberspeed to go slow, on foot, over a complex landscape.
At one time the literature courses I taught focused almost exclusively on a small number of canonical texts. Now the web has made it possible to let my students experience the culture of which those works were a part. In addition to reading a novel, for example, students can visit the Making of America site and read a newspaper or magazine which circulated the same year and touched on the same topics. Reading the reviews which the novel provoked can be a real eye-opener. Being able to see who got angry and why can tell you a great deal about what the novel said to readers of that time.
The web can provide access to many kinds of resources which are not readily available outside of major research libraries. In some cases, they offer materials which would otherwise be available in a single repository (especially to students). For example, when my class was reading Edward Bellamy's Looking Backwards last year, we became involved in looking into the kinds of alternative communities which Americans were forming during that period. We found it surprising, but useful, to encounter such things as Shaker Manuscripts On-Line - Prophecies, Revelations and World Outreach from the Early Shakers in our investigations.
By giving students the opportunity to sample popular culture rather than only the works from the canon, web resources can usefully complicate students' understanding of other times and places. It's one thing to read essays on "women's rights," for example, and another thing entirely to read the kind of story which appeared under that name in Godey's Lady's Book from April, 1850.
When I set out to design an assignment, I start by thinking about what aspect of the text will be most likely to confuse students in a way that prevents them from developing an understanding of the work. From that point, I go on to think about what primary resource materials I can supply that will allow students to build a foundation for their reading. One reason students are so resistant to Edith Wharton's novel, The House of Mirth, is because they find it hard to accept that Lily Bart's life as an unmarried woman should be so dominated by codes of etiquette. Lily's guardianis described as a "woman of the (18)50's" and presumably subscribes to the codes outlined in the conduct books so popular in that period. Lily's rich friends, on the other hand, are more concerned about whether people behave according to the "refined" rules of etiquette that ruled high society life in turn-of-the-century New York. And a third "code" comes into play in the novel as we meet Lily's cousin and loyal supporter, Gertie Farish, who lives according to the ideals articulated in the mission statements of the benevolent organizations of that day. Students who have had a chance to peruse conduct manuals, etiquette books, and reports of benevolent societies and social activists are more able to recognize the seriousness of Lily's plight and the social commentary offered by the novel. You can see the assignments I designed to help students make use of these materials in their work with the novel at An Edith Wharton Project at the Lyceum.
I can remember all too clearly the frustrations involved in trying to teach Wuthering Heights to students who believed that a moor looked like a desert, or maybe a backyard garden. Passing around a tourist flyer helped--they noticed there weren't dunes and camels--but it didn't seem like an ideal solution. And passing around dim xeroxes of Hogarth's "The Rake's Progress" seemed like a good idea at the time in my eighteenth century literature course, but only because there wasn't any alternative. Some things need to be seen to be understood.
Graphics can help students understand that they are studying the work or conditions of "real" people rather than stick figures, even though those people may be of other times or places. When my students read Hamlin Garland's Main-Travelled Roads, I have them look for pictures of frontier farm life. (And although it sounds like--and is-- a very simple thing to do, seeing a picture of the person who wrote the book they are reading can help students realize that the author was a "real" person too. Pictures of Hamlin Garland sitting outside his tent during the gold rush, pencil and paper in hand, bring him to life.) Moreover, graphics can provide a direct kind of access not only to the physical conditions which prevailed in other times and places but also to the attitudes which went along with them. It's easier for students to grasp the real depth of feeling which the flow of immigrants provoked in some Americans, for example, when they look at political cartoons like these A View of Immigrants and "The Poor House." The class tensions that appear in much of the literature of the Gilded Age are easy to understand once one contrasts images of the Newport mansions with Jacob Riis's pictures in How the Other Half Lives. (If you want to see how I use this kind of material in the classroom, you can look at my page on Rich and Poor in Turn-of-the-Century America at the Lyceum.) While graphics can reveal the surprisingly sharp edge of a particular viewpoint, sometimes pictures can be even more valuable as a way of demonstrated complicated ideas or attitudes. For example, I have used Thomas Cole's paintings as a way of inviting students to contemplate some of the complex reactions which progress evoked in nineteenth century America.
The history of the book movement has brought a new consciousness of the value of the book or manuscript as an artifact. The idea is that physical evidence offers a particular kind of witness to the culture in which the work was produced. Although the web is a "virtual reality" environment, paradoxically it can provide students with better access to artifacts than the traditional classroom. For example, the following Broadside: $100 Reward could be useful in a discussion of slavery. The notebooks Walt Whitman kept while nursing wounded soldiers during the Civil War (complete with his bloodstained fingerprints) could bring a new dimension to discussions of Whitman's war poetry. And sometimes you can judge a book by its covers--it becomes easier to grasp the optimistic fanaticism of nineteenth century self-help books when you can see the pictures which beckoned readers. This page of Horatio Alger Resources would make a wonderful starting-point for a discussion.
The real point is that graphics can serve as legitimate evidence for making serious academic arguments. For example, a reader who wished to analyze the way that changing times affected the presentation and reception of a canonical work, for example, could use the following Pictures of Jim which are available at the University of Virginia's wonderful Huck Finn site. Although few faculty members outside of the arts have been received much training in interpreting and applying visual evidence, it is clear that this kind of source material will take on increasing importance as technology makes graphical resources more broadly available.
If you would like to see an example of an assignment that asks students to analyze graphical evidence as one way of developing an interpretation of a text, you are welcome to visit my page on Frederick Douglass's Use of American Iconography. To see how that project fits into our study of Douglass, you can turn to the page on Contextualizing Frederick Douglass.
As with our colleges, so with a hundred "modern improvements"; there is an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance. The devil goes on exacting compound interest to the last for his early share and numerous succeeding investments in them. Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. Either is in such a predicament as the man who was earnest to be introduced to a distinguished deaf woman, but when he was presented, and one end of her ear trumpet was put into his hand, had nothing to say. As if the main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly. We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough. After all, the man whose horse trots a mile in a minute does not carry the most important messages; he is not an evangelist, nor does he come round eating locusts and wild honey. I doubt if Flying Childers ever carried a peck of corn to mill.
One says to me, "I wonder that you do not lay up money; you love to travel; you might take the cars and go to Fitchburg today and see the country." But I am wiser than that. I have learned that the swiftest traveller is he that goes afoot. I say to my friend, Suppose we try who will get there first. The distance is thirty miles; the fare ninety cents. That is almost a day's wages. I remember when wages were sixty cents a day for laborers on this very road. Well, I start now on foot, and get there before night; I have travelled at that rate by the week together. You will in the meanwhile have earned your fare, and arrive there some time tomorrow, or possibly this evening, if you are lucky enough to get a job in season. Instead of going to Fitchburg, you will be working here the greater part of the day. And so, if the railroad reached round the world, I think that I should keep ahead of you; and as for seeing the country and getting experience of that kind, I should have to cut your acquaintance altogether.