Wednesday, February 16, 2005


In my classes this semester, we're interrogating the term "American" and rather systematically trying to figure out what it means to be an American. Okay, I'd like to think we are doing it systematically, but in reality it isn't happening that way at all. That's really the besides the point of this blog entry.

My 8:00 class today was, well, poetic. Beautiful. And gentle. One thing that I find helps my students is if I can get them to personally engage with the material. There will always be some students that find the particular course readings/selections interesting, but there are others that need more prodding. For the past two weeks, we've been reading some short stories, poetry, and first person essays by children of immigrants and trying to talk about what it means to "assimilate" or "Americanize." There has been fruitful discussion. It's been wonderful in a discursive way. But I have gotten the feeling that the subjects we have raised in class were put down as soon as my students' collective shoes touched the threshold of the classroom door.

Today, four students read a poem by an immigrant outloud in their native languages. We had Arabic, Romanian, Spanish, and Polish. I had tears in my eyes when my first student, an Iraqi immigrant, read her translation. And always always I have been lulled by the sounds of Romanian. My Spanish student read the poem with serious emotion, and the young woman from Poland-- wow. The other students also felt the beauty and spontaneously applauded after each student-- not just polite clapping, you know-- real appreciation was shown.

Among the subjects touched upon was how they felt when hearing the poem in this alternate language, one they couldn't understand, and my students, bless them, were so strikingly honest about their emotions. Finally, one student who has been pressing the English language issue, said, "I feel like I got a good lesson in how hard it might be for an immigrant. I think I'll be more understanding in the future." All on his own. Outloud. In front of everyone.

And finally, I felt that academic discipline merge with empathy.
On the sixth week of the term.
And now, I love them.


Blogger LilySea said...

I am a firm believer that empathy is a key component to learning anything.

3:07 PM  
Anonymous Manuela said...

Wow... sounds amazing. I wish I'd had someone like you as a teacher...

4:56 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home