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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Uniformity in the Classroom

To be filed under: Why I love teaching at U State.

I'm teaching The Man of Mode in an undergraduate seminar, and my students seemed completely disinterested in it the during the first class on Monday. I decided to make the politics of fashion and clothing the hook in class two, thinking that they'd all have something to say about clothes, and style, and identity, and such. So we talked about Sir Fopling's gloves (he is proud of being known as bien gante!) and Medley's knowledge of equipage, and we slowly worked ourselves to the idea that there might be some sort of serious social commentary involved in all the satire (not an obvious point for my students). In order to really drive it all home, I turned the conversation towards contemporary fashion, and, indeed, towards their own clothing choices. They were a bit hesitant at first, so I pointed at one of my students, kind of a slacker goatee-wearing dude, who was wearing one of those mechanic-type button down workshirts... you know, the ones that often have someone's name embroidered over the pocket and some ironic company name on the back: "Frank's Tube-Fitting," or something along those lines. This guy's shirt had an Exxon patch on the front. I pointed at him, my mouth watering at the chance to discuss fashionably false class identifications, and said, "What about you, Student? What made you wear that Exxon shirt today?" Not even blinking, he replied, "I work at an Exxon station."

This, for some reason I have yet to pin down, elated me. I was all: Yes! And then we talked about uniforms and employment and how all that compares with the world of Restoration town comedy, in which noooobody works. They began to get it, I think... but in a totally different way from the way I get it. And that is yet another reason why I like my job.

  • At 3/30/2006 09:58:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    I love this story. Rather than revealing your students' naively elitist attempts to appropriate a working-class habitus for their own cultural distinction, you reveal, through failure, your own elitist attempt to display your cultural distinction by decoding other people's positionings. Quel faux pas!


  • At 3/30/2006 11:11:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    Nice. A little like the moment when, after silently watching my students just get up and leave to go to the bathroom in the middle of class, I finally stop someone, thinking I'm about to shame her -- and them all -- into a little respect. Only to be told that her grandfather died two days ago and now she's off to the funeral. Maybe that was true. Maybe it wasn't. Certainly she should've said something to me before then, if it was true. But did I, in that moment, feel like an ass? Yes, I did. The one time I try to exert some authority -- it turns out I don't have any.


  • At 3/30/2006 11:12:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    That, by the way, is how it is at State U. People come, people go. In the middle of class. It's endemic. I don't get it.


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