Monday, December 26, 2011

re teaching Marx among humanist sociologists

re Marx
Pepinsky, Harold E.
Sent: Sunday, December 25, 2011 8:33 PM

Full disclosure: Phillip Reiff grounded my reuired graduate social theory class in Marx's early writing. I have dabbled in Kapital. I have read a number of recent exegeses of Marx. The part of Marx's work that has most taught me is in his pair of essays on the jewish question ca. 1848, the first on political emanicipation and the second on human emancipation. That I can cite these first chapters of a collection of Marx's early writings from grad school, with a scattered re-read now or then to verify that I recall now what I read then.
Awhile back in AHS, women as a group led a movement to reach beyond mastering an understanding of particular dead white men.
My first semester in grad school I signed up for a course on political sociology. I had no background in sociology and wanted to find out what it was. We sat in a little amphiteater, where I found myself offended by how a pair of self-absorbed senior and junior living professors apparently were trying to impress each other. My big problem was that I thought the class was useless. I was fresh out of law school and knew that as long as I maintained a B average I could keep my fellowship, and as long as I got a C, I would get credit for the course (since I wanted to get out of grad school and into professing as quickly as I could): I stopped going to class and took a C.
I also know from experience that people who unlike me focus on the details of the thinking of an extraordinarily prolific and prophetic writer amply contributes to learning.
I've been there often in terms of featuring literature that has taught me a lot. I have felt most deeply rejected by colleagues, friends and family who have other things on their mind more than my scholarly obsessions.
I came to IU in 1976 from four years of exclusively graduate teaching in criminal justice at albany. I confronted young sophomore Hoosier cop wannabes when I started teaching required courses in Bloomington. The end of my first semester I had 60 students lined up outside my door protesting my grade, one disgruntled students even showing up to ask Jill where I was, and with a long-kept secret investigation of my outwardly highly supportive department chair. I treated my problem with students as a language problem. Okay, i knew the legal definition of this or that term, or whose writing was considered hot at the time, let alone unpack a textbook. But I wasn't communicating. I saw it as the same problem I had when I tried to learn to communicate in Norwegian, a problem of translating between the world I was absorbed in and counterpart experiences in the lives of my students, with whom I ended up having a significant relationship ranging from indifference to "life changing," with scattered hostility.
I moved away from assigning readings, toward trying to finding, for example how I could discover for instance human emancipation in their lives ("Do you count who is who when you open the family refrigerator? Are public libraries communist? Suppose like other towns we had barebone bicycles that were owned by the city, painted a distinctive color, that you could just pick up and drop off where you want?...."). You may give credit to a Marx for your own learning, but what Marx taught you really matters, you don't have invoke his name or quote him when you apply the insight or wisdom he has given you for students to relate back in their languages.
It comes back to a core conviction of mine: peacemaking, in the classroom as anywhere in daily life, is an attitude. In the case of teaching Marx I'd suggest trying to compile stories of how Marxist principles operate in their lives and yours without perhaps even mentioning the man's name.
This discussion has triggered stuff in me that I hadn't really thought about since I retired. Thanks for bringing it to mind and heart. l&p

Hal Pepinsky,,, 519 Evergreen Circle, Worthington, OH 43085-3667, 1-614-885-6341

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