A workshop from the Feminism & Classics IV conference, 2004
As in many other classroom presentations which I had devoted to multiculturalism, my stress was on analysis of communal expressive traditions, which usually occurs when, with ethnic revitalization, the engaged professor takes multiculturalism and applies the concept personally (Jay 117). Rather than focus on the written words themselves, using the individualistic model of celebration of individual authors, I made the focus of the curriculum the forms and values of the classical world that created such traditions passed down to us as written works. Though no two offerings of a course can ever overcome the specificity of each, as each course has a certain “temporal, locational, and dynamic personalized make-up,” I taught the two courses primarily through the method of performative pedagogy.5 Each had a kind of jocular “we” group feeling deriving from a particular approach to teaching explored by Jane Gallop and others (Scheman, Airault, S. Miller), in which a teacher enacts her “desire to merge herself in the student group… playing a member of the class like any other” (Gallop 1995b: 2) and hence impersonating a student. I taught with the sense of allowing the students to “use” me, the way D.W. Winnicott theorizes that babies “use” the parent--allowing the students to operate with a notion of exchange with the teacher by interacting with me and then producing their own products and processes to contribute to the class. This practice is the alternative to that of passively consuming, or “feeding off” the teacher as mother, with no sense of boundaries, as discussed by Arthur W. Frank (34). I will place the objectives and methods I employed to reach the goals I originally held in the trajectory of the development of progressive and feminist pedagogy. Furthermore, I will assess how well the classroom activities I describe gave my students a better understanding of the ancient world as well as of the ancient texts we explored.
Like Judy Chicago, who developed a system of feminist art education while working in the California state school system in the 1970s, I was motivated by the question of how I could facilitate the growth and empowerment of students. By the way I structured the course, I required myself to make a connection with the students that encouraged them to reveal where they were intellectually, aesthetically and humanely. As Chicago has written in her most recent autobiography, Beyond the Flower, “it seemed that only then could we forge an intersection between what they as individuals needed and what I as a particular person had to give” (26).
Since the 1970s, when Chicago successfully put this idea into practice, a whole school of feminist pedagogy has emerged. The school is exemplified in the best-known collection of essays on feminist teaching, Gendered Subjects. This 1985 anthology contains numerous articles which tell about the transforming power of the personal “as the subject and method of feminist education” (Culley and Portuges 5). Such elevation of the personal to substantive status in feminist education (Gallop 1995c: 79) ultimately led to a conference actually entitled “Pedagogy: The Question of the Personal” in 1993 (Gallop 1995b: 1). I emerged from and taught in this sort of historical context, which required that the personal involvement of the students was matched by a personal disclosure of my own relationship to the material we examined and discussed.
I decided that I should use my personal presence to provide greater access to the material (Goffman186-87),6 and introduced myself as some one who had written about the classics and published such material as well (Weinbaum 2001b). While I was not trained formally as a classicist, during the 1990s--a good twenty years after my entrance into the “second wave” women’s movement--I had been writing a dissertation on myths of Amazons and islands of women while enrolled in an American Studies Program housed in the Department of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. My advisor at the time insisted that I started out by tracing these themes in western classical literature. Originally I had protested, thinking his required exploration of the classics an unnecessary departure from what I wanted to research. When I was no less than a hundred pages into the dissertation, this same professor (to whom I am forever indebted) kindly asked me why I was still writing about the Greeks. He gently pushed me towards the more contemporary periods, towards what had initially given the impetus to my work.
What I wanted to share with students, consequently, was the way I had discovered the classical world and the feminist writings generated over the previous decade about the works of classical antiquity. Following the theory of Erving Goffman that modeling is the most important aspect of what a teacher or speaker does (Frank 33), I was consciously modeling myself to my students as an engaged learner, a student not unlike themselves. I wanted to stress the accessibility of classical literature rather than its academic mystification. I also wanted to show how I myself had progressed. When relatively naïve about its relevance to my project, I was pushed by my dissertation director in the direction of what was then completely unknown terrain. Later I found myself in the position of being able to contribute to knowledge about the field, producing scholarship that was eventually utilized in graduate seminars at Harvard University (Harris), graduate study proposals at Dartmouth (Fountain), and field work immersion projects in remote provinces of India (E. Miller), and was also incorporated into bibliographies on ancient Greek art.7
With such lofty goals, including inspiring future feminist intellectuals, male and female, I obviously had to make the kind of connection that “required the shedding of the traditional teacher role in favor of a more humanized interaction with the student” (Chicago 26), rather than just taking the more traditional path of standing up there and lecturing. I employed approaches from feminist pedagogy: out of concern for the students, I disrupted traditional power dynamics by acknowledging my own power in the classroom and turning it over to empower students.8 Thus through a generalized nurturance, I was democratizing the classroom and simultaneously decentering the instructor (Ludlow, Musil), the opposite of the type of teaching that emerges from another sort of intellectual tradition, such as Roland Barthes’s, where the teacher speaks endlessly, in front of some one who remains silent…and the students are ‘the Other’” (194-95). I taught assuming that students would take knowledge from the classroom experience and that, acting as agents on their own behalf, rather than silently listening, they would put what they took from my class into practice in their own lives.
