Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Modern Relic Seller

Fascinating article I found during the OERG about a modern-day relic seller in NYC:


So if you need some skin-paste from St. Therese, or what is surely a true bit of the Holy Cross and not just a sliver off an old rotting beam, here you are.

Teaching English Majors

I "guest lectured" last night in Kathy's Canterbury Tales class, which was really more leading a discussion about Alison in The Miller's Tale during which, to their delight, I used the word "slut" five or six times and explained the medieval connotations of a weasel. (If there's anything potentially more painful than vaginal birth, it's got to be...aural-canal...? birth.)

What struck me as I was making these kids read in Middle English and recite the characteristics of fabliaux and blazons was how very different they were from my own students. Although I'm teaching an elective this semester, it's nothing like teaching majors. They were delightfully eager to answer even my hardest questions after relatively little prompting. They willingly debated the merits of Sedgwick's Triangle. They laughed at my jokes.

Some of this, obviously, can be put down to novelty, both mine and that of the Miller's Tale. Who wouldn't be bubbly after finally getting rid of the Knight? And maybe that explains why my own students don't think I'm that funny—I hold the power of grades over them. But some of it has to be the difference between people who've chosen literature as a way of life and people who've come to it because they had to.

That is, I know, an obvious conclusion, but I think it gets away from us—or at least, from me—all too often. I've been struggling mightily with this Literature and Sex course, where days of eager discussion are few and far between and the students seem shockingly comfortable with staring at me blankly when I answer even the simplest of questions. I feel like I've pulled every pedagogical trick that I know, and still I can't get through to them. I want to yell at them, but I'm not convinced it would help. At this point, nothing seems to help. But at least now I can remember that it's not just me. It's them.

Although, if you have advice for ways of getting them to talk, I'll take that, too.