ERIC Number: EJ782346
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2006-May-19
Reference Count: 0
The Value of Teaching from a Racist Classic
Davis, Lennard J.
Chronicle of Higher Education, v52 n37 pB9 May 2006
When social critiques of a book outweigh its own social critiques, should professors still require students to read it? In this article, the author shares how he responds to a student's critiques of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," a text in a course he was teaching on obsession. The author has been teaching "Heart of Darkness" for nearly 30 years. By the time "Heart of Darkness" was taught in the 1990s, it was being published with Chinua Achebe's critique of the work as racist. The author learned to teach the book not as an existential tract or anti-imperialist critique but with the reassuringly familiar debate about whether the book is racist. When faced with an African-American graduate student's reactions and comments about the book, the author found himself moving toward the decision not to teach "Heart of Darkness" anymore. Yet, the author has learned a lot from rereading the book and it has opened up lines of inquiry, indictments not only of itself but also of the various eras through which it has lived. He stresses that his student will have nothing to do with the book, but the book--at least when next he reads it or teaches it--will have much to do with the student.
Descriptors: Novels, Personal Narratives, College Faculty, Teacher Attitudes, Social Bias, Consciousness Raising, Literary Criticism, Racial Bias, African Americans, Reader Response, Student Attitudes, College Students
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education
Authoring Institution: N/A