Poetry News

Juliana Spahr on Teaching at Full Stop

By Harriet Staff

Juliana Spahr is interviewed over at Full Stop for their "Teaching in the Margins" feature, and well, it's educational. More specifically: A "questionnaire [was sent] to writers and curators, academics and educators, with an eye open to the interface between innovative artistic practice and progressive pedagogies, taking stock of the untapped potential of these unconventional ways of knowing, discovering how art pushing borders creates new spaces for teaching and learning at the margins." When asked how the American education system constrains innovative and creative learning potential:

...[T]he American education system’s concern with the arts is an economic one (or will be as long as schools cost money and people will pay money to colleges and universities to study the arts). In general, I’m not convinced that the education system does a lot of meaningful damage to the arts. But it also doesn’t do a lot of cultivation. And that makes sense because there has never been any evidence that one needs any educational institution (the American one or not) to become a writer or an artist. Even as individuals writers and/or artists do learn things from being in education systems. What this means for writers and artists who work in education I do not know. It might mean nothing. I’ve got a friend who says that going into the academy ruins good writers. But despite the long list she has of bad writers who teach, I don’t think there is any evidence for this either. Her list tells us something about how the academy hires, not about the impact that the academy has on being a writer. It seems that whether one is a good writer or not does not correlate in any way with education.

Is it possible to teach creativity within these constraints? Is it possible to teach creativity at all?

This is hard because I’m not sure what creativity is finally. One can teach the tradition and the uses of arts. That is all I can commit to saying.

What, for you, constitutes a piece of writing as experimental or innovative? What, if anything, does this sort of experimental practice have to contribute to the classroom?

I tend to avoid the terms “experimental” and/or “innovative.” And instead maybe use something like “modernist influenced.” Or more specifically, descriptive terms for the things that tend to get called “experimental”: “disjunctive,” “atypical syntax,” etc. And then I would include them in a classroom because they are one of the ways that contemporary literature gets written and it is an ethical obligation to present in the classroom the full range and diversity of the ways contemporary literature gets written when one talks about contemporary literature. I should probably also admit that I like teaching these literatures more and often even think they are “better” or “more interesting” for how they respond or reflect or comment on changing social and economic conditions — globalization, economic crisis, etc — and insist that literature should be engaged in these discussions, rather than shoring up a national tradition because to not admit this also seems a bit of a dissimulation.

What role do you see new technologies and non-academic spaces playing in transforming the way we learn in everyday life?

These two things — new technologies and non-academic spaces — seem very different to me. While I’m not against new technologies, whatever they are, it is hard for me to see the move to MOOCs as something to be heralded. This is not because I’m against technology or using technology in the classroom or against online education. There is, obviously, a lot of potential there. But at the simplest level of analysis, there is no labor shortage in the academy right now. And so the idea that we need to have faculty at certain universities teaching large numbers of people online seems absurd. At the same time, I do think these endowment heavy institutions (“ivy league” and other top tier colleges and universities) who are currently pushing MOOCs should think some about how to serve a larger demographic, should make commitments to educating a demographic larger than legacy candidates, should think hard about open access. But that they would choose to design a technology that if it is successful, an admittedly big if at this point, would put even more people out of work and call it open access is absurd. There is no shortage of academic labor. We don’t need to consolidate it....

Read the whole thing here.

Originally Published: December 5th, 2012