I thus aimed at overcoming the death of silence that occurs with some women students in some classrooms (Forbes, Lewis), and to allow for the creation of proactive acquisitive roles for all students, and especially men, who might otherwise become disruptive or rejecting in a nurturing, women-centered, feminist-based classroom (Gallop 1995c: 52-83). Furthermore, I taught by intentionally giving a wide variety of assignments other than conventional expository writing, which allowed students to do what they were best at in order to immerse themselves in and appropriate the knowledge.9 I maintained throughout an emphasis “not on WHAT grades are given, but on HOW grades are given, whether the assignments reflect criteria that are clearly understood by all the students” (Nathanson 2001a).10 I consistently asked for hard work by teaching clear thinking and active discussion, practices that Adrienne Rich suggests are essential for intellectual freedom. Uppermost in my mind was care for students’ learning, a marker of feminist pedagogy as well as of Paolo Freire’s antithesis to the banking model of education (Bevaqua). Rather than filling empty students with my knowledge, through dialogue and constructivist class projects I became one who was taught myself, as Freire advocates, allowing the students to step forward and develop themselves as teachers.11
I had been teaching English full-time as a tenure-track professor at Cleveland State University for two years when I first taught this course. Originally offered at the 300 level, it introduced students to feminist criticism and turned out to be one of my best course offerings. We read the Iliad and the Odyssey, a survey of different kinds of interpretations and reclamations from Greek classical literature, and one contemporary novel re-defining Greek myth. I wound up with a class of about 15 regulars out of the 20 originally registered; five dropped due to cross-registering. Later I taught the course again as a 200-level offering in World Literature through an interdisciplinary, student-centered First College. The second experience was not quite as good as the first, with less sophisticated younger students being polarized against the older, more experienced returning students who seemed to get more out of the course.
At Cleveland State University, many students had signed up for “Studies in Classical Literature,” a seldom-offered course. Though it was cross-listed in Women’s Studies, they were not interested in or prepared for a feminist approach, as they expressed on the first day. Nevertheless, the class solidified. Participation and discussion were quite lively. Papers, quiz work, group projects and reports were remarkably good and interest in outside field trips was high. Enrollments, both at CSU and when the course was later offered, were primarily composed of education majors, required at that point by the Education curriculum to take literature courses with a focus on women. Thus, the syllabus was a subversive way to introduce feminist approaches to the classics to those who would be teaching the classics in schools, both primary and secondary. Many of these prospective teachers were not aware that such approaches to the classics were rare.
Elsewhere at CSU, most students did not otherwise take Classics courses, for the Classics and Medieval Literature Program had been dismantled a few years before. Consequently, they read feminist research on classical literature as if it were a standard way of dealing with these materials, not a literature of revolt against “traditional Classics.” Unless they had been at other universities, they had had limited opportunity to do this type of study.
The second time I taught the course, I also expanded the diversity of the readings and renamed the class “Amazons in World Literature,” which enabled me to include both Western and non-Western texts, beginning with the Near Eastern myth of Inanna. I will discuss this second offering of the course, which also included the saga of the High Priestess of Ur in Sumeria, at the end of this paper. In an appendix, I include the original course syllabus, a blurb about the second offering of the course, and the syllabus for the second time I had the opportunity to teach the course.
In presenting this paper at the F&C IV conference and revising it for publication, I had hoped that those with classical training would see ways in which their specialized knowledge could be offered in a more grassroots, outreach way to the general public. After all, dismantling of Classics programs due to under-enrollment was probably not an isolated event on the campus at which I worked for five years. Perhaps this article might also be of use to graduate students earning degrees from research institutions who find themselves in a different kind of teaching environment when they get a chance to work, a transition issue relevant to greater numbers in the job market today.
My teaching both in this course and in general is always very student-centered and based on constructivist practices of pedagogy. I was also influenced by liberation theology. I studied the philosophy of de-schooling society at CIDOC in Cuernavaca, Mexico with Ivan Illich, Paul Goodman, George Dennison and other experimental educators in the seventies. In class, I create a community of learners, involving visits from community people and specialist scholars as well as field study or experiential learning outside of the classroom on the part of students. During the Chicano unit in a literature course on multicultural writing in the contemporary United States, for example, I led a field trip to salsa clubs in the city that put white suburban students in direct contact with a small pocket of the Spanish-speaking Latino community so they could better understand the main character’s involvement with dance in one of the novels. In the Classics course, I took students to the local art museum and had them go on a scavenger hunt for representations in ancient and contemporary art of the classical figures we had read about in literature. In addition to the experiential mode, I promote the acquisition of theoretical tools that are put into practice on texts or materials we examine in common. Then I nurture self-starting projects, with learners working individually or in teams, where they get to apply those analytic tools acquired in the classroom on their own, reporting back to the group in oral as well as written form. For example, after the class museum visit, an enterprising student went back herself and traced out a walking tour of the images of classical goddesses in the museum. She distributed her tour, enabling other class members to take their families on the same visit.
Often I play the part of active learner, listening to the students as they teach me as well as others in the classroom. Thus I am as far from the “banking” method of education as could possibly be imagined, which doesn’t mean that I don’t teach. I do require theoretical readings, but then I encourage learning-by-doing on the part of the students. I teach by responding actively as an informed and educated listener, providing the deep attention needed to increase intellectual self-confidence and mastery. This practice was in part developed as I taught in innovative programs such as the Adult Degree Program at Vermont College, or the Independent Degree Program at Burlington College. Both of these programs operate on the student-contract model, which means that students propose ideas to faculty mentors who then support them on a six month research project of their own choosing. The practice was also influenced by my participation in small group discussions in the women’s movement, where we established the premise that learning by hearing all voices leads to a new form of knowledge that is more grounded and practical than inherited concepts. Another source of influence for this teaching philosophy was my participation in re-evaluation counseling based on the similar theories of facilitating self-growth through deep attention. It works. My evaluations consistently attest to the remarkable kind of energy created in a classroom where students feel engaged to discuss and participate, beyond the norm in any university which has a more traditional standard of educational practices.
When we discuss cultures other than our own, I always introduce a concern about acknowledging how our own social identities mediate information. For example, I might point out in the walking tour hand-out discussion how the selection of images for inclusion in the display is culturally determined by our own historical period. I would encourage the students to return and discover the date of acquisition of the goddess images one of them had catalogued, to see if the women’s movement influenced the institution to increase the number of goddesses on display, Greek or otherwise. I might ask: was the display of the large Mayan goddess recent, as distinct from the slender Aphrodite of the Renaissance period also on display?
