Lately I have been thinking a lot about my role as a teacher. Precisely the question as to what is my function in the classroom. This has also been a point of contention in the circles of higher education, especially since Stanley Fish published his Save the World in Your Own Time.
I teach postcolonial literature, which presupposes a radical approach to questions of truth, power, knowledge and privilege. Part of m job as a scholar, defined by the limits of my field of study, is to challenge and re-articulate the structures of power and to, at least, attempt to speak with those who have traditionally been left out of the normative realm of power. I cannot do this apolitically. I mean I cannot just teach the form and leave the content untouched. Only fields of study deeply incorporated in the cultural normative realm of power can attempt to just dwell on the form. In my case, as a practitioner of a field of study defined primarily by its radical break with the normative system or “regime of truth” teaching just the limits of the field itself does not do justice to the very defining elements of the field as an object of study.
A few months ago in an enlightened dicussion one of my colleagues suggested that it is better to “teach” in our classrooms and then walk with our protest posters in the street. What this assertion presupposed was that teaching and protesting against power were two separate realms and bringing the two together was, somehow, unprofessional. But here again my question is, how should one teach the literature that in its broadest sense IS protest literature?
As Friere articulated years ago, praxis without reflection is activism and reflection without praxis is mere ideology. So, despite my doubts, and there are many doubts, I refuse to believe that I need to detach the politics of the texts that I teach. (Try teaching Ngugi’s Devil on the Cross apolitically). Becasue if just focused on the mechanics of textual interpretation alone, then my field of study, despite its revolutionary potential, would become yet another bloodless and inert object of study.
I would love to hear any views for or against.