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« Triplet | Main | Derails »

October 03, 2005



One teacher used to tell us that becoming comfortable with unfamiliar ideas was like learning to use a muscle that one isn't used to using: it's awkward and painful at first, but eventually feels natural, and, eventually, it can be enjoyable just to use it.

That doesn't help quite so much with interestingness, but isn't too far off.


It’s not so much that these students can’t relate to what you call “unfamiliar (or unpleasant) ideas,” as that these students can’t relate to the SITUATIONS. In other words, some stories may be irrelevant to their lives. It is hard to grasp, and hard to be motivated to work to grasp, issues that do not occur in one's life. That’s not to say it is never worthwhile to learn about situations different from your own, but it is easier to understand and easier to see the value in stories about situations similar to one’s own. Stories of this sort enrich our understanding of our own life, and provide valuable and, yes, useful, insights.

What is your view on this interpretation of “can’t relate to”?



There can only be one response to a student complaining about being unable to "relate" to a text:

"You're relating to it now. It's in the syllabus. You're related to it in that you have to read it. If you don't read it, you can learn to relate yourself to a big fat D-. Don't talk to me about relating. Read it. Understand it. Leave your damned ego ('it has to relate to me for me to bend my brain toward understanding it') out of it."


I disagree with you on this. We all have a need to "relate" to whatever we're attempting to study. You and I can be engaged by literature in all kinds of ways intellectually, but some students are unready to do this on almost any level without help. Like all of us they need to find an emotional connection with the play's conflicts and then to build on that. Certainly, Shakespeare himself understood this point extremely well.
Also, a sweet and happy new year.

Vance Maverick

Your students are certainly being lazy, even arrogant, in declining to think about ways the material might be valuable to them. But I think Frankie's practical suggestion is a big mistake. You can't just say that the material is valuable because you're teaching it. Somehow you need to find a gentle way to push them towards opening their minds to it -- showing them that indeed they can relate to anything, no matter how exotic. "Nothing human is alien to me" is a mental virtue for which literature provides good practice.

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