I am concerned with constructing classrooms which reflect awareness of pluralistic perspectives, and thus I often employ performance methods where students select sections of texts to theatricalize, and in so doing create a performative invocation of the identity of the studied group.12 The focus on participants’ learning rather than on individual teaching, a feminist practice described above, helps to bring such a pluralistic engagement about. I maintain a concern with the bridge between cognitive and affective apprehension; influenced and supported by writers such as Peter Elbow and bell hooks, I create opportunities for active participation rather than passive consumption and peer group structures that allow students to challenge internalized attitudes and assumptions. I take the focus off myself as a teacher, and transfer it to discussions with each other.13 Although celebratory self-discovery cannot be the entire basis of a learning experience, it is definitely a component that my teaching philosophy endeavors to include. I encourage students to connect their own experiences or the experiences of significant others to the texts and subjects that we are studying, and to being these texts into their own lives—to claim them as their own.
In his practice of teaching literacy, Freire advocated codification of the oppressed. That is, he felt that if the pedagogical goal was to teach some one to read, one needed to listen carefully and observe first, and then teach the vocabulary that he or she has expressed the desire to know. I am aware of feminist and other critiques of Freire. Nonetheless, I advocate a similar process of codification on another level, as I work towards the goal of many institutions of higher learning, that of cultural pluralism, and the higher degree of more sophisticated political and cultural literacy that students are now required to achieve. I lead students to discover from wherever they are at, hoping to mentor self-actualization and intellectual exploration rather than absorption of facts. This non-hegemonic structure is important to me as I create and nurture any classroom experience, and is also reflected in my on-going research which I also share with any class, stylizing myself as a learner for students to model as they pursue their own work.
The goal of this particular course was to situate the context of western indigenous myth in relation to western classical literature and to indicate possible reasons for its reclamation in contemporary American culture. Specifically, we examined and explored the myth of the Amazon as it first appeared in western civilization. We looked at how contemporary feminists have reclaimed that myth, and then explored the possible remnants of indigenous matriarchal myth in classical literature not usually read with that objective until the development of feminist classical criticism.
Pedagogically, one goal was to offer students the chance to develop patterns of reading literature for context clues. I showed the students examples of literary criticism, such as those included in Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz and Amy Richlin’s Feminist Theory and the Classics, and then involved them in developing their own methods of criticism by forming focus groups that read difficult texts for specific purposes. I also had the goal of inspiring learners to choose a topic that interested them and then explore the theme further. This they did by volunteering to do class reports or “footnotes” about references, goddesses, myths, etc., that seemed important to understand more fully as we pursued the text. Third, I had a goal of involving as many levels of “multi-intelligence,” as described by Howard Gardner, so that students learned to approach difficult works in deeper, more synaesthetic ways that bring pleasure to reading as well as greater comprehension or more long-lasting absorption. Thus I encouraged both group and non-traditional responses to the texts, such as painting from images, mask-making, dramatic interpretation and costuming.
As noted above, my teaching methods included the setting up of small focus groups to help the students read difficult classical texts. Although I proposed topics, I let the students generate their own ideas, as talking over and deciding how to approach the text on their own was an educational experience for them individually as well as in the small groups. During our reading of the Iliad, one group chose to focus on images; another on the differences between various translations; another on Greek names and their continued use today in different contexts. Still other groups formed to study images of women versus images of men in the public and private spheres. Another looked at the difference between classes of women. At a certain point, each of these groups was required to do in-costume performances of sections of the texts read, thus reading in depth for enactment as well as for characterization, with music, sound, and visual background. At the end of one of the classes, the assignment given was to come as “the Greek God or Goddess that You Are,” and this forced the students to think carefully about what aspect of themselves was expressed by which archetype in the text, as well as to research the historical period well enough to put together a costume with explanatory presentations of various chosen props. An eighty year old returning student dressed as Hera, for example, and a man in his twenties came dressed as Zeus. Each had to explain the choice of every item carried or worn. The effectiveness, as well as the accuracy of the historical research, was evaluated in group discussions and raised issues such as, “How do we know what we think we know about the classical world or any other historical period?” We also found ourselves discussing archetypes and Jungian theory, to help the group analyze who made what choices for presentation of self in the final context.
Using Howard Gardner’s multi-intelligence methods mentioned above, I also involved students in painting from the images and making masks of the gods and goddesses in order to deepen comprehension of specific aspects of the text and experiment with the projected image of a classical god or goddess. For the section on the Odyssey, a costume group formed. One of the members danced to music in a yellow dress wearing long red leather gloves, using one of the masks previously made to dance out the phrases referring to Dawn as she arose from her golden throne and spread out her rosy fingers. Other students in the class found the passages about Dawn and recited them to cue her dancing. As students are good at role-playing, at “in-voicing identities not their own” (Gallop 1995b: 6; see also Otte), they “tried on” aspects of the classical world in this way, possibly invoking the same awe of the physical universe that the original author/authors/authoress must have felt and desired to invoke in members of the audience at original performances and recitals. We also discussed what sorts of feelings classical authors themselves might have had in mind when constructing the images in the texts we consumed centuries later, and how these feelings were expressed before public audiences. Because they themselves had become creators of images, the cultural distance between readers and creators was hopefully reduced, and the texts made more accessible. This discussion led to one of the groups actually taping its own performance in the form of a talk show, as modern talk shows were seen to be the venue of expression of such feelings (jealousy, marital strife) in contemporary life.
Mid-semester, I posted five mid-term evaluation questions, which students answered. The answers were turned into the Center for Teaching and typed, with overwhelmingly positive responses.
