What do “The Second Choice” by Theodor Dreiser, “Hands” by Sherwood Anderson, and “The Wagner Matinee” by Willa Cather all have in common? The fact is that I have to teach them all for my ENG 605 Literature Pedagogy class. Also, they are all written during the early part of the 20th century. They are dirty and gritty and explore all of those ideas that make us cringe: industry, relationships, sexuality, public and private domains, music, and modernization in all of its forms.
I think I could spend the entire class period talking about Dreiser. Well, now that I think a little more about it, I could spend a whole class period talking about each story. Each story is thick and voluminous, not easily explored in one pass. Short stories remind me of the Grand Canyon: on first glance you think you’ve seen it all (yeah, it’s a big hole), but then you realize that there are layers of color, trenches and rises, shrubbery, animals, and a river way down there at the bottom that you can barely see from the rim.
Teaching is about gleaning. It’s about looking around for the scraps that no one will notice and that no one cares about until you point them out, or until your students point them out to you. I think teaching resembles standing next to a dumpster of knowledge, poking around in it with a stick. You find something new and suddenly everyone wants it. In teaching that is good.
If everyone is interested enough to talk, then you know you’ve hit some sort of truth or importance in text. Your resonance strikes with someone else’s resonance and before you know it you’ve blown a speaker!