Learning Without Knowing It

My last post was about Big Machine, by Victor LaValle, and I had written about my experience reading the novel as one that is very different from past novels I’ve read in aspects related to plot, theme, and general timing of the release of information. You can read it here. The reply I got from Dr. McCoy with my grade for the post mentioned how the book calls back to some of our base course concepts, such as Snead, Eglash, Barkley Brown and Parks, to name a few. When I read this comment I felt like I was physically turned from the cave wall to the light, and this post is me walking fully out of the cave, so to speak (thanks to Plato for the Allegory of the Cave, by the way).

As I thought about some of the course concepts as well as the film we watched, “The Last Angel of History”, I’m now thinking about the ideas of reiteration, progression through recursion, other art forms, and my own intellectual humility. I think it’s a bit hilarious reading through my last post, as I felt like I was uncovering new ground by looking at the structural elements of the novel and labeling them as avant garde, new, reinvigorating, exciting, etc. It’s not that I was wrong that I chuckle about, but it’s that this course has exposed me to these concepts before and I simply lacked the rigor to look back to what I had been taught. I have felt this in other English courses I’ve taken here at Geneseo as well–where the end of the semester is a bit of a mess but then I remember the concept of the through line and I grab onto it, connecting the whole course under main themes and epigraphs.

The course works well to tie one small fraction of African American Literature into one semester of study as well as igniting an intellectual fire in me to continue my study of the field in hopes to uncover new and engaging concepts and ideas. I like to think forward to my future career (hopefully!) as a middle or high school teacher and imagine how I can teach students some of the concepts I’m learning here at Geneseo. One of my main draws to English is the idea that English teaches how to think, not what to think. This comes from my knowledge of Paulo Freire, a concept called the Banking Model of Education. Getting outside of the bubble of “what” is extremely difficult in our world. People think that most of life is a scientific, materialistic place where we invest in ourselves through an education to gain skills that we use at some job to pay back the educators with enough of a profit to live a happy life. If that were true, then we would be gaining a lot of “what” -type knowledge, some keys and tools of the trade, but instead I am constantly learning that it is far more important to be intellectually rigorous to be recognized and truly achieve. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do things. That last statement sounds a bit sappy and perhaps strays from our course concepts a bit, but in finer detail it fits in rigorously.

So much of what I have learned in this particular course revolves around brand new ways of looking at things. I have a better understanding of the drive behind African American Literature as a genre and the work that is still to be done. I remember being skeptical, as I am with most things, as I entered this course. I see now why it is important to recognize African American Literature as a rigorous discipline in itself. I was skeptical because I liked to look at literature and art as windows into what the artist was thinking. I thought that each artist should be taken as an individual and not necessarily have their thoughts attributed to their multitude of identities. I think that there is a both/and here in that their identity is inextricably linked to the art and content produced, and must be teased out in order to have justice. This is why we have the humanities, after all. We are the next generation, charged with making sense of a world that is becoming more complex by the second.

There is a true difference between facts and knowledge. Facts are cold and hard; they don’t care about what you think and they certainly don’t care what methods were used to acquire them. They can be wrong, but if it’s labelled a fact by a reputable source then it is incredibly difficult to acquire the humility to correct the error. I think that what I’m learning at Geneseo (especially in this class) is knowledge. I’m learning more about the how I mentioned earlier. I’m learning about intellectual humility. I’m learning a few facts about African American Literature and art through critical theory and stories, but the knowledge comes with what to do with the facts. How do I handle the concept that African Americans feel like aliens no matter where they go? What does this do to a persons’ psyche? These issues and more are incredibly important to keep in mind as well as share with others who, like myself before this class, likely have no idea what is really going on, nor do they have a reason to question the world around them.

This post has been a meditation for me. I feel like concepts are coming together. All of this makes me want to go back and re-read some of our critical essays, poems, stories, and makes me excited to read and listen to new music that discusses these issues under new light so that I can increase my knowledge above mere facts.

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