In terms of evaluating the individual students, and not just the class, I administered one quiz and two short papers. Although the quiz and the papers might not seem in line with my methods, actually they were. When the students came in with the papers written about questions I had posed, I asked them place the papers in the middle of the classroom on a desk. As we sat in a circle, one student would take the paper on the top and read it aloud, without announcing who was the author. Then we discussed the paper, and took grade nominations. When a classmate proposed a certain grade, he or she had to provide the rationale for the proposal. As we exchanged views on the suitability of the nominations, much interesting debate occurred, stimulating deeper analytic perceptions. Only after a grade was voted upon would the author of the paper be revealed. Then authors, usually thrilled with the grade they had just earned and with hearing the analysis and praise of their own argumentation, would read the next paper.
For the quiz, I solicited submission of questions from students, added some of my own, and selected and posted 15 questions of which each student only had to answer ten. I collected the written answers to these questions thirty minutes into the period. Then small groups formed, to which I distributed the collected papers. The names were written on the back, and privacy had to be respected. In the small groups, the students went down the list question by question, discussed the answers, and decided whether each answer would count or not. Then we came back into the large group to pool the small group deliberations. When different answers were given, we conversed until we reached consensus on how much credit should be given and why. Again, interesting debate occurred which sharpened analytic and interpretive skills. Although in the end I assigned the grade after reading through the entire packet, the pedagogical technique of debating the proper answers was stimulating and enjoyable for all, including myself.
I also modeled debating from different perspectives by asking two senior colleagues to my class on the same day. Both colleagues had over fifteen years’ experience of teaching the Classics from an array of traditional vantage points. One had read some of my writing on the topics discussed in class, as had the students. The students were able to ask these colleagues for their opinions on certain issues and topics, and to observe the interchange between us as we agreed or disagreed with each other. Since I was the only female in this adult, professorial debate, I set a good example for women students who had never seen a woman stand up for herself in a discussion with men who actually listened to her as well. I did this to provide balance, offering to the students perspectives differing from my own and thus demonstrating a pluralistic process of knowledge-construction; but also to demonstrate that the processes they were being encouraged to undertake in the class were similar to the pondering that mentors and teachers carry on among themselves.
Another technique I utilized was having students do a “footnote,” which meant offering to read a book, or to develop a report on an archetype or a concept. This brings the students into the library with questions for further research, and then back into the classroom with a hand-out on a particular topic for everyone. The practice foregrounds the student in the class as an expert teaching on a certain subject, informing the others of something special and new, contributing to classroom discussion.
I also allowed each student individually, or in pairs or groups, to choose their own final presentation. This allowed poets to read their poetry created for the occasion and dancers to dance as snake goddesses. Others did photography projects, photographing echoes of the classical world that they could find in contemporary life.
Although there is always room for improvement in the teaching of any class (as the self-critique at the end of this paper will indicate), the preponderance of evidence suggested that these methods were pedagogically effective. First, a student who has taken two other classes with me followed me from one course to the next, which has happened with a number of other students, including graduate students in English, History and Education. This student pattern shows success in that happy customers are willing to invest more of their resources, which I believe by that time were about $1000 for a four credit course--quite a lot at a state school--to study with me after their first experience. As this third-time repeater who went on to graduate school in Education and now teaches middle school in Brooklyn explained in written form, “Dr. Weinbaum creates a classroom environment that combines creativity with the application of literary theory criticism and close reading. This integrated approach to learning allows students to gain many perspectives on the subject area. Dr. Weinbaum fosters creativity and experiential learning in the classroom, encouraging students to make literature more tangible.”
Second, in a mid-term course evaluation students indicated that they liked “the student-centered structure of the classroom.” One student felt that the “way the learning is the responsibility of each student is refreshing.” Another student wrote, “Before this class I had never taken the time to think or discuss feminism. This class has given me that opportunity to do so.”
Third, several students came to one or two of my book signings after my book Islands of Women and Amazons: Representations and Realities was published by the University of Texas Press and one student tape-recorded an interview with me on Cleveland National Public Radio. There was great excitement about both events. Students also expressed great interest and enthusiasm about taking an outing to New York City when the class learned of an art exhibition there on the theme of contemporary Amazons. These responses indicated that I had generated real fervor and engaged learners, since people were willing to take extra time to go on a field trip or to attend my public presentations on the topic they were studying with me. When the NPR interviewer asked me whether I had the opportunity to teach the subject of my book at the university, I mentioned the course. When we sat in a circle and listened to the taped interview, students were proud that their class had been mentioned on the radio. Afterward they proposed that we go to a restaurant, indicating that they had become closely bonded. They all opted to make the trip to the art museum in class time to view ancient Greek female images. Later, as I have mentioned, one of those students designed a museum walking tour based upon these images, and another student took her husband and children on that tour. This shows how feminist approaches to Classics can be disseminated outside the walls of the traditional classroom.
Extracurricular projects also provided evidence of effective teaching. For the oral interpretation assignment, one of the focus groups taped and presented a video, “The Homer Springer Show.” Students were willing to meet outside of class on their own time twice to work on the project. This was unusual for learners enrolled in an urban public institution, as they had to travel considerable distances to get together, coordinating busy work and family schedules as well as course schedules. They cheerfully overcame these obstacles, something not many commuter students are, in my experience, willing to do.
The way the group creatively adapted the essence of the classic text into a spoof of contemporary popular culture was ingenious and showed that members were benefiting greatly from the class methods. Homer Springer, dressed in a red toga, hosted his guests Odysseus, Penelope, a suitor, and Calypso and one of her nymphs as the audience debated about whether Penelope was a saint or a slut, and whether Odysseus had been faithful or not. I thought a hidden camera episode that showed Odysseus arriving on the beach and being brought by the nymphs to Calypso was a very creative improvisation. They even intercut the show with commercials they made themselves. One was an interview with the author of a scholarly book on Penelope. Another was for Dawn detergent: Dawn, dressed in yellow with long red gloves, danced into a kitchen to help a housewife, illustrating the point that vestiges of the Greek Classics are still with us in every day life. In this project, students demonstrated that they enjoyed studying the text and also laid the basis for discussing the function of the text in its original performance milieu. Originally, they pointed out, the poems we now think of as “Classics” were performed as entertainment at banquets, in a time before television talk shows were a main popular culture medium. Taking a cue from the bawdy undertones they discovered in the text, I led them into a discussion of how popular culture products from one civilization can become the high culture icons of another civilization, which was very enlightening for all.
