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Critical Lenses...

Having read some of what Deborah Appleman's books have to say about these literary theories, I was pleased during this semester to be able to meet her and hear her speak to the CIS Literature teachers. I have been privileged to attend the CIS Lit. workshops this year in anticipation of beginning to teach the CIS Lit. course at my high school next fall.

I have also been able to gain from Toni McNaron's lectures on these theories. When I returned to the U to begin the literacy program, one of my first courses brought me into the blinding light - i.e., I had so much catching up to do when it came to literary theories. Much of my "interim" graduate work to become a reading specialist and a media generalist had not engaged me in literary theories. I am so pleased - and pedaling as fast as I can - to have more of these tools for discussion with my literature students.

I want to begin by talking about two that "fit" very well with the work of this semester in my own classroom. I find post-colonial very appealing in the units of multi-cultural literature which are growing in our curriculum. Because I have posted some information on this lens in a previous blog, I will speak about it here in more general terms. Because I teach survey courses in British and American Literature, I am finding this lens very useful when it comes to helping my students look at non-classic literature which brings a beneficial view to selection from the Western Literary Canon.

I am going to "stretch" this a bit, here's an example. I have been in touch with an author I would like to bring here next year for an artist-in-residence program. She and I want to work with the students to use art, history, and story. My idea about the post-colonial theory is to study the history of New Ulm and to examine a non-fiction account of the Dakota Conflict written by a Catholic priest in the community at the time, a journal account of the Conflict, written by a thirteen year-old German farm boy who was taken into captivity by the Dakota briefly at the time, and the newspaper reports of the Dakota Conflict from 1862 and since. (I know that the Brown County Historical Society has a full array of documents - including newspaper reports of anniversary remembrances of the event documenting how the language and the views have changed over the decades. In exploring how the post-colonial lens requires us to examine language, cultural differences, audience, voice, and so much more, I think we can develop a multi-genre, multi-media look at what happened when the European culture came to this area of Minnesota where the Dakota people lived - to the community we now call New Ulm.

Finally, I have found that female authors such as Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, provide an excellent opportunity for looking at feminist theory and discussing gender roles and societal expectations. Looking at the depth of conversation these lenses can bring sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen year-olds into does at times amaze me. Then, I step back and realize that they are eager and ready for those opportunities to analyze. I have learned so much over the past two years in my U of MN courses about how my own identity was formed by place, class, ethnicity, and gender. This course has served to identify so many resources (alternatives to print) which can be used to bring students into conversation about feminist theory. Television ads and magazine ads go a long way to convince us that our awareness is not heightened as much as we think it is.