Ruminating on a Self-Sustaining Class

Beth has repeatedly made it clear to us that her goal for the class was to be irrelevant by the end of the semester – reaching a point where she has taught us so much that we, as students, can take the materials we are given and run with it ourselves. At the end of the semester, I want to reflect upon some of my thoughts on the implications of this, and how it reflects in our growth as students as we “finish” the class and write our self-reflective essays.

If anything in this blog post sparks a train of thought for your self-reflective essays, don’t forget to cite your sources 🙂

I had previously interpreted Beth’s goal of irrelevancy as her wanting us to reach a point where we realize how much we learned throughout the class, and all the new information she had taught us. I still think this is true, but I’ve added to this interpretation: for a teacher to be irrelevant, the students must become teachers. I mean “teacher” not as a person who conveys facts to students, but as a person who of is able to spread knowledge and widen another’s worldview and critical lens. I end this class with a wider awareness and knowledge of a whole slew of massively varied topics: actors and effigies, metropolises, natural disasters, appreciation of Shakespeare, etcetera. We as students have shown the ability to conduct deep and meaningful discussions by ourselves, during class and through blogging, and in this way Beth has widened our perspectives to allow us to conduct our own research and find our own applications of the course’s knowledge.

It is hard to speak of a person as “irrelevant,” as I immediately think of The Twilight Zone‘s episode “The Obsolete Man,” but by finishing and passing a class, the school system declares that we have gained enough knowledge from the class, and that the teacher is irrelevant in having taught students the class’s content. Once we are given our grades for the class, Beth is empirically made irrelevant by providing us with the numbers and categories the school system requires her to determine. In terms of teaching us more and widening our worldviews further, taking another class with Beth would reset the score and allow us to learn and expand our worldviews again, but at the end and in the context of this class, Beth has become somewhat irrelevant.

The way that I know Beth’s goal of irrelevancy has become true for me is that I feel the ability to find course concepts outside of the class and in the materials we are presented without needing to consciously think about it. It’s the exciting feeling you get when you have a stimulating conversation, or when you’re writing an interesting paper, and ideas are flying towards you faster than you can speak or write to express them.

For example, watching the post-flood Food Safety videos for homework, certain abstract ideas and course concepts jumped out at me from words or phrases, which someone who had not experienced this class would not be able to see. One such person might think about the damage hurricanes can do to some objects and not others, or question the relevance of the information to their lives, or ask “why couldn’t they just buy new bowls?” But when I hear Dr. Chapman talk about the costs and ease of sanitizing a piece of glass versus earthenware with its inside tainted by floodwaters, or other tidbits of post-flood information, a stream of course concepts rush to mind: categorization of items which both serve similar purposes and derive from the ground, but come out of the same tragedy in two different ways; the role of Dr. Chapman as an actor, with scripted and recorded interactions in a preselected environment; the jewish tradition of kashering tableware, and which materials/utensils must be buried to be made kosher (the performance of burial and cleansing effects); etcetera.

This is why Beth wanted us to call out course concepts as we saw them when reading The Tempest: students are reading the book, students are coming up with pertinent ideas, and students are contributing to the greater knowledge of the class – mostly without prompting from Beth. We exemplified our independence as students in our last two class periods, and I am sure that we can all leave the class and work through our own reflections knowing that what Beth has taught us will remain in our awareness well into the future.

I want to combat the performance of memory by bringing back a quote from the beginning of the semester, which I had forgotten about but am glad I found again through my own self-reflection process. In Roach’s discussion of effigies, death, and marginalization, he quotes Peter Stallybrass and Allon White (although the phrase is originally from Barbara Babcock), and I believe that this quote applies to what we have seen repeatedly throughout this course, and is a valid answer to the devil’s advocate question of why our class’ texts and discussions are relevant in a 21st century English course:

“what is socially peripheral is so frequently symbolically central.”

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