Author Archive for Kendra Dority

Into the Field

Looking back to our first Public Scholars seminar meeting at the end of March, I am reminded of a key question that remains important to me as I shift my attention toward the summer. When asked to consider who is the “public” of the “Public Humanities” in general and of our public-facing projects in particular, together we raised further questions about the very need to define a special kind of academic work as “public.” Why and how is it that the public university, and the work of academics, is not already (or no longer) connected to or understood to be serving the public? It was our fellow colleague Lily, I believe, who specifically pointed to the historical conditions that have shaped this apparent rift: the privatization of the public university has helped to separate the academy from the publics it imagines itself to be serving.

Keeping in mind these initial and persistent questions, I move from the (virtual) seminar room and “into the field” considering the possibilities for—and limitations of—re-imagining the structures of our academic institutions through our public humanities projects. I remain invigorated by Steven Lubar’s provocative question in his third of seven Rules for Public Humanists: “What if a humanities department was a hub of a community of artists, educators, scholars and the public?” This question points to the possibilities for reshaping the very boundaries of an academic department to include many more perspectives, knowledges, and interests. It also points to the possibility for public humanities projects to effect structural change—change that addresses more than the much-needed diversification of professional training for humanities graduate students. For me, Lubar’s question remains provocative because it points to a need to rethink who actively participates in knowledge production within the academy—but here, a “humanities department” cannot be contained within the academy’s walls, for in this vision the department already includes the public “outside” of it.

At the same time that I am enthusiastic about this vision, I am also grounded by the limitations and contradictions of such efforts to re-imagine our humanities departments. Keeping in mind Roderick Ferguson’s discussion of the academy’s absorption of social movements and of diversity, I am sensitive to the ways that such visions for change can be absorbed into the university without altering its power structures. I remain humbled by the small, practical effects that my summer project might have, such as clearing a path for a future graduate student(s) at my institution to gain experience with community-engaged work next summer, that is, during the months that are especially difficult for underfunded humanities students.

Finally, I move “into the field” while reflecting on the fascinating paradox of what constitutes a community or a public. On the one hand, I hold close Lubar’s first rule for public humanists, which admonishes that we must first listen to the needs and expertise of the communities that already exist outside of the university. The needs of an already-existing community must, ultimately, shape any project that seeks to be of use to that community. On the other hand, I also hold close Zizi Papacharissi’s arguments, which imply that publics are never precisely stable, pre-existing entities; communities are actively created in relation to a given event, and so are much more dynamic than the university-public divide might suggest. It is with excitement and humility that I anticipate the creation of a new community during the course of my summer project.

What I Can Do Over a Summer

During the past few months, my expectations for the summer Educators’ Workshop with Santa Cruz Shakespeare have been in constant flux, ranging from grand visions of what the project could be and do (i.e., lay the groundwork for a more robust arts education program at SCS and build lasting partnerships with local teachers and schools) to more concrete, immediate goals (i.e., what needs to be done this week in order to make the event happen). Two recent conversations with my partner organizations have invited me to rethink what it will mean to measure success during and after this summer workshop. These conversations have also helped me to connect the more immediate goals of my day-to-day tasks with a bigger picture—that is, to bridge practical with imaginative thinking.

First, my primary collaborator at SCS recently raised the important question about how we will follow up with our teacher participants after the workshop. With her eye toward grant applications, she must consider how to tell a story about this event that will be legible to future funders—a practical, yet urgent, requirement for any non-profit arts organization. Her suggestions for follow-up, such as conducting surveys about the workshop’s impact, have reminded me of the work required to stay connected with our public after the event is over. Our conversation pointed to the work necessary for cultivating and maintaining the lasting partnerships I’ve been envisioning since the start of the project. For me, this conversation exemplifies the importance of merging the practical with the visionary.

In another recent conversation, my faculty mentor, who directs the UC Santa Cruz Shakespeare Workshop research center, provided insight into what this summer workshop can mean for future connections among the university, SCS, and a community of teachers. One of my faculty mentor’s goals is to augment the professional development opportunities available to Humanities graduate students. He envisions this project as, among other things, a pathway toward future graduate student involvement both with SCS and with a variety of community-based, teaching-oriented opportunities. With this goal in mind, I have begun to think about the impact of the summer workshop in new ways. Whereas I had initially imagined that a successful project would equate to the establishment of the event as an annual program, now I see how even a less lofty outcome can still lead to future opportunities for community collaboration. If by the end of August the workshop does not turn out as we expect, the experience will nevertheless provide important information for developing other forms of community outreach and arts education programming in the future. This conversation helped me to reconnect with one of my bigger hopes for the summer project—that is, to help change the often isolative culture of the research academy, albeit in small, incremental ways.

Situating a Public of Humanities Educators

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.

Why I Am Here: Creating Community around Humanities Teaching

In the first scene of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost, a character deliberates whether to join his colleagues in their pursuit of learning. When he asks, “What is the end of study?” his question addresses, in part, the circumstances required to learn. His friends have decided to seal themselves off from their communities for three years to start their “little academe,” demonstrating a belief that learning is done in relative isolation, away from the “outside” world. If our goal is to learn, this character seems to ask, why would we design an academy that restricts our access to those outside of it, and their access to us?

Shakespeare’s scenario sets the scene for my own inquiry into the social role of humanities education and people’s access to it. To my mind, humanities education plays an important role in shaping students’ perspectives and imaginations. Rather than being an isolating endeavor, it can develop our concern for others and transform our relationships with our communities. But who has access to these forms of education, especially when state and institutional budget cuts often hit humanities and arts programs first—and disproportionately affect communities that are already under-resourced?

I recently spent time with Love’s Labor’s Lost while working alongside a UC Santa Cruz performing arts group that brings performances of Shakespeare’s plays to local schools. While developing their curricular materials, I began to consider how institutions of higher learning—especially research institutions like my own—might build educational partnerships beyond their own walls to increase access to humanistic inquiry. As a Public Scholar, I aim to explore this possibility. I seek to build partnerships among educators within and outside of my own institution, in order to collectively explore methods for enhancing our students’ meaningful engagement with literary and artistic expression. To do so, I am collaborating with a research center at UC Santa Cruz, Shakespeare Workshop, and a non-profit performing arts organization, Santa Cruz Shakespeare, to develop a summer workshop for Monterey Bay area educators. We hope that this workshop will facilitate the collaborative development of student-centered resources for the teaching of Shakespeare’s texts. Further, we hope to facilitate shared inquiry into the role of artistic expression and imagination in our students’ engagement not only with complex texts but also with their communities.

This collaboration is a step toward enhancing arts education outreach at Santa Cruz Shakespeare, which seeks to increase its community’s access to artistic experience and engagement. I hope that it is also a step toward reimagining the reach of humanities education from within the academy, and toward creating inclusive communities of teaching and learning that extend beyond it.