Students told me things like, “this is the only class I enjoy at CSU,” and, in the evaluations, “I think Dr. Weinbaum is and should continue to be one of Cleveland State’s best assets.”
Finally, a senior colleague wrote in a peer evaluation memo after a classroom visit: “I was impressed…by the liveliness, preparedness and involvement of the students as evidenced by their questions--and that must reflect in part Prof. Weinbaum’s teaching. I was also impressed by the results of the pedagogical device, called ‘footnotes’ by the class, used briefly at the beginning of the session: in earlier readings and discussions, students have come up with questions which Prof. Weinbaum had asked them to answer and present what they found to the class.”
However, I must add that, for my teaching to become even more effective, it is imperative that I explain clearly that group work is not to be construed as a competition between the groups. Alternatively, the impression that teams are competing with each other, which inevitably emerges from this sort of classes, can be used to generate discussion of just what alternative learning methods and goals attempt, other than sponsoring competition. There was some anxiety provoked, for example, by the great lengths that the “Homer Springer” group went to in creating its videotaped talk show; other groups felt that their presentations would pale by comparison. After the next group did its presentation, I initiated a discussion of what could be improved. Participants came in a second time with more costumes, music, and more conscious use of staging to highlight the features of the Greek chorus in their performance design and emphasize the poetics of the lines. After that presentation, I divided the rest of the students into pairs, asking each couple to come up with performance improvement ideas in order to encourage the notion that we are learning from and with each other, rather than competing as groups with fixed completed products.
The second time I had the opportunity to offer the course, I began, as I said, by including non-Western readings. Also, I was more deliberate in using the class for outreach across campus to convey my convictions about the importance of classical literature for reclaiming images of women’s power, strength and spirituality. Consequently, I assigned introductory reports on extra readings such as When God Was a Woman and Sexual Politics, early feminist texts that helped produce the wave of feminist scholarship on the classics which we would read later. This led to further awareness of the class goals and to conscious association of the class with the larger feminist movement. For example, the students performed a section from Inanna: Lady of the Largest Heart for International Women’s Day, which was turned into a feast day by the students themselves. This immersion exercise allowed more opportunity to experience through simulation what the classical world might have been like. Students found and played music composed in ancient Near Eastern modes, made crafts activities such as painting ceramics and stones with images of the goddess we invoked, and brought in foods and drinks that, according to their research, would have been consumed in ancient feasts on such a day. They performed “in the round,” and constructed an Inanna goddess and built her an altar, which required reading about ancient architecture and discussing pre-modern forms of religious ritual. For some students who were raised Catholic, it was quite an eye-opener to be given positive information about predecessors of monotheistic religion. The event was organized and performed in the student union building in an attempt to recreate the original context of classical poetry, which was also performed in a popular setting. Older female teachers brought their female students, and we attracted local artists and students from other interdisciplinary hands-on classes to create materials in the ancient setting.
This time, the class broke into divisions of older and younger students, with a cadre of older returning women students who formed a support and discussion group of their own, which was quite successful. This group developed an interesting presentation on Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Contemplated Suicide When the Rainbow Was Not Enuf, with a focus on how the poem, also written to be performed orally, resembled Greek poetry in its structure. And one older returning education student prepared and presented a unit, drawing upon course materials, which he planned to offer later in a high school setting.
FEMINIST APPROACHES TO CLASSICAL LITERATURE
ENG 330 T/TH Sec 1 1-2:50 MC 318
Professor: Dr. Weinbaum RT 1832 , RT 6870; office hours 3-5 T, Th.
The purpose of this course is to situate the context of western indigenous myth in relation to western classical literature and to indicate possible reasons for its reclamation in contemporary American culture, with an interest in the social construction of women’s identity at the intersections between patriarchal and other world views. Specifically we will examine and explore the myth of the Amazons as it first appeared in the Classics of western civilization. We will look at how contemporary feminists have reclaimed that myth, and then explore the possible remnants of indigenous matriarchal myth in classical literature not usually read with that purpose until the development of feminist classical criticism in the 1970s initiated by Sarah Pomeroy.
Assigned readings are available at the CSU Bookstore, MacBooks in Coventry, and various on-line order sites such as amazon.com. Any translations and editions will do of the following required books:
Ellen Frye, Amazon Story Bones (ASB)
Batya Weinbaum, Islands of Women and Amazons: Representations and Realities (IWA)
Although not required, you might want to hunt down Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz and Amy Richlin’s Feminist Theory and the Classics to pick an article to report on in the creative response section.
Your grade will be based on 20 points each for a) 7 pages of writing assignments due at 1 p.m. in class on the day assigned, b) one in-class quiz, c) one take-home exam, d) class participation (such as in focus groups and oral interpretation), and e) one creative response presentation demonstrating that you have grappled with the issues and texts explored in class in any way you choose. This might include theatre (writing and performing a skit), creative writing, creating an art work, bringing in historical representations of Greek myth, reporting on the same themes in classical literature or mythology or folk lore of another culture; reporting on another classical title not explored in class, providing background research on the period, coming as a character germane to the texts we read (in costume); analysis of classical images and myth in popular culture; or presenting about a critical article or book that came up and interested you in the assigned readings. Your selection of your creative response must be negotiated with the professor prior to Ap. 4. Five points will be deducted for each absence, each need to leave before the class is through, each time you fall asleep in class, each demonstration of failure to prepare, failure to negotiate creative response by Ap. 4, and each late entrance. And each attempt to argue with these policies after the first week!
