ENGL 734: Literary Modernism, History of Pedagogy, Philosophy of Education

This fall, I’m leading a graduate seminar related in part to my first book project (still a work in progress), Learn | Read | Love: The Sensuous Pedagogies of Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence. Though the book addresses modes of learning largely outside of teaching institutions (which is not to say these institutions are irrelevant to my work), the class will focus on a variety of institutional and non-institutional contexts as well as core texts in literary modernism, the history of pedagogy, and philosophy of education.

Here is my course description:

This course is a study of five modernist writers in the contexts of the history of pedagogy and the philosophy of education. This history and this philosophy share many problems: e.g., what the proper aim of education should be (freedom? self-consciousness? autonomy? intelligence? normalizing? initiation? political readiness?) and what methods or practices should be employed in order to achieve this aim (repetition? indirection? play? physical coercion and punishment? competition? examples? illustrative fables and fictions? pictures? direct experience? observation? experimentation?). Moreover, this history and philosophy—and the history of philosophy—share competing theories and presuppositions of human being and knowing, of mind and memory, of political and civic responsibility and/or engagement, of ethical and moral acuity, of sex and gender difference, of society and the natural world.

Works of modernist literature (c. 1890–1940) engage with these issues on a formal, thematic, philosophical, and/or dramatic level and in a variety of settings. Willa Cather explores educative issues in the western universities, on the great plains, and among religious missions. James Joyce situates his most famous protagonist in a sequence of Jesuit institutions of learning (about which he remains ambivalent). D.H. Lawrence was among the first English novelists to be trained to teach in the English system, and this training and this system seep into his fiction and into his reactive theories of fiction and feeling. Dorothy Richardson, like Joyce, undertakes the difficult task of re-envisioning the Bildungsroman and situates her heroine in a girl’s finishing school in Germany. Virginia Woolf critiques the Oxbridge system in her feminist and ethical treatises and, in autobiographical writings, theorizes the sensuous pedagogy of her own childhood (a learning/teaching without the support of well-funded institutions). Though Lawrence had the most teacher training among these novelists, all of them, in one way or another and for intervals of varying length, served as teachers. In short, they thought and wrote about and lived educative and pedagogic conditions, and in this course we will investigate what they contribute not only to the history of pedagogy and the philosophy of education, but how they might also prompt us to rethink the very terms “learning” and “teaching.” This course also aims to enrich your understanding of how the modernist period, the history of pedagogy, and the philosophy of education might affect and inform pedagogies of our own.

Required Texts
Willa Cather, My Antonìa
Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop
James Joyce, A  Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
D.H. Lawrence, The Rainbow
D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love
Dorothy Richardson, Pointed Roofs
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas
Virginia Woolf, “A Sketch of the Past” (unfinished memoir in the volume, Moments of Being)

(While I don’t mention them in this description, students will also be reading excerpts of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jacques Derrida, Mary Wollstonecraft, Alfred North Whitehead, Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, bell hooks, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Martha C. Nussbaum, and others on education and pedagogy.)


As I prepared for the first class session this summer, I reflected on my use of the word “pedagogy” in my research and teaching. After all, it suggests a variety of issues and activities, including best classroom practices, lesson planning, curriculum design, the art of teaching, the science of education, and the underlying theory of one’s teaching practices. And the word “pedagogue” has historically signified a pedant and sophist who insists on faithfulness to minor rules and exhibitions of their own learning. This broad scope is broadened all the more when we consider the variety of human relations this word encapsulates: familial, institutional, governmental, natural, etc. Indeed, in ancient Greece, a pedagogue (boy + guide) was a slave who traveled with and conducted the movements and behavior of children. Considering the working conditions of many teachers and instructors across grade levels and institutions, many might find a kind of historical irony in the origins of this word, “pedagogue.”

Despite the imbalanced power relation implied here, however, I tend to think the etymological focus on a relation is crucial to how I’ve come to think about and use this word. Indeed, Eve Kosofksy Sedgwick (who has been quoted more than once on this blog) clarifies her own use of the word in this way. In “The Difference Affect Makes,” she writes,

Sometimes I think of the shape of my present life in terms of a flight from that dangerous-feeling, activist proximity of paranoid/schizoid energies [she reflects on “the paranoid structure of the earlier AIDS years” in the previous paragraphs]—a flight into depression, occasionally, but on a more reliable basis and more productively and pleasurably, a flight from depression into pedagogy (“pedagogy” not referring, for me, to the academic institution so much as to a mode of relationality—not only in the classroom, but equally around it and, especially, as a writer). (The Weather in Proust 139)

Though a bit more context might help make sense of what Sedgwick means here, it’s my hope that my graduate students and I can learn to keep our minds open to the range of potential pedagogies at work in our classroom, in our private reading rooms, and among a variety of relations. How might this affect my project on Woolf and Lawrence?

Reading on . . .

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