The classroom for me is a place of endless possibilities and meaning. But in one word, it’s a playground. You play. You play with ideas, with words, with theories, with stories. You get to really say what “shouldn’t” be said. You get to expose theories that are centuries old, and relate them to today. My newest class is an American Literature class, and I am experimenting with different ways to teach it. I decided to assign the texts to students to present, and when the time came to present the work, a student asked if they were supposed to stand up or sit down while they present. Now, normally, the idea is to stand up, to vocalize, to rely on body language. But I don’t believe in this rigid way of presenting. There are multiple ways to get your ideas across. As a professor who is not always able to stand up, I understand limitations very well. So I informed him that it was up to them, not me. I am not the authority figure. I don’t want to be the authority figure. You decide whether you want to stand up or sit down, how many minutes you want to talk, and the angle you’d like to tackle.
I was met with surprised faces. And then smiles. They loved that the power was not held by one person.
“As individuals, you are all different. I want you to realize this and realize that no one can tell you how things SHOULD be done,” I insisted.
The discussion in class that day was ultimately fruitful and a success. We talked about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” and related it to plastic surgery nowadays, whether one should alter the body, what constitutes a flaw, nature vs. science.. it was truly endless. I had to stop the discussion at the end of class because time was up, but some of the students took the argument outside!
And the other day, I attended Dr. Hanan’s class as a student. I used to be her student 12 years ago. She introduced me to the class as an ex-student who she “messed up” years ago. Funny how I wouldn’t have it any other way. My world view was forever altered when I read Plato, Butler, Cixous, Spivak, Irigary, and many others. Sitting next to her in class reminded me of my amazing undergraduate days. The uncanny part was sitting next to her, knowing what she was about to say, how she would explain this theory or that, and being able to predict the exact wording – especially when she was explaining mimicry, Plato (her favorite), and other gender theories. As I sat there, I was overwhelmed with a mixture of emotions: nostalgia for Kuwait University days, gratitude, and happiness, knowing that I was also doing the same thing in my literature classes. Hanan’s policy has always been an open-door one, with an emphasis on participation and discussion. Twelve years ago, the classroom was the place I listened, was forced to argue, formulate my own opinion and voice, and today, it is a playground where everyone gets a taste of freedom. And how can that be anything but fun?