Classroom: Teaching Utopias, Dystopias, and the American Dream
This article published in Teaching American Literature: A Journal of Theory and Practice in 2011 examines the advantages and pitfalls of democracy in the classroom. The author, Rebeccah Bechtold, tells of her attempt to create a utopian classroom by enabling students to design and implement their own syllabus. The class was designed so students were included in deciding "a majority of the classroom policies, grading procedures, and assignments" (2).
Bechtold states, "My hope was to create a space where teaching and text crossed, to create a learning space where our class would think about the core issues that the texts had in common and actually experience similar concerns and questions" (3). Initially the author had to address issues of trust between the students and herself. In essence she was asking her students "how would you teach the class?" (5). This question contains profound implications as the teacher must release control while the students must assume control of the content, the assessment, and ultimately the responsibility for their learning. This paradigm shift involved risk and created anxiety, and uncertainty as neither the teacher nor the students had traditionally defined roles.
Ultimately the class created a syllabus that "mirrored the Declaration of Independence" (7) in that it had to be ratified and signed by students and the instructor. This negotiated syllabus contained the caveat that "if the class discovers that the syllabus promotes a long train of abuses and usurpations…it is their right, it is their duty to throw off the syllabus or amend these glaring faults" (7). This process worked to create relationships within the class that would have not formed otherwise. The process pressed the class to their surface expectations for learning and the function of writing and grading within the context of the course as well as the responsibilities placed on student and teacher.
Bechtold reports this utopia was always a 'no place' (hence the title) because it was always in progress, constantly changing form, "We certainly failed to discover the recipe for an excellent literature course but learned instead that it was the messy attempt to create a utopia…
Sources Used in Document:
Bechtold, Rebeccah, 2011. No place in the Classroom: Teaching utopias, dystopias, and the American dream. Teaching American Literature: A Journal of Theory and Practice (4:3) (Spring), http://www.cpcc.edu/taltp/spring-2011-4-3/201cno-place201d-in-the-classroom-teaching-utopias-dystopias-and-the-american-dream/view (accessed March 30, 2013).