Today’s female students resist the political readings of their professor, writes Rhonda Garelick, who teaches French and Italian at Connecticut College. It’s just like the ’50s!
Despite some reawakening of student activism via Howard Dean’s Internet-based campaign, in my experience, attempts to introduce contemporary politics into classroom discussions meet with blank stares. Even this past year, as our country began a war, I encountered mostly silence when I broached the topic of Iraq, a mix of paralysis and anxiety, plus some disgruntlement over my deviating from the syllabus.
But each year, frankly, I feel increasingly compelled to look beyond my syllabuses and to devote myself more to teaching “wakeful” political literacy: the skills needed to interrogate all cultural messages. Students need to be able to mine the implications, for example, of a “Family Time Flexibility Act” which, while claiming to help women balance home and family, might have actually decreased overtime pay. They need to look critically at a presidential address that divides the world into opposing halves labeled “with us” and “with the terrorists.”
Does it take a French professor to teach that there’s a tradeoff between flexible work hours and overtime? In my newspaper days, we wrote about these issues without thinking our readers were “interrogating” cultural messages.