T. Jan. 18. Discuss and define concepts. What is classical literature? What do we mean by “feminist” and “approaches?” What do contemporary feminists have to gain by seriously re-examining classical texts and myths? Can there be more than one feminist approach?
Th. Jan. 20. Read ASB, a contemporary feminist work that takes as its starting point the pre-Greek classical period. Discuss how this reading changes your view of western classical literature. What questions does the author want you to bring to a reading of classical texts?
T. Jan 25. Read in IWA “The Amazon Archetype” (3-15). Goal: to understand the range of recreation of the “Amazons” only briefly glimpsed later in I. Take notes on categories of analysis. Where would you place ASB? Why? Write a two page paper to explain, using support from the text with examples.
Th. Jan 27. In IWA read “Latter Nineteenth Century uses,” 16-19; “Early Twentieth Century…” 19-25; and “Between the Two Wars,” 25-30. How does ASB contrast with such uses? Write a two page paper discussing, comparing and contrasting these appropriations to contemporary feminist uses.
T. Feb 1. Read in IWA “Post War Appearances” 30-60. Pick any title (article or book) on these pages. Track it down. Write a three page paper contrasting to ASB, utilizing IWA categories of analysis.
WED FEB 2. Five extra credits for non-mandatory attendance of dramatic reading and presentation of IWA at Coventry Books in Cleveland Heights. Kids welcome.
Th. Feb 3. Read in IWA “Amazon Archetype” pp 61-73. In class quiz: no notes.
T. Feb 8. Read in IWA pp 77-90. “Problematizing the Greeks.” Make a list of what you would like to look for when you read I and O. Be prepared to state how and why.
Th. Feb 10. Read in IWA “Homeric and Pre-Homeric Origins” 91-113. Continue your questions lists, which we will utilize to form “approach” focus groups in class.
T. Feb 15. Read “How the Amazon Enters World Lit” 114-20 in IWA. Continue lists. Meet in focus groups. Decide how to approach the reading for the next time.
Th. Feb. 17. Read the first 25% of I. First half of class, meeting in focus groups. Second half: report from focus groups.
T. Feb. 22. Read the second 25% of I. Ditto Feb. 17.
Th. Feb 24. Read third 25% of I. Ditto Feb 17.
T. Feb 29. Read final 25% of I. Ditto Feb 17.
Th. Mar 2., T Mar 14, Th Mar 16, T Mar 21. Read O in the same manner.
Th Mar 23, T. Mar 28, Th Mar 30, T April 4. Approach groups take turns: oral interpretation of selections.
Th Ap 6, T Ap 11, Th Ap 13, T Ap 18. Individual or group creative responses. Sign up ahead by Ap. 4.
Th Ap 20. Evaluation: What can we learn from feminist approaches to classical literature? How did these approaches impact our view of classical literature? Of contemporary society? Contemporary education?
T. Ap 25. Class catch-up, party.
Th. Ap 27. Come to RT 1832 to pick up take-home exam.
May 4, 3 p.m. Exam due in hard copy at RT 1832. No exceptions. No faxing. No email submissions.
2. Blurb for second offering of course with a slightly different focus, to encompass diversity of non-Western classical literature:
Amazons in World Literature/FEMINIST APPROACHES TO CLASSICAL LITERATURE. Spring 2002.
Professor: Dr. Weinbaum. Credits: Four. Time: T, Th 10-11:50.
Satisfies University Requirements: WAC, Non Western (as FST 224/324); Human Diversity (as ENG 363); CLAM (as ENG 330); WOST (as ENG 363, 330; FST 224, 324).
Beginning with “Terror Folds in Her Robes,” a poem about Inanna combating a mountain paradise, this course situates indigenous myth in relation to western classical literature. We will look at how contemporary feminists have reclaimed that myth, and the possible remnants of indigenous matriarchal myth in classical literature. Required books include Inanna: Lady of the Largest Heart. Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess. Betty De Shong Meador, trans. and editor; Amazon Story Bones, Ellen Frye; Islands of Women and Amazons: Representations and Realities, Batya Weinbaum; Odyssey.
My goal is to develop patterns of reading for context clues. I will show you literary criticism, and then involve you in developing your own by having focus groups, inspiring you to take a topic that interests you, and explore it further in class reports or “footnotes” on references, goddesses, myths etc. that seem important to understand the texts. You will learn to approach difficult works in deeper, more synaesthetic ways that bring pleasure to reading as well as greater comprehension or more long-lasting absorption. I encourage both group and non-traditional responses to the texts, such as painting from images, mask-making, dramatic interpretation and costuming. Students of the class previously liked “the student-centered structure of the classroom.”
What previous students say about the course:
*“Dr. Weinbaum creates a classroom environment that combines creativity with the application of literary theory criticism and close reading. This integrated approach to learning allows students to gain many perspectives on the subject area. Dr. Weinbaum fosters creativity and experiential learning in the classroom, encouraging students to make literature more tangible."
*”The way the learning is the responsibility of each student is refreshing.”
*”Before this class I had never taken the time to think or discuss feminism. This class has given me that opportunity to do so.”
3. Second, More Inclusive Syllabus
Amazons in World Literature/FEMINIST APPROACHES TO CLASSICAL LITERATURE. Spring 2002. LOCATION: LOBBY THEATER ARTS BLDG
Professor: Dr. Weinbaum. Credits: Four. Time: T, Th 10-11:50.
Satisfies University Requirements: WAC, Non-Western (as FST 224/324); 14Human Diversity (as ENG 363); CLAM (as ENG 330); WOST (as ENG 363, 330; FST 224, 324).
Office Hours: 3-5, T and Th, CB 258.
Beginning with a poem about Inanna combating a mountain paradise, this course situates indigenous myth about warrior women and Amazons in relation to western classical literature. We will start with this saga of the High Priestess of Ur in Sumeria, the mother of classical literature, who told her love story to Lady Inanna in fragments about fighting women that have just been rediscovered. We will look at how contemporary feminists have reclaimed such myths, in revitalist fiction such as Amazon Story Bones by Ellen Frye, and the possible remnants of indigenous matriarchal myth in western and world classical literature. We can find these when reading closely for oral lamentation structure of chant in performance for entertainment.
