Kendra Dority

The primary “public” that my project—a collaboration between the non-profit performing arts organization Santa Cruz Shakespeare and the UC Santa Cruz research center Shakespeare Workshop—addresses is middle and high school educators. Secondary school educators have the great task of navigating not only their own goals for teaching and their students’ goals for learning, but also the state and district educational standards that seek measurable outcomes for student performance. When English teachers seek out professional development opportunities, they not only wish to develop effective ways of engaging their students with literature; they also aim to develop classroom practices that will help students meet the goals outlined by such standards and frameworks.

In order to understand how such standards shape classroom practices, it is helpful to consider Walter Lippmann’s conception of a “pseudoenvironment.” A “pseudoenvironment” is the “human picture” that mediates our experiences with actual events; this mediated picture shapes our conceptions of, as well as our actions and behaviors in relation to, a given issue or event (7). In the context of my identified public, state- and district-wide standards construct a picture about what education is and can be. Since standards imagine common outcomes for students and teachers across a wide geographical range—such as across a district or across the state—they can allow teachers to feel tuned in with a larger educational community. The picture that such standards create can also align unevenly with teachers’ and students’ experiential knowledge and practices.

In the spirit of “sharing […] authority, knowledge, expertise”—part of Steven Lubar’s first rule for Public Humanities engagement—I aim to create a collaborative, inclusive workshop where we can navigate the expectations for learning set up by educational standards; the experiential wisdom of teachers; and the creative possibilities for teaching and learning that emerge when bringing together performing arts methods with literary inquiry. Preparation for this event has thus involved getting to know the organizations that already exist—another of Lubar’s recommendations for community engagement—and learning how they are already serving Monterey Bay area teachers. One organization, the California Reading and Literature Project housed at UC Santa Cruz, has provided insight about their own techniques for engaging with both the K-12 frameworks for English Language Arts learning and the practices of experienced teachers.

Lippmann saw the mediation of pseudoenvironments to be “subject to the […] prejudices of observation,” and thus a distraction from real, objective knowledge about the world (142). While working with a performing arts organization that values the creative possibilities of theatrical artifice in telling compelling stories that matter to our communities, and while collaborating with a research group that values Shakespeare’s insights on the gloriously subjective aspects of human perception, it seems more appropriate to work directly with the stories that shape how we teach. Zizi Papacharissi provides one such model for giving import to the stories we tell about “ourselves, others, and the world we live in.” Rather than reject these stories as unhelpful fictions, we can seek to understand “which stories are being told, and how, and which stories are being concealed” (32). We all have “affective investments” in our stories, Papacharissi suggests, and we can use our attachments to these stories to orient ourselves toward a more equitable future (32).

This summer’s workshop can therefore offer a space where, collectively, participants can better understand how secondary school educators perceive humanistic education, and how these perceptions compare with those of the university instructors and scholars who are present. Together, we can ask whether our collective perceptions about humanistic education are serving our students’ needs. We can develop practices that encourage our students to expand their capacities for imaginative thinking and to engage critically with artistic and literary expression. This project therefore also has a much larger public: the diverse students that humanities educators serve.

 

Lippmann, Walter. Public Opinion. 1922. Reissue edition. New York: Free Press, 1997.

Lubar, Steven. “Seven Rules for Public Humanists.” On Public Humanities. 5 June 2014. Web.

Papacharissi, Zizi. Affective Publics: Sentiment, Technology, and Politics. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.