We will indicate possible reasons for Amazonian mythic reclamation in contemporary American culture. Our interest will be in the social construction of women’s identity at the intersections between patriarchal and other worldviews. Specifically we will examine and explore the myth of the Amazons as it first appeared in the Classics of western civilization. We will look at how contemporary feminists have reclaimed that myth, and then explore the possible remnants of indigenous matriarchal myth in classical literature not usually read with that purpose until the development of feminist classical criticism in the 1970s initiated by Sarah Pomeroy.
Required books: Inanna: Lady of the Largest Heart. Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess. Betty De Shong Meador, trans. and editor (Lady); Amazon Story Bones, Ellen Frye (ASB); Islands of Women and Amazons: Representations and Realities, Batya Weinbaum (IWA); and the Homeric Odyssey (O). Assigned readings are available at the CSU Bookstore, MacBooks in Coventry can order used Amazon Story Bones on a one on one basis for those of you unable to get the first 17 copies at the CSU bookstore, within two weeks of placing the order. Try also amazon.com and other on-line sources.
Although not required, you might want to hunt down Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz and Amy Richlin’s Feminist Theory and the Classics for reports.
This is a high energy, creative, performance-based student-centered classroom, ideal for teachers looking for ways to make world myth come alive in whatever level of classroom. My goal is to develop patterns of reading for context clues. I will show you literary criticism, and then involve you in developing your own by having focus groups, inspiring you to take a topic that interests you, and explore it further in class reports or “footnotes” on references, goddesses, myths etc. that seem important to understand the texts. You will learn to approach difficult works in deeper, more synaesthetic ways that bring pleasure to reading as well as greater comprehension or more long-lasting absorption. I encourage both group and non-traditional responses to the texts, such as painting from images, mask-making, dramatic interpretation and costuming. Students of the class previously liked “the student-centered structure of the classroom.”
Assumptions I make if you take this class: this is not the only class you take, but regular course attendance and participation is a core basic requirement. As a four credit course, each classroom hour is expected to be combined with three hours of preparation in writing, reading and reflection, requiring a weekly commitment of 12 hours a week involvement. If you make this commitment, you will find the course profitable and manageable; if you have other demands that will keep you from the course participation, you might want to find another course. This course is not based on passive consumption but active acquisition through group learning experience defined as a constructivist learning community. If you are unwilling or unable to work this way, you need to be prepared for your grade to suffer should you decide to stay on board.
You must turn in a 5 by 8 index card with a small photograph, your name, major, class status, address, phone number, student number and email in order to get attendance or any other credit for the class, by Th. Jan 17.
Grades will be assigned on
10% one report. Reports are when you read an outside reading, suggested in class or on syllabus, and volunteer ahead of time to report on the article or book or chapter in terms of its relevancy for the class discussion that day. Reports must happen on the day assigned to receive any credit. To make a report, you 1) inform the class of the overall context of the book, or in the case of an article, of the journal or collection in which it appears; 2) summarize the argument and discussion, and 3) make connections to readings and discussion in class. Shared reports are encouraged.
10% for two footnotes (5 points each): when you get inspired to look up something mentioned in the text and simply provide information, as opposed to analysis, to the class for background context. I must receive a written form of either footnote or report; it is up to you and helpful if you wish to make enough to distribute to all the class.
20% general participation: coming to class regularly and on time. Attendance will be taken and the time you come noted; each absence over three, need to leave early, and lateness will result in loss of a point. Other factors are ability to respond to material and to contribute to discussion showing you have read and prepared; participating in group work.
10% performance/participation in women’s history month event.
15% discussion papers as defined on syllabus, five points each.
15% 5 page research paper (can be creative15 if not a WAC class for you; if it is a WAC, show me a draft first and submit both your draft, with my comments, and your final).
5% in class no-note quiz, Feb.21.
15% final exam.
T. Jan. 15. Discuss syllabus and define concepts. What is meant by Amazon? Feminist ? Constructivist ? Learning community? Non-Western? World? Classical? Literature? Approaches? What do contemporary feminists have to gain by seriously re-examining classical texts and myths? Can there be more than one feminist approach? What do non-feminists (or anti-feminists, pre-feminists, ex-feminists, proto-feminists) have to gain by understanding various feminist approaches? Take questions from class. Assign Th. reports, readings, footnotes.
Th. Jan. 17.
Report: Sexual Politics, Kate Millet, Chapter Two.
Report: Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman.
Reading: Lady: Acknowledgement, Introduction, Chapter 1, 2, 8.
Read aloud in front of a mirror the first part of Inanna poem (91) and while you are running a shower or vacuuming the second part (91-92)and, in front of some one you know, the third part (92-94) and back to a mirror for the rest (through 102). Read commentary on the poem (103-13) and go back and read the whole thing again.
Footnote: Any author or work mentioned in the assigned readings, including Robert Graves, Jerome Rothenberg, Leslie Silko, Paula Gunn Allen, Audre Lord, Diane DiPrima (Loba), HD (Helen in Egypt); or goddess or myth (Medusa, Clytemnestra, Kali, Pandora).
First part of class: reports, footnotes, discussion of reactions to assignment.
Second part of class: Groups form to play/perform/practice segments of poems.
Conclusion of class: Assign footnotes, reports readings for Tues.
Tues, Jan. 22.
Reports, footnotes as assigned and discussed. Read Ch. 3, 4, 5, 6 in Lady.
Th., Jan 24.
Ch. 7, 9 again experimenting with reading the poems out loud to mirror, to project, etc. particularly “Lady of largest heart/keen-for-battle queen” (117-36); read COMMENTARY 137-67 and re-read poem. Come to class ready to discuss, perform.
T Jan 29.
Groups rehearse together in class; perform.
Th. Jan 31 Ch 10. Repeat. With mounted on beast poem (171-80) and commentary (181-91).
T Feb. 5.
Catch up reports, footnotes from first text. Start to read ASB.
Th. Feb 7.
Discuss ASB, a contemporary feminist work that takes as its starting point the pre-Greek classical period. Discuss how this reading directly after the preceding unit changes your view of western classical literature. What questions does the author want you to bring to a reading of classical texts?
T. Feb. 12. Read in IWA “The Amazon Archetype” (3-15). Goal: to understand the range of recreation of the “Amazons.” Take notes on categories of analysis. Where would you place ASB? Why? Write a two page paper to explain, using support from the text with examples.
Th. Feb 14. . In IWA read “Latter Nineteenth Century uses,” 16-19; “Early Twentieth Century…” 19-25; and “Between the Two Wars,” 25-30. How does ASB contrast with such uses? Write a two page paper discussing, comparing and contrasting these appropriations to contemporary feminist uses.
T. Feb. 19. Read in IWA “Post War Appearances” 30-60. Pick any title (article or book) on these pages. Track it down. Write a three page paper contrasting to ASB, utilizing IWA categories of analysis. You must consult the original, and not write your paper based on the summary in IWA. If you are in the First College version of this class, try to select something from non-Western or world examples.
Th. Feb. 21. Read in IWA “Amazon Archetype” 61-73. In class quiz: no notes.
T. Feb. 25. Read in IWA pp. 77-90. “Problematizing the Greeks.” Make a list of what you would like to look for when you read O. Be prepared to state how and why.
Th. Feb 28. Read in IWA “Homeric and Pre-Homeric Origins” 91-113. Continue your questions lists, which we will utilize to form “approach” focus groups in class.
T. Mar. 5. Read “How the Amazon Enters World Lit” 114-20 in IWA. Continue lists. Meet in focus groups. Decide how to approach the reading for the next time.
Th. Mar. 7. Read the first 25% of O. First half of class, meeting in focus groups. Second half: report from focus groups.
T. Mar. 19. . Read the second 25% of O. Ditto Mar. 7.
Th. Mar. 21. . Read third 25% of O. Ditto Mar. 7..
T. Mar. 25. Read final 25% of O. Ditto Mar. 7.
Th. Mar 28. Perform Inanna for open class and lead discussion, for Women’s History.
April 2, 4, 9. Focus groups perform oral interp of O, discussed more in class.
April 11. African American SF author Octavia Butler comes to class. Be prepared to ask her questions about her thinking on the relevancy of the Amazon myth.
April 16, 18, 23, 26, 30. Papers or creative responses, discussed more in class. Drafts of proposals due (one page) in class on 16th and must be discussed and approved; no topic changes. Sign up for presentations on remaining four days.
Exam week: final, discussed more in class.
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1 Some portions of this article appeared in a slightly different form as “Teaching Feminist Approaches to the Classics: An Experiment with Multicultural, Student-Centered Pedagogy at an Urban University.” Taboo 8.1 (Spring-Summer 2004): 115-24. Portions are reprinted with the kind permission of Caddo Gap Press. See Patai on how many of the methods of feminist teaching stem from the progressive pedagogical techniques originally advocated by John Dewey. Many of the individual posts on WMST-L cited throughout can be found in an archive on Feminist Pedagogy at http://research.umbc.edu/~korenman/wmst/femped.html.
2 See Maher and Tetrault for the generalized concept of “feminist classroom.”
3 For bibliography on works about feminist pedagogy to provide background for this article, see Goetsch and the web page of the University of Minnesota Women’s Studies Department, as well as Shrewsbury and the entire Women’s Studies Quarterly issue on feminist pedagogy, 21 3-4 (Fall 1993), which she introduces.
4 See Bourdieu and Passerson for a view of pedagogy as reproduction, and Gallop 1995b (4) for development of the idea of student learning as impersonation of the teacher. Simon (98) discusses the kinds of questions about themselves in relation to the professor/teacher that serious students bring to class.
5 See Crane (xiii) for a discussion of how many times a course can be offered and yet still cannot be duplicated. He also discusses the generation of the concept of “performative pedagogy” (xii).
6 See Frank, who asks why we should not use the personal presence of a lecturer, since the lecture is a performance anyway; otherwise the absurd extension of refusing to interject aspects of oneself is to video tape the lecture and show it on remote to students (29).
8 See Gallop (1995c: 80) for analysis of the politics of nurturance and women’s tendency to give up authority in the classroom.
9 See itemization of further feminist pedagogical methods in Winkler and DiPalma, as enumerated by den Ouden. For a working definition of “feminist perspective,” see Freeman. Green stresses the importance of creating opportunities for a range of academic and creative skills and interests, while Isaacs suggests giving a lot of different kinds of opportunities for individual assignments and extra credit through innovative means.
10 For further discussions of writing and grading, see hooks ch. 11.
11 See Amirault (66) for an explanation of Freire’s manifesto against teacher-centered learning and his theorization of “teacher-students” and “student-teachers.”
12 This sense of performative activity, rather than performance, as a way of experiencing assertion of identity is discussed by Simon (93), Butler (23-24), and Gallop (1995b: 15).
13 For my writing on similar techniques in other classrooms and learning situations, with a focus on pluralism and incorporating multicultural perspectives, see Weinbaum 1997, 1999, 2001a, 2002, 2003.
14 To satisfy WAC, you must get at least a C on the writing portion of the course; since the WAC credit is non-western, you must select a” non-western” writing topic. Be sure you are registered under the correct rubric if you want to receive WAC or NW credit. And let’s discuss what “non-western” is.
15 All writing even research is creative; what I mean is that, if the course is not WAC for you, you can turn in fiction, poetry, plays, art, anything inspired by